This week Jeff and I went to Manchester and revisited the Rabbi I J Yoffey archive, stored in box-files in Manchester Central Library. Israel Jacob Yoffey was my grandfather, Rabbi of the Central Synagogue in Manchester. He died 10 years before I was born. In 1934 he set off by boat to Palestine, accompanied by my grandmother Pere Yoffey. He became ill on the boat, and was taken off it, to L`Hopitale Israelite in Alexandria where he died. My father, already a cultural distance away from Rabbinic life, Lecturer in Anatomy at Cardiff University, was interrupted during a lecture with the news, and made his way to Alexandria. He accompanied his father`s body to Jerusalem, and the Rabbi was buried on the Mount of Olives.
From adolescence through to the year he left Manchester – 1932 – my father helped his father with correspondence. He not only typed letters for him – in Manchester Grammar English – but kept carbon copies of these letters. He also filed and kept letters Rabbi Yoffey received from religious leaders across Europe. He cut out and filed newspaper articles, and other pieces of writing. There is, for example, a folder of letters devoted to the topic of cremation. Local funeral companies trying to understand Jewish teachings on this.
The archive – boxfuls of material – spent years stored in my late Uncle Charlie`s furniture warehouse in Sunderland. Charles Gillis, my mother`s brother. When my parents left Bristol to settle in Jerusalem in 1968, they arranged for the boxes to be sent there.
Fast forward to the eighties and nineties. I was making regular visits to my parents in Jerusalem. On these visits my mother kept asking me to please help clear some space on bookshelves. By 1999 I had collected virtually the whole archive. With the agreement of my mother and sisters I donated it to the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University. The Centre hired a young History teacher, Gideon Leventhal, to catalogue the collection, inasmuch as it was cataloguable, and it was duly stored, from then, in Manchester Central Library. With family agreement, I had removed a few letters written and signed by the famous Rabbi Kook, written to Rabbi Yoffey, which went back to Jerusalem and have been stored somewhere there ever since.
The archive was visited very rarely as far as we know.
2 years ago, we were amazed to get a phone call from a friend of a relative who was interested in Jewish memorabilia and the history of Rabbi Yoffey. A letter written in 1931 from an eminent Polish Rabbi known as the Chafetz Haim, name Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, had been sold at auction in Jerusalem for $9000 !!
This surprising event started a ball rolling for us all which hasn`t yet stopped. What on earth had gone on? On revisiting the archive more than a year ago I realised – lots of original hand-written letters were already only there as photo-copies. They were photo-copies when catalogued. You can see that because of the numbers written on them.
Who did the photocopying, why, and when, is one question. Who is making money out of it is another. What on earth can have happened?
This week Jeff and I had another look through the archive, and found another Chafetz Chaim original.
If this was a film, we would be, hire or become a particular kind of private investigator. The kind that can read handwritten Rabbinic Hebrew, and that can wind back time and tell us who has done exactly what, and why!