My fa­ther, the cheat­ing rabbi

SATUR­DAY LIVE Ra­dio 4, Satur­day, April 5

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

THERE IS of­ten a mo­ment as the clock ra­dio clicks onto the To­day pro­gramme in the morn­ing when the news some­how fuses with your dreams to con­jure a strange vi­sion. You know the kind of things — James Naugh­tie in­ter­view­ing Gor­don Brown as he strums a man­dolin aboard an ocean-go­ing liner and The Rev Ian Pais­ley sit­ting in the bath eat­ing pink cup cakes.

Nor­mally at the week­end I make sure the alarm is turned off. How­ever, last week­end I ob­vi­ously ne­glected to do so be­cause I was awo­ken by the sound of the ra­dio — and there was a strange dream re­ver­ber­at­ing in my head in­volv­ing a phi­lan­der­ing rabbi, nov­el­ist Nick Hornby, a ground­break­ing math­e­ma­ti­cian and a tap-danc­ing os­trich.

Un­til re­cently I would have spent a con­sid­er­able time at­tempt­ing to sep­a­rate dream from re­al­ity. How­ever, now, thanks to the won­der of the BBC iPlayer which al­lows you to lis­ten and watch BBC pro­grammes on your com­puter af­ter they are broad­cast, it is pos­si­ble to piece t hi ngs t o g e t her more eas­ily.

The phi­lan­der­ing rabbi turned out not to be a fig­ment of my sub­con­scious but rather Rabbi Percy Selvin Gold­berg, a man with a great fol­low­ing at Manch­ester Re­form Syn­a­gogue in the post-war years, and a lik­ing for the ladies. How­ever, al­though gos­siped about, his se­ries of af­fairs was never openly talked about in the com­mu­nity — un­til his daugh­ter, writer San­dra Levi, de­cided to write a novel based on a fic­tional rabbi who has a se­ries of af­fairs.

Levi told pre­sen­ter Fi Glover of her shock when the launch of her novel, Rites and Wrongs, sched­uled to take place at the syn­a­gogue over which Rabbi Gold­berg used to pre­side, was can­celled at short no­tice. She added that she had re­ceived a let­ter from a syn­a­gogue mem­ber con­tain­ing the words “filth, filth, filth”.

What was amaz­ing about the whole episode, said Levi, was that Rabbi Gold­berg had been dead for nearly 29 years and it was even longer since he had left Manch­ester to go and live in Amer­ica. Yet by blow­ing the lid, al­beit in a novel, on the steamy go­ings-on in a re­spectable Manch­ester sub­urb, Levi now felt like a pariah. “It was a bit like I was Mrs Rushdie, like I’d writ­ten a Jewish Sa- tanic Verses,” said a still per­plexed Levi.

So why had ev­ery­one got so up­set? She sur­mised that most of the con­gre­gants had been suf­fer­ing with “a col­lec­tive am­ne­sia” and they did not wish to be re­minded of events. It was clearly a case of time not be­ing a healer.

Yet, the story, as told by Levi to Glover, seemed like the per­fect ma­te­rial for a novel.

Levi’s par­ents’ mar­riage had been an ar­ranged one and their re­la­tion­ship had not been good. Gold­berg had risen to promi­nence in the Manch­ester com­mu­nity — he had ap­peared on television and had iron­i­cally pi­o­neered a mar­riage guid­ance ser­vice while all the time his con­gre­gants vis­ited his house bear­ing gifts in re­turn for a lit­tle per­sonal rab­bini­cal con­sul­ta­tion.

Levi’s mother’s re­sponse was to put co­pi­ous amounts of gar­lic in Gold­berg’s food, which he hated, pre­sum­ably in the hope that it would put off his lady friends.

De­spite the trauma of liv­ing in what was clearly an un­happy home, Levi re­called good times. And she saw the book, en­ti­tled Rites and Wrongs, as more of an af­fec­tion­ate trib­ute to her fa­ther than any­thing else. She said:of him: “You can be a great man and have great faults. Of­ten the two go hand in hand.”

Nick Hornby (yes, he re­ally was on the show) added that if the ac­count is fic­tional it was usu­ally best not to make too much of a fuss about it: “Peo­ple are not very good at re­spond­ing to fiction th­ese days. They give the game away.”

And with that, Glover in­tro­duced math­e­ma­ti­cian Dar­ren Crowdy, who had cracked some amaz­ing math­e­mat­i­cal for­mula or other.

I’m still try­ing to work out where the tap-danc­ing os­trich fit­ted in.

“Like Mrs Rushdie”: San­dra Levi

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