Rabbi pens book about Jewish life in Bucks

Bucks Free Press: Bucks Free Press in 1940 Bucks Free Press in 1940

A RABBI has written a book about Jewish life in Bucks and Berks, and was surprised to discover how deeply rooted the faith was in the area.

Dr Jonathan Romain from the Maidenhead Synagogue wrote Royal Jews, which was published at the weekend.

He said: "I thought I would write a 15 page leaflet. I didn't think there was much history but it turned into a 396 page book. "It goes right back to the Middle Ages."

He discovered the first recorded Jewish person locally is Isaac of Wycombe in 1239, followed by Joshua of Marlow in 1274.

The synagogue covers a wide spread area and has 800 households in its community.

When Jonathan first arrived in 1980, at the age of 26, there were just 80 families. He said he was sent to Maidenhead to rebrand it- not just as a place of prayer- but as a community centre.

The synagogue is not just used by Jewish people but the whole of the community.

He said: "A lot of people, including Jews, are not particularly religious but still have a religious culture. "Also there are so many meeting places disappearing, such as pubs, village halls and so on, and more people are using the internet and working from home.

"That's great but it means there is less and less interactive contact. People do have real human needs... there is the need for the warmth of human contact."

He started looking into Jewish life in the area not long after he started but it wasn't until four years ago that he really started to write the book.

He studied history at university and did a lot of research in libraries and books.

Jonathan talks about the remarkable presence of the Rothshild estates throughout Bucks but he really wanted to concentrate on the "ordinary people".

He said: "A good example is Ruth Jewel who came out to this area.

"She was actually in the war and was quite a high-ranking officer. She was a captain in the ATS.

"Her husband, Ben, was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. "She was evacuated out here as a child, then eventually joined the forces. She played a role in the war.

"Afterwards she got involved in civic life."

She was Mayor of Marlow and also campaigned for a swimming pool in the town. Her slogan was: "We will get that pool or my name is not Jewel."

There was an influx to Marlow, Wycombe and Amersham of Jewish refugees during the Second World War (both those from London escaping the Blitz and those from Europe who came here on the kindertransporte).

He also discovered that the Bucks Free Press in 1940 allowed its premises to be used for an inter-faith arrangement during the war years, with the Jewish Chronicle and the Catholic Herald and a Church of England paper being printed at its offices.

Fritz Lustig was an example of a Jewish refugee who came to the area: he was born in Berlin and came to England in 1939.

On the outbreak of war, he was interned on the Isle of Man. When he volunteered to work for the British forces, he became part of the Pioneer Corps in 1940 and was then transferred to the Intelligence Corps where he was sent to two Prisoner of War camps near to each other, Latimer House in Chesham and Wilton Park in Beaconsfield.

There his role was to eavesdrop on high-ranking German prisoners through electronic devices placed in their cells and pick up information they revealed about German troops and strategies.

Another local Jewish person - who shot to fame recently when we held the Paralympics - was Dr. Ludwig Guttmann who established a centre for the treatment of those with severe spinal injuries at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

And of course, Benjamin Disraeli, a former Prime Minister who lived at Hughenden Manor, was born a Jew and was baptised when he was 12 into the Church of England faith.

When he was asked whether he was a Jew or a Christian he said: "I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New."

Royal Jews by Jonathan Romain is now available to buy online and in local bookstores.

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