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The LJS Heritage Trail


The LJS is a wonderfully diverse and international community, with our own or family roots in countries across the world from Spain to Nigeria, Poland to China, Ukraine to Iraq, and all parts of the United Kingdom. Our community is made up of a classic Jewish mix of backgrounds, whether our backgrounds are in fact Jewish or not. The love and respect for community and core Liberal Jewish values draws us together. 
 
Over the coming months, on The LJS Heritage Trail, members will generously share an insight into their heritage and how each came to the LJS. As the months go on, we will discover the variety of backgrounds that make up our community. 

This project forms part of our ongoing recognition and celebration of the full range of diversity and the inclusivity of the LJS. For further information and to take part in other ways, please email office@ljs.org

The Lee Story

My parents’ families were mandarins at the Qing Court, but imperial records did not survive. The combative Cultural Revolution years saw so much destruction, no-one dared look to the past for fear of being branded ‘anti-revolutionary’. When I enquired about the past, I was often told, ‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you.’

In colonial Hong Kong, the best tactics were to conform, to learn English, to join a church group. Other evidence of the past stayed well hidden away. Objects from around the home hinted at a fascinating lineage; traditions, foods and practices left emotional connections which had to stay in the heart, and any cognitive attempts to find ‘roots’ were stifled by worried elders.

Faith came from my maternal grandmother: there was always a pair of candles on Friday evenings with a glass of wine, and it was the only time we ate bread. It had no name, no label, no fixed prayers, only that the world is broken and it is our duty to fix it.

Every year around Easter we had a huge meal with extended family, when children ate with adults and I was the one who sang. I remember being the only one among my peers to have many ‘new years’: there was the normal January 1 and the Chinese New Year, but there were also the Spring new year and the Fall new year. Somewhere in between there was one day when all adults fasted and children had to eat alone. There were always beautiful candles during the Christmas period. I was raised Christian, and it was not until I studied in New York and Toronto when friends brought me home for holidays that I remarked: wow, Jewish people are just like the Chinese!

I am the generation of the Lost; I have no elders left; Mother went 30 years ago. I cannot lay claim to a certain heritage, not even to any victimhood; my legacy is only embedded in the fleeting impressions of my childhood.

Hence I am grateful that the LJS welcomes me, hence I am gung ho about safeguarding the LJS story and making it accessible to people who want to find their past in the Archives and follow the development of this movement today. I am in the right place, I am calling it home, and I am thankful for it.

Trixi's Story

I left Hungary with my family in January 1957 as a consequence of the Hungarian uprising against Russian occupation in October 1956.

I was 10 years old at the time. Budapest, where I grew up, was very different from the popular tourist destination that it has become today. In those days the city was just recovering from the Second World War. The Russian army which ‘liberated’ Hungary from the Germans never really left. Hungary became a communist one-party state, one of the USSR’s satellites, firmly behind the Iron Curtain.

I look back on my childhood in Budapest as a blissfully happy one - totally unaware of my family’s Jewish background and of the country’s political situation. My parents considered it safer this way.

My parents both came from completely assimilated Hungarian middle-class backgrounds. I always think it’s likely that my maiden name, Baracs, was a Hungarian version of the Hebrew word ‘Baruch’.

Most of my immediate family were fortunate enough to survive the Holocaust. My father was taken away and spent several years in a forced labour camp in Ukraine, and my mother worked on the trams in Budapest with false identity papers. I remember many occasions during my childhood my family referring to relatives and friends as ‘elpusztult’, which in Hungarian means ‘they perished’. As a child it
never occurred to me to question what this meant.

Hungary’s Jewish population before the Second World War was about 800,000, of whom about 365,000 survived the Holocaust. Of those who survived, a large proportion emigrated between 1945 and 1951, and about 20,000, including my family, fled in 1956-7. Hungary’s Jewish population is now estimated at around 48,600.

Since Perestroika in 1989, many Jewish synagogues, especially the Great Synagogue of Budapest, have been restored, and tourists can visit the Budapest ‘ghetto’, which in my childhood was simply where my aunt and uncle lived.

My father always referred to our first five years in the UK as the family’s ‘heroic’ years. He successfully requalified as a solicitor and spent many happy years as a partner with Mishcon de Reya. The family joined the LJS in 1970, the year in which Eric and I were married at the synagogue by Rabbi Dr David Goldstein. We have been LJS members ever since.

If you would like to take part in The LJS Heritage Trail and are an LJS Member or Friend, please submit a 300-350 word account of your family heritage for consideration. 

Selected stories will be shared on our website over the coming months with two pieces rotated monthly. Please note that we may not be able to include all submissions. We also reserve the right to edit your piece, with your knowledge and agreement. 

Please email office@ljs.org to get in touch.

Sun, 18 April 2021 6 Iyar 5781