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Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist

Mervyn Goodman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist1 MERVYN GOODMAN Few people can have had as alliterative a name as Bertram Baron Benjamin Benas, BA, LLB, president of this Society from 1951 to 1953. He was born in 1880, the son of a prosperous stockbroker, Baron Louis Benas, a descend? ant of Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen (1541-1617), who had been born in Padua. According to legend, in the interregnum prior to the election of King Sigismund III to the Polish throne, Saul Wahl was chosen to perform high royal function and became 'King for a day'. Saul's son Meir and his grandson were both rabbis. Benas was a cousin of Richard Barnett, a former president of this Society, and a distant relative of Baron Henry de Worms, later Lord Pirbright.2 His parents were separated when he was an infant and he grew up in a household consisting of his father, his uncle Phineas and Phineas's sister, his aunt Helena. He was educated at the Liverpool College and proceeded to University College, Liverpool, then part of Manchester University, where he graduated in History. He then went on to take his LLB degree at Liverpool University in 1903, after which he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple. He practised in the Chancery Division from chambers in Liverpool and London, was honoured by his colleagues and elected the leader of the local Bar, a bencher of his Inn of Court and ultimately the Reader of that Inn. He would often recount his conversations over dinner with Queen Eliza? beth the Queen Mother, who was an Honorary Bencher of the Inn. He was a member of the prestigious Institute of Conveyancing and he became the Solicitor-General of the Duchy of Lancaster. His other interests included Freemasonry and the welfare of Jewish students. He was a founder of the Inter-University Jewish Federation, now the Union of Jewish Students, and served on its council for many years. He was of very small stature, but possessed great energy. He never drove a car, and was far from an epitome of sartorial elegance. Whatever the weather he always dressed in a black jacket, waistcoat, a 'dicky' winged collar and striped trousers, and outdoors, an overcoat and an umbrella. Throughout the Second World War he religiously carried his gas mask when he went out 1 Paper delivered to the Society on 18 November 1999. 2 B. B. Benas, 'The Family of Baron Henry de Worms', Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 91 (1959) 153-8. 8i</page><page sequence="2">Mervyn Goodman doors, even for short distances. He found no difficulty in combining his Zion? ism with loyalty to queen and country, and when watching the queen's speech on television, on Christmas Day, would stand before and afterwards during the playing of the national anthem. Benas was a polymath, historian, hebraist and musician. He was chairman of the East Toxteth Conservative Association, where he lived, but never stood in local or national elections. Other non-Jewish offices he held included the presidencies of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society (1922, 1951 and 1961), the Liverpool Athenaeum (1938), the Historic Society of Lanca? shire and Cheshire and the Liverpool University Club (1957). He was a member of the Council of the University of Liverpool, which conferred on him the degree of Master of Laws, honoris causa. His friendship extended to the senior clergy of both the Anglican diocese and the Roman Catholic Arch? diocese of Liverpool. All of these, together with his involvement in Jewish communal affairs, played a part in his Zionist activities. The Liverpool Jewish community is one of the oldest in Britain, and until the middle of the nineteenth century was the largest outside London. By the time Bertram Benas was born, the members of the community, most of whom came from Central Europe, were well integrated into the life of the city. With waves of new immigrants from Russia coming to Liverpool from 1830 onwards, the established Jewish element was apprehensive of the effect these refugees would have on their everyday lives. While they were sympathetic towards the resettlement of Jews in Palestine they were opposed to political Zionism and the idea of a Jewish State. In 1891 a branch of the philanthropic Hovevei Zion was formed in the city,3 and the same year the Dorshei Zion, a more political body, was formed.4 The membership of the former, which wrote its minutes in English, came from the established element, while the latter, which preferred Yiddish, was drawn from the immigrants. It is surprising, therefore, that both Bertram Benas's father and his uncle Phineas were Zionists. Baron Louis Benas visited Palestine in 1885 with Dr Hermann Adler, who later succeeded his father as Chief Rabbi and became avidly anti-Zionist. This visit was made under the auspices of the Alliance Israelite Universelle,5 the first British branch having been established in Liverpool some years earlier. There they inspected the schools run by the Alliance and also visited other countries in the Middle East. Baron Louis attended the first Zionist Congress in 1897 and the sixth in 1903, but at neither was he a delegate. At the latter he was accompanied by his son, 3 Minutes of the Hovevei Zion, Liverpool Records Office and Local History Department. 4 Minutes of the Dorshei Zion, Liverpool Records Office and Local History Department. 5 This later became the Anglo-Jewish Association. 82</page><page sequence="3">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist Bertram, who was a reporter for the Liverpool Daily Post, and they both met Theodor Herzl. It was probably no coincidence that at the end of the nineteenth century Baron Henry de Worms was the Conservative Member for East Toxteth. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as the power of the Ottoman Empire was beginning to wane, public meetings to press for a Jewish national home in Palestine were held in Liverpool. Behind the scenes the Benases, father and son, facilitated these meetings which were addressed by the local Conser? vative MPs for the Exchange and Walton divisions of the city where most immigrant Jews lived. The speakers included W. S. Robson KC, who, on his appointment as Solicitor General, wrote as follows to Sol Cohen, one of the leaders of Liverpool Zionism for the first quarter of this century; 'Depend on it, if my new position enables me to help your cause I will do it.'6,7 Others were Leslie Scott KC, later a Lord Justice of Appeal, and F. E. Smith, later Earl of Birkenhead. So powerful was F. E. Smith's address that it was printed in full in the Jewish Chronicle. In it he said: 'It is clear that this Zionist conception, the great and splendid conception of restoration, not of course of all, but of many, of your co-religionists, to the soil which gave them birth, would be imperishably linked with their history and tradition. I care not whether the Turks or any other people have occupied Palestine for ten centuries, it will ever be remembered in history as the birthplace of the Jewish nation and the strength of the Zionist conception is that it supplies the Jewish community all over the world with a practical objective. . . .'7 All three men were colleagues of Benas at the Liverpool bar. At a public meeting in July 1908, where David Wolffsohn, the president of the World Zionist Organization, spoke, a letter was read from the Conservative Lord Mayor of Liverpool in which he said: 'My sympathies are strongly with the Jewish People. I should, indeed, be glad to see the Jewish people the possessors of Palestine.'8 This is the first recorded evidence of the civic leader of any British town or city committing himself to Zionist aspirations. The 'Soup Kitchen Fiasco' was an episode in which Benas combined his Zionist sympathies with his legal acumen. The first Zionist reading room in Liverpool was established in 1896, a year before the First Zionist Congress. After various moves the Zionist Central Council moved into 58 Bedford Street in 1908.9 Within a few years it became apparent that these new pre? mises were too small10 and an extension was built. To help pay the costs of the additional mortgage it was suggested that the committee of the Soup 6 Jewish Chronicle 5 January 1906. 7 Ibid. 10 December 1909. 8 Ibid. 5 January 1906. 9 Ibid. 17 July 1908. 10 Zionist Central Council Minute Book, 14 September 1911. ?3</page><page sequence="4">Mervyn Goodman Kitchen Fund be allowed the use of the extension. This Fund, which had originally provided mid-day meals for children attending the Hebrew Schools, now needed to cater for Jewish pupils of other schools in the neigh? bourhood.11 In 1907 the Liverpool Bezalel Society had been formed to support the newly established Jerusalem Art School of that name and Bertram Benas was its president. In 1913 the society presented the Zionist Central Council with a portrait of Theodor Herzl in a frame made by the Bezalel School which was hung in the new annexe. The committee of the Soup Kitchen Fund strongly objected to the children having their meal under the portrait of Herzl. Benas wrote: 'The majority of the present generation can scarcely realise the wide gulf which existed between those who were Zionists in those days and among what became known as the Assimilationist section of the community. It was most aptly described in the phrase "Unser Hevra and Yener Hevra" m The local Zionist movement itself was split. Some were apprehensive about the discord this caused in the community and were looked on as appeasers by the mainstream Zionists and nicknamed 'Appeasoupers'.13 The Zionist Central Council instructed its solicitors to draw up a lease for the use of the annexe by the Fund at specified times. The Soup Fund then instructed its own solicitors and this led to acrimonious negotiations in which Benas acted as counsel to the Zionist Central Council. Although an agreement was finally reached between the two organizations their relationship remained strained for some years. In 1907 Dr Chaim Weizmann first visited Palestine and records how 'I was struck, as everyone must be, by the glorious surroundings of Jerusalem; and I thought then that there was only one place where, in time to come, we might erect some building worthy of the Jewish Community; there was one hill still uncrowned by monastery or church - the Scopus, on which stood then only the small villa of Lady Gray Hill.'14 This villa, called Ras Abou Kharoub, 'The Beloved Home', is probably the building referred to by Herzl in his book Altneuland: 'Next day the Eichenstamms accompanied the two on a trip to the Mount of Olives. Before reaching the top, they passed a fine residence belonging to an Englishwoman.'15 It had been given to her as a present by her husband, Sir John Gray Hill, a Liverpool solicitor and a 11 Jewish Chronicle 18 November 1910. 12 B. B. Benas, '150 Years of Zionism in Liverpool: Some Reminiscences', Liverpool Jewish Gazette, January 1951; Unser Hevra, 'Our Group' (Zionists) and Yener Hevra 'The Other Group' (Assimilationists), 13 Benas (see n. 12). 14 C. Weizmann, Trial and Error (London 1949) 169. 15 T. Herzl, Altneuland (translated by P. Arnold) (Haifa i960) 36. 84</page><page sequence="5">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist nephew of Rowland Hill of 'Penny Post' fame. Sir John was a supporter of the Zionist cause and in 1912 opened a Palestine exhibition in the Liverpool Institution organized by the Zionist Central Council. In his address he said: 'The movement which those present have at heart would ultimately lead to a happier and nobler existence of the Jews in the Holy Land.'16 In the follow? ing year he gave the inaugural address to the Liverpool Jewish Literary Soci? ety, on 'Zionism, Jerusalem and the Holy Land', in which he expressed his support for a Jewish University in Jerusalem.17 Weizmann had seen Mount Scopus as the site for a Jewish University and when, at the nth Zionist Congress in September 1913, he repeated the previ? ous proposal for such an institution, it was agreed that steps should be taken immediately to implement the project. Just before this Congress, Benas pub? lished an article in support of a Jewish University in Jerusalem.18 Almost ten years later Weizmann described how, 'in 1916 the war was going full blast, and Palestine was in the hands of the enemy Turks. I still remember the astonishment of the Gray Hill family when they were told that there was a buyer for their estate on Scopus. Lady Gray Hill, in particular, was so moved by this evidence of our faith in the ultimate victory of the Allies that she agreed to cede the property in advance of the formal arrangements for its transfer.'19 The negotiations for the purchase were conducted by Arthur Ruppin and the property conveyance was undertaken by Benas. The transac? tion was completed in 1918. Chaim Weizmann had a close association with the Liverpool Jewish com? munity, and the knowledge he gained of its people was to become evident in later years. That he knew Benas is illustrated by a letter to Yehiel Tchenelow in which he mentioned that 'he had written to Benas'.20 When, in 1917, Weizmann was offered the presidency of the English Zionist Federation, his nomination being seconded by Sol Cohen, he accepted on the condition that a number of his colleagues would sit with him on the executive. The names he gave included that of Benas.21 In 1917 the English Zionist Federation felt it was important that one of its leaders be a member of the Board of Deputies. Benas wrote: 'At that time [1917] it had been suggested that Dr Weizmann would become a deputy with a view to the representation at the highest level of the Zionist cause. It was felt, however, that the purpose would be adequately attained by some chosen 16 Jewish Chronicle 7 June 1912. 17 Jewish Chronicle 30 November and 5 December 1913. 18 B. B. Benas, 'A Jewish University in Jerusalem', The Jewish Review (July 1913). 19 Weizmann (see n. 14) 176. 20 M. W. Weisgal (ed.) Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Vol. VII, ser. A, August 1914 November 1917 (Jerusalem 1974) 101. 21 Ibid. 302. 85</page><page sequence="6">Mervyn Goodman representative of his, and the choice fell on Simon Marks who was so closely associated with Dr Weizmann. They both approached me with a view to ascertaining if there was an available constituency in the North, and with the co-operation of the Birkenhead congregation, Simon Marks was elected as its deputy.'22 Benas himself was then the deputy for the Wallasey Hebrew Congregation, although he was a member of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Con? gregation. A bastion of anti-Zionism, this congregation had elected Felix Rose, a former member then living in London, who had married the daughter of Alderman Louis Cohen, the owner of Lewis' store and a former Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Rose was known for his opposition to a Jewish State and was more likely to support the views of the congregation at the Board. In early 1917 matters were reaching a climax in London. On n May 1917, at the monthly meeting of the Board of Deputies, a resolution had been moved recommending that the Conjoint Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association enter into negotiations with the Zionist movement to formulate a joint policy to be presented to the British Govern? ment. This committee, formed in 1878, consisted of seven members from the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association respectively. It was dominated by the Anglo-Jewish Association and constituted an Anglo-Jewish ministry of foreign affairs, the deliberations of which were conducted in secret.23 Nathan Laski, then a senior member of the Board, agreed to meet Dr Weizmann and the motion was withdrawn.24 Sensing an impending announce? ment on the matter of Palestine, the anti-Zionists made a preemptive move. D. L. Alexander and Claude Montefiore, the joint chairmen of the Conjoint Com? mittee and respective presidents of the parent bodies, wrote to The Times,15 publicly expressing their opposition to a Jewish national home. The next meeting of the Board of Deputies, on 17 June, was to be crucial. 'It brought about a fundamental "revolution" in Anglo-Jewish politics. The rejection of the anti-Nationalist attitude hitherto adopted by the Board her? alded the end of a long period of strife in the community over the merits of Zionism; it also represented a significant stage in the process whereby the Zionists ultimately replaced the old plutocracy as the leader of Anglo Jewry.'26 A motion of no confidence in the officers of the Board was moved, that was carried by 52 to 50 on show of hands and by 56 to 51 on a poll. The attendance at the meeting was the highest in the triennium, with 113 deputies (79 percent) out of a total membership of 143 being present. Of 22 Liverpool Jewish Gazette January 1965. 23 E. C. Black, The Social Politics of Anglo-Jewry 1880-90 (Oxford 1988) 45. 24 Minute Book of the Board of Deputies, London Metropolitan Archives ACC/3121/A/017. 25 The Times 24 May 1917. 26 S. A. Cohen, 'The Conquest of a Community: Zionists and the Board of Deputies in 1917', Jewish Journal of Sociology XIX (1977) 158. 86</page><page sequence="7">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist these, 45 represented congregations in Greater London and another 9 of them were London residents representing British Colonial constituencies. There were a further 46 deputies living in London who represented provincial con? gregations.27 In this vote Benas, with his wide interests in both Jewish and secular activities, played an influential role in mustering the support of pro? vincial deputies, and he was one of the participants in the debate. As a result the officers of the Board resigned, and at the following meeting in July Sir Stuart Samuel, Liverpool-born older brother of Herbert Samuel, was elected president. During this meeting, at which Bertram Benas again spoke, a motion to terminate the arrangement between the Board and the Anglo Jewish Association to constitute the Conjoint Committee was carried by 44 votes to 15. Because of the summer holidays and the Jewish festivals, the next meeting was in October, and at this Bertram Benas was elected to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Board which replaced the Conjoint Committee.28 This committee was to be involved in matters arising out of the Balfour Declaration, and on the Friday following the Balfour Declaration The Liverpool Courier published a leading article and another by Benas on the Jewish National Home.29 For many years Benas was the Liverpool correspondent of the Jewish Chronicle. In 1919 he wrote to Weizmann: 'But for the attitude of the JC we would have the greatest difficulty in carrying with us the mass of "English" haul ha-battim - who never see the Zionist Review, never see Palestine, never see a Yiddish paper, never attend a lecture or discussion, and if it were not for the Chronicle would have for their ideas depended on Assimilationist preachers.'30 Applying his musical talents, Benas wrote the first score of Hatikvah for full orchestra, first performed in Liverpool at a concert in aid of the Russo Polish Jewish Relief Fund organized by the Liverpool Zionist Central Council in September 1915. It was again played by the band of the 8th King's (Irish) Regiment at a similar event in 1916.31 He also adapted the score of Hatikvah for the organ, and this was first played in St George's Hall, Liverpool, on 18 27 It was difficult and expensive for provincial deputies to attend the monthly Sunday meetings in London, and some congregations found it convenient for them to elect a person who was resident in London to represent them. There were also some people active in the community who were unable to find a vacancy in their own congregation and sought a 'seat' through a provincial one. The requisite condition at that time was to be a male Jew over the age of twenty-one who had rented a seat in the congregation of his choice for at least one year before the election. 28 Minute Book of the Board of Deputies, London Metropolitan Archives ACC/3121/A/017. 29 'A Jewish National Home'; and B. Bertram Benas, 'Bright Prospects: What the Jewish Colonists have already done in Palestine', The Liverpool Courier 9 November 1917. 30 S. Cohen, 'Sources in Israel for the Study of Anglo-Jewish History - An Interim Report', Trans JfHSE XXVII (1982) 142. 31 Jewish Chronicle 11 February 1916. 8?</page><page sequence="8">Mervyn Goodman Plate i Bertram B. Benas on being called to the Bar, 1904. January 1919 by Herbert F. Ellingford, the organist to the Liverpool Corpora? tion.32 An additional boost to the Zionist cause was the first performance of Hativkah by a brass band, by the Liverpool Police Band whose conductor, Captain C. R. Briggs, had adapted it from Benas's orchestration. In 1951 the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall and concluded with Benas's version of Hatikvah. 32 Ibid. 24 January 1919. 88</page><page sequence="9">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist Plate 2 The cover of the orchestral arrangement of Hatikvah by Bertram B. Benas. On the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration a meeting was held in Liverpool at which Bertram Benas was the guest of honour. Sir Edward Rus? sell, who presided, said: 'The Declaration was an event which had brought together Christians and Jews . .. they were very proud indeed that Mr Benas 89</page><page sequence="10">Mervyn Goodman had been concerned in those great doings and that he had done well in them.'33 The wide interests and influence of Bertram Benas are clear from what has been said. In 1919 he was the first Jewish graduate to be elected to the Court of Liverpool University.34 The year before he had been instrumental, with the help of the Shivat Zion society, in persuading the University to organize a series of lectures on 'The Contact of Palestine with the West',35 the speakers including P. M. Roxby, Professor of Geography at the University, the Bishop of Salford, H. K. Selim, a Moslem, and Benas himself. At Professor Roxby's lecture, on 'The Geography of the Holy Land', the Revd Sims, the vicar of Aigburth, who presided, is reported as having said: 'They all rejoiced to think that the Land of Israel was at last going to be restored to the People of Israel' and praised Benas for his work towards this.36 Benas was also involved in enabling Herbert Sidebotham, editor of The Times, to address the Liverpool University Club, during which he said that 'he had confidence in the certain success of a restored Palestine'. The press reported that 'The references to Jewish Nationalism throughout the evening were most heartily received by the distinguished civic and academic gathering present.'37 Benas himself addressed the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society on 'Zionism: the Jewish National Movement'.38 Later in 1919 he was instrumental with the Shivat Zion society in organizing classes under the auspices of the University of Liverpool and the Workers Educational Association on Jewish History. He travelled throughout the country to speak at Zionist meetings, continuing to publicize the Zionist cause among non-Jews. He addressed the Liverpool University Legal Society on 'Palestine and its Legal Interests'39 and the Run corn Branch of the Workers Educational Association on 'The Mandate for Palestine'.40 The 16th Zionist Congress in 1929 agreed to widen the membership of the Jewish Agency to include non-Zionists, and when, in 1930, Liverpool estab? lished a local branch of the Agency with equal numbers of Zionists and non Zionists, Harold Cohen, a son of Alderman Louis Cohen and himself a non Zionist, accepted the chairmanship. The Jewish Agency was financed by the Keren Hayesod, its fund-raising arm, and when Harold Cohen resigned in 1932 the Liverpool branch was dissolved and it returned to its former status 33 Ibid. 8 November 1918. 34 Ibid. 21 November 1919. 35 Ibid. 18 April 1919. 36 Ibid. 6 December 1918. 37 Ibid. 20 December 1918. 38 Ibid. 19 September 1919. 39 Ibid. 11 March 1921. 40 Ibid. 23 March 1923. go</page><page sequence="11">Bertram B. Benas: forgotten Zionist as the Keren Hayesod. Benas was elected its chairman and held office until the end of 1938. In 1932 he had written to xhz Jewish Chronicle concerning a decision in the House of Lords on whether Jewish National Fund was a charity: 'Zionism in its expression of National justice transcends the idea of charity in the ordinary sense of the word.'41 In 1933 he combined this with the chairmanship of the Liverpool committee of the Central British Fund for German Jewry. In this latter capacity he was responsible for arranging foster homes for refugee children. Despite his involvement with the Conservative Party, Benas was never a member of any of the deputations which the leaders of the Jewish community made to lobby local Members of Parliament in Westminster in the 1930s. There can be no doubt, however, that he continued to work for Zionism behind the scenes. In 1929 Sir Henry Mond was elected the Member of Parliament for the Liverpool East Toxteth Division, but in the following year he had to resign his seat on succeeding his father as the second Lord Melch ett. In the by-election Patrick Buchan-Hepburn was returned and Benas had frequent meetings with him to appraise him of the views of the Liverpool Jewish community.42 These were conveyed to the other Merseyside MPs, one of whom was [Sir] David Maxwell Fyfe, later Lord Kilmuir and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. In 1944 the Jewish organizations agreed to the formation of the Council of Liverpool and District Jews, later to be renamed the Merseyside Jewish Representative Council. Benas was the natural choice as its first president. After retiring as president two years later he declined further offices in the community, but remained influential behind the scenes. A bachelor, he died in December 1968 after a short respiratory illness. He had no living close relatives, and since his will, made in 1910, was declared invalid, the estate passed to the Duchy of Lancaster. His solicitors, anxious to dispose of his effects as quickly as possible, placed his extensive library and collection of silver in local auction rooms. Some of his papers were retrieved from a bookseller in Manchester. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Those who remember Benas do so as a lawyer who contributed to Halsbury's Laws of England, as a musician who regularly attended the Three Choirs Festival and was a friend of Sir Adrian Boult, as an Orthodox Jew who met regularly with the Anglican and Roman Catholic hierarchy in Liverpool, and not least as a communal leader. Few remember him as a person who played a signifi? cant part in the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish National Home. 41 Ibid. 12 December 1932. 42 Minutes, Zionist Central Council, 20 September 1944. 9i</page></plain_text>

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