Philip Bloom, my father, was born in a small town called MIawa situated about seventy miles north of Warsaw, Poland, on February 18th, 1882. He was one of five children (four sons and one daughter) born to his parents, Simon (Shymyer-Polish) and Goldie Bloom. The Bloom family emigrated
to England in 1884 and settled in a small town called Grimsby situated in the North East coast of England. In those days it was a small fishing village; if you were to ask me why they were destined to go to Grimsby, I could not give you the answer but it is quite possible that the British authorities gave new immigrants no choice or alternative when they arrived in England, dispersing them to smaller towns throughout the country thus avoiding congestion in the main cities.
My father’s brothers were Zavel, Isadore and Maurice, and his only sister was Minnie. In his early twenties, Zavel emigrated to Durban, South Africa, as did Isadore who settled in Johannesburg, South Africa. Minnie remained in England and settled in an apartment in Kensington High Street, Kensington, London. My father, together with Maurice, emigrated to South Africa in 1902, both in their
very early twenties. Eventually Maurice returned to England and settled in London, but my father elected to stay in Africa.
He and Maurice were lured to Johannesburg for gold had been discovered in 1885, eventually in large reefs as much as a mile below the the surface – actually the reefs run precisely under the city of Johannesburg. Just like my father and his brother, thousands of people from all over the world,
descended on the city of Johannesburg for a ‘gold fever” had caught all of them and the ‘gold rush’ was on before the turn of the Century. At that time, the city became a tent city overnight and there was chaos and pandemonium because of the lack of sufficient accommodation.
Philip and Maurice when they arrived in Johannesburg in 1902 knew nothing about the mining of gold but they were determined to stake a claim in the hope that if they were successful they would be able to help their parents in Grimsby who were struggling to make a living. I remember my father telling us that, at the age of ten or thereabouts, he used to sell newspapers in the streets of Grimsby in order to help his parents.
Unfortunately the two brothers were unsuccessful in their efforts. They were deeply disappointed as their dreams of becoming rich were shattered. Realising that they now had to find a way to make a living somehow, they settled in Pretoria and leased a small tea room. My father told us that he looked after the cash register and Maurice went into the kitchen. I can imagine what came out of the kitchen to feed the patrons for Maurice had never cooked in his life. However, in spite of the difficulties they encountered, they made a living and they survived.
You will note that, other than my father’s sister, all the children emigrated to South Africa to start a new life for themselves in a new and seemingly ‘virgin’ country, rich in resources and as yet hardly touched by man. What great opportunities there were for new immigrants!
MY MOTHER’S FAMILY….
My mother was bom in Riga, Latvia in the year 1886 and her name was Annie. Her parents, Julius and Rachel Lurie, emigrated to South Africa in 1890, when she was four years old, and settled in Pretoria, South Africa, to start a new life for themselves with hardly a penny between them. It was very difficult for new immigrants to establish themselves in a new, undeveloped and foreign country for they did not know the language and they had no money.
They had a large family, six daughters and one son, and they took up residence in a house in Pretorius Street. The building was shaped like a square V, the bottom part of which formed the front of the house and bordered on the street pavement, housed the whole family. The two sides of the ‘U’ consisted of single rooms which were rented out to single women and men for about two English pounds per month. The one and only bathroom was situated in the middle of the quadrangle so one had to cross the yard to get to it. The sparse income from the rentals helped my mother’s family to survive.
My grandmother only stood about 4’10” high, in her horizontally striped, colourful football socks which she always wore up to her knees to keep her feet warm. She kept a cow in a stable at the end of one of the arms of the “U” and so she received a daily supply of milk in order to make butter and cream cheese. Whenever I used to go into her kitchen, I would see muslin bags hanging from the rafter in the ceiling, dripping, filled with cream cheese which she marketed with the butter, so augmenting the family income. She truly was the matriach of the family and everyone, married or unmarried, took orders from
I never knew my grandfather, he must have passed away before I was bom. I am sorry that I do not know any more about him except that he was a merchant dealing in various produce such as seeds, grasses, lentils, maize, lucerne and so on.
My grandmother, after the loss of her husband, worked very hard in order to bring up her large family. As her children grew up and obtained various types of employment, they contributed to the running of the house. Their earnings were meagre but the family survived and started to make a life for themselves.
The Lurie family consisted of: Mary, who married Louis Edelman; Bertha, who married Myer Sklar; Edie, who married Ben Mirvis; Dora, who married Sid Jacobs; Minnie, who married Jay Novizenitz; Annie, who married Philip Bloom and Willie, who married Cockie Brown. They were all married in Pretoria and nearly all of them lived with their mother in the boarding house in Pretorius
There were two tragedies in the family. Dora had been very unhappily married to Sid Jacobs who had made her life unbearable, so she committed suicide by taking poison. Minnie was bending over the bath one morning to clean some clothes with benzine, the fumes of which became ignited by the coal-burning water heater situated in the inside comer of the bathroom. She died a painful and agonizing
death from third degree bums which she sustained.
As a child of five years old I can still see and hear my Aunt Minnie running out of the bathroom, her clothes alight, screaming with pain and then seeing other members of the family wrapping her in blankets whilst rolling her on the ground. I was so terrified that I ran away from the scene, crying and sobbing my heart out.
Those two deaths in the family were a terrible shock to the family, especially to my grandmother. They occurred when my mother, my brother Myer, and myself were living with my grandmother in Pretoria for a short period of about two years.
PIONEERING DAYS IN RHODES/A ….
My parents arrived in Rhodesia in 1912 and settled in a small town four miles out of Salisbury called Ardbennie. There were only a mere handful of white settlers at that time in the town but lodging was very reasonable and affordable.
My father, in order to make a living, sold cheap fake jewellery which he carried about in a business attache case. It was hard going for him trying to earn some money to support a wife and two children. He also started an auctioneering business and soon after, opened up a small furniture shop at the top end of Manica Road near the Kopje in Salisbury. The business was named P.Bloom & Co. and so he was kept fairly busy, managing to keep his head above water, earning enough to maintain and keep his family.
He used to tell us that a chicken, in those days, could be bought for about six pennies; a dozen eggs would cost three pennies and a plate of hot food in the pub would cost eight pennies. I suppose in those days the prices stated were not so cheap for the people earned a pittance.
There were two schools in Moffat Street and my father used to take Minnie and Harry on a bicycle to school every morning and then pick them up when the school closed – a matter of four miles each way, on a bicycle with three bodies on it. There were no macadamized roads at that time and the four main roads – Manica Road, First Street, Pioneer Street and Moffat Street – had no street lights and they were heavily used by ox-wagons and horse drawn vehicles, becoming deeply pot-holed and, during the rainy season, just a sea of mud making movement difficult.
Telephone and telegraph services were not available initially and when they did come into service, the lines were anything but clear and were continually breaking down. I remember (here I jump ahead in time) the phone which they installed in my parents first permanent home. It was a large box affair and one had to lift the receiver and at the same time crank the handle in order to get through to the
operator and give her the three digit number one wanted.
Those were truly pioneering days in Rhodesia and, rather surprisingly, my parents survived all the trials and tribulations of life there in spite of the difficulties which they encountered in those early days of Rhodesia. The spirit of true ‘pioneerism’ amongst the people must have given them courage to endure and survive.
A large tent or marquee on First Street served as the only meeting place for the inhabitants towatch a ‘silent’ film. The projector was cranked by hand and invariably broke down amidst boos and catcalls from the audience – after all, they had paid sixpence entrance fee and they wanted their full value. This tent also served as a meeting place for the people to have discussions on many subjects,
chiefly, ways and means on how to improve the living standards and how to overcome problems which beset them daily.
THE HOUSE IN WHICH I WAS BORN….
Gradually and very slowly, living conditions improved. A few years had passed when my parents moved out of Ardbennie and rented a small house in Baker Avenue, comer Park Street for a couple of years. I do not know how my father could have afforded such an expense but, by doing so, he had made my mother happy.
There was no indoor sanitation nor hot water system, water was heated up outside over an open fire and then carried into the house in four gallon cans. With regard to sanitation, one had to use an outdoor toilet in the yard and late at night, the municipal sanitary cart would appear and service the toilets.
In a then, fashionable area of Salisbury (now downtown), the house was very near the Synagogue, and it was the house in which Myer and I were bom. I do not think that the house still exists for, on my last visit to Salisbury in 1991,1 could not find it. There were many buildings which had been built in that vicinity and which had changed the whole character of that area.
The house in Baker Avenue which my father had rented was very small, especially for a family of six, but my mother never grumbled for she was only too happy to have her own home which gave her such a feeling of security for her and her family. As I well remember her at that time (I was about five years old) she was a wonderful, loving and caring mother. She never demanded from my father that which he was unable to afford and so she was content and happy.
I will never forget how the house was permeated every Friday with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Her pantry shelves were always filled with bottles of preserves, jams, pickles and so on which she had prepared herself. As young as I was at that time, it is rather remarkable how such a scene as I have just described, could remain indelible in the mind of a child of that age.
She did not keep a Kosher home but she did adhere to the traditional Shabbat evening at our table by having the candles lit, the wine and the challah ready for the blessing.
As a family, we attended services at the Synagogue during Pesach, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and then at various Simchas. We were always scrubbed clean and always had on freshly ironed shirts (I inherited a goodly amount of used clothing from my two older brothers, much to my regret).
My father loved my mother and so admired her. They were a happy couple and we, as a family, benefited and enjoyed a happy home atmosphere and environment. He worked very hard to provide the means by which my mother could maintain the standard of her home in all its modesty and simplicity.
IMMIGRATION AND THE SALISBURY STREET SYNAGOGUE….
With the advent of a few more Jewish families arriving, the Salisbury Hebrew Congregation was established in 1895 and a written constitution was formulated. The Salisbury Jewish population in 1897 numbered 46 persons of whom 35 were men and women between the ages of twenty and forty years of age. By 1911 (my parents arrived in 1912) the Jewish population of Rhodesia had increased to 1,295 persons of whom 850 were from Russia (this includes people from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia; also a part of Poland which had been annexed by Russia). Due to the effect of a world in 1912 followed by the first World War in 1914, Jewish immigration into the country was and, for that matter, all immigration ceased.
The synagogue in Salisbury Street was officially opened in 1917 and was subsequently
in 1920 by the Rev. J.J. Rosin, who was the Minister of the Congregation from 1918 -1935. Cecil John Rhodes, who had founded Rhodesia on behalf of the British Govemment and after country was named, gave a donation of fifty pounds towards the cost of building the
synagogue and with it he sent a letter to the congregation saying – “My country will be alright if the Jews come here. He died in 1902 and the last words he uttered were – “So much to do and so tittle done” Tantum faciendum parum factum) which later became the motto of my school. He was buried in the Matopos hills just outside Bulawayo, according to his dying wish.
Incidentally the Salisbury Street synagogue played a very significant part in my family’s history. Both my sister Minnie, and my brother Harry, were married there; Harry, Myer and I became barmitzvahed in this synagogue; my daughter Ann, and her cousins Angela and Michael were also married there, So one can see what great sentimental value was attached to it by our family.
The Guild Hall, adjacent to the synagogue, was a very active center for all occasions such as
Barmitzvahs, weddings, plays, Cheder lessons, parties and so on. I went every Saturday morning prior to my Barmitzvah to attend Cheder lessons, meet my friends and have fun with the girls. In those days, the synagogue and the Guild Hall was the cradle of Jewish religion, study, meetings and social gatherings it’s environment.
Many, many years later, the synagogue together with the Guild Hall were sold to the Tattersalls club when the new location in Lezard Avenue, Milton Park, was established as a Jewish center. In 1965, the Harry Margolis Hall was built on this site and the first wedding to be performed there (even whilst the building was not quite complete) was when my daughter Ann got married on Boxing day, December 26th 1965, in that hall. Later and a long time afterwards, a new synagogue was built for the Ashkenazi community (the Sephardic community had their own hall and synagogue).
[Leslie met and married Lala (Salka) Waldman in Tel Aviv, Palestine in 1942. They both wrote detailed memoirs of which the above is a brief extract relating to Les’s early days in Rhodesia. ]