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Memorial Addresses in Honour of Past Presidents: Michael Adler

Rev. Arthur Barnett

<plain_text><page sequence="1">(ii) The Rev. Michael Adler, D.S.O., S.C.F., B.A. (1868-1944) By the Rev. Arthur Barnett, H.C.F., B.A. The task of estimating the life of the Rev. Michael Adler has been allotted to me as one who had the privilege of being a co-adjutant to him in the main spheres of his activities. For thirty years I enjoyed his intimate friendship. During the first World War I served with him as an Army Chaplain on the Western Front. For nearly twenty years we ministered in neighbouring Synagogues, while during the latter part of his life we were closely associated in the work of the Jewish Historical Society of England. And it is by very reason of my full knowledge of his many-sided character that I cannot hope adequately to portray it in this short tribute to his memory. His qualities were as splendid as they were numerous; as diverse as they were unusual. His interests were wide, yet never shallow; his activities intensive, but never narrow; his achievements distin? guished, yet never vainglorious. Born in 1868, he trained for his vocation at Jews' College at a period when scholastic honours were not easy of access or, indeed, much encouraged. At the age of twenty-two he already had the spiritual charge of the Hammersmith Congregation. Yet in spite of the preoccupations and responsibilities of his ministry at such a youthful stage of his career he did not cease to remain the student. His earliest efforts were in the field of Hebrew Grammar. He was a gifted teacher and Jewish Education was ever one of his para? mount concerns. And in this, as in so many of his other activities, he was possessed of a pioneer spirit. At the close of the last century pedagogic method in the Jewish classroom was almost a heresy. Yet Michael Adler was enterprising enough to produce three text-books of Hebrew Grammar which somewhat revolutionised the teaching of Hebrew in the Anglo-Jewish community. *9i</page><page sequence="2">I92 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS During the thirteen years of his ministry at Hammersmith he was developing those pastoral and scholastic abilities which were later to bring him much merited distinction. In 1903 he found preferment in the Central Synagogue, which he served faithfully and tirelessly for thirty-one years. He had a high conception of the minister's function and was a rare combination of the successful pastor and scholar. He loved books; but, even more, he loved men. He was as conscientious in hospital or prison visitation as he was in historical research. His mind might be absorbed in medieval Jewish Plea-rolls; yet his heart overflowed with an abundance of human sympathy for the plea of Jewish suffering and distress. He had no petty notions about the status or dignity of his office. He would spend a morning in the Public Records Office as the scholar, engaged on some obscure and abtruse problem; yet the same evening might find him at the Lads' Club working out the logistics for their summer camp. Engrossed as he was in his Jewish antiquarian researches, this was never at the expense of seeking out his living fellow-Jew. Nor did his Jewish intensity exclude his sense of civic obligation. For many years he served on the Marylebone Borough Council, where he was highly esteemed for his work in the local educational departments. And here, as in other spheres, his kindly geniality and imperturbable good humour did much to create Jewish Gentile comradeship and to remove Jewish-Gentile misconceptions. If Michael Adler were, himself, asked what he considered to be the best work of his life he would have unhesitatingly replied : " The Army Chaplaincy ". And nobody who knew him as the Jewish Padre could but agree that no task that he ever attempted was better done than this. Again it was pioneer work. At the outbreak of the first World War he was the only Jewish Chaplain to have held His Majesty's Commission in the Army. He was faced now with the tremendous task of organising an adequate Jewish Chaplaincy for work in the field as well as at home. The peculiar problems of the Jewish Serviceman scattered in almost every army unit were well nigh insurmountable. In addition, the War Office was at a loss to know what to do with a Jewish Chaplain in the field and refused</page><page sequence="3">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS I93 to allow Adler to go overseas. It was only his persistence and tenacity which finally overcame the objection, and in January 1915, for the first time in the history of the British Army, a Jewish Chaplain was ministering to Jewish troops in the field. But a dis? agreeable surprise awaited him. On arrival at the base Adler was confronted with a letter from the Army Council which ordered him "on no account to venture beyond the lines of communication ". Again it was only his indomitable will, his refusal to capitulate to frustration and obstruction, that enabled him to surmount disabilities. He was not the man to be content with the job of " carpet-chaplain ". He made his way to G.H.Q.?and the Army Council's letter was torn up. That was how he began. It is not possible here to continue the story of how he built up the Jewish Chaplaincy during the war. Suffice it to say that it was a creatio ex nihilo. With no precedent to guide him, with nothing but his own forcefulness of purpose and growing experience, he organised the department with such efficiency that before the war was over he had received promotion in rank, a twofold mention-in-dispatches and the signal honour of the D.S.O. He was indefatigable in his energies, infectious in his enthusiasm, dynamic in his influence on his colleagues, and impressive in his devotion to the Jewish soldier's well-being. Many thousands of Jews will remember him with gratitude and honour. During those tragic years he made Jewish history rather than investigated it. And now I turn to the other major achievement of his life: his work as a Jewish historian. From the very inception of our Society he was attracted to its purposes. He was a member for over half a century. Very early he was inspired by his teacher and friend, Israel Abrahams, to explore the then barely-surveyed field of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History. It was a new chapter that was only just beginning to be revealed in Jewish History and almost unknown to English History. His first contribution to the Society's publications was a scholarly paper on the " Domus Conversorum " delivered in 1900 in which he shows an independence of judgment, a fine critical faculty and a capacity for original research. And this was but the N</page><page sequence="4">194 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES IN HONOUR OF PAST PRESIDENTS first of many valuable articles to follow on the Jews of Medieval England. Most of these appeared in book form under that tide in 1939. Among the cities with which he dealt are London, Canter? bury, Bristol, York, and Exeter. The paper on Exeter was published in 1931 in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science. In all his work there is a thoroughness of detail, a painstaking collection of material, a constructive imagination and a facility for showing the wood through the trees. I had many an opportunity of seeing him at work. I saw him in the flush of excitement at the discovery of a new document. I saw him immersed in the laborious task of deciphering a difficult MS.; struggling with the raw material from which History is deduced; doggedly persevering with proof-reading?amending, deleting, revising?but never finished with the task in hand until he was satisfied he could not improve upon it. If genius be "an infinite capacity for taking pains " then Michael Adler could lay claim to it. And this same meticulous care he would, as Editor of Publications, devote to the work of others. Hard, grinding work it was; but he never skimped it. It was this unsparing attention to detail that was the secret of his success. It is not surprising, therefore, that he attained recognition as a leading authority on pre-Expulsion Jewry in England. Among his other literary efforts should be mentioned his article on 44 A Pagan Emperor as Bible Student" contributed to the Jews' College Jubilee Volume, 1906, his 44 History of the Central Syna? gogue ", 1905, and that mighty tome, 4 4 British Jewry?Book of Honour ", 1922, giving an account of Anglo-Jewry's contribution to the 44 Great War ". As a frequent lecturer to our Society, as a member of its Council, as Editor of Publications and as a former President his memory will be long and gratefully cherished by all to whom the story of the Jews of England is held in pride. May that memory inspire others to strive as he did for the honour of the Jewish name, for the spread of Jewish knowledge and for the service of the Anglo-Jewish community.</page></plain_text>