Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Professor David Patterson

A Guardian Angel of Jewish Identity in Great Britain


In the second year of its existence, the Oxford Centre experienced three great strokes of luck. The curators of the Oriental Institute of Oxford University had very kindly allowed the Centre to use a room in the Oriental Institute as an office for the first two years of its existence; but severe pressure on space compelled the curators to request the Centre to seek other accommodation. Number 45 St. Giles", a fine semi-detached Georgian house, had just become vacant and with accommodation on five floors, including an attractive room for seminars and classes, the building was eminently suitable, both by virtue of location and space, for the administrative and teaching requirements of the Centre. The Centre was able to acquire a twenty-year lease on the property from St. John"s College, with rent reviews at five year intervals. Situated a stone"s throw from the Oriental Institute and the Pusey House Library, and less than ten minutes walk from the Bodleian Library, the Centre was able to house its growing administrative staff as well as an increasing number of fellows, until in the course of time every inch of space from cellars to attics was fully utilized. Thus far it has served the Centre well for over twenty five years, and the range and variety of academic activity which developed within its portals are extremely gratifying. Instruction of high caliber and a wide spectrum of disciplines within the framework of Hebrew and Jewish Studies have steadily strengthened the academic reputation of the Centre over the years.

The second stroke of luck was the acquisition of the Kressel collection from Holon in Israel, a library of twenty-five thousand volumes on the literature and history of Palestine and Israel and an Archive of some half a million items which was acquired by the generosity of Mr. David Young (now Lord Young) and Mr. David Lewis. As this was a specialist collection it did not run counter to the proviso laid down by the University that the Centre would not attempt to build up any comprehensive Library to rival those of the University. The necessary permissions were obtained from the appropriate Ministries in Israel, and the collection arrived in a hundred and eighty-eight crates, followed by another thirty crates, and then another fifty crates all of which had to be disinfected against hookworm and stored for some years until suitable housing was made available by adapting the tithe barn on the Yarnton Manor Estate to suit the needs of this magnificent collection. Subsequently the Elkoshi Collection, a library of 17,000 volumes, was acquired through the kindness of Mr. Martin Paisner and the Porges Trust. This collection which is currently being added to the library represents a most valuable addition to the Center"s holdings.

The third, and perhaps the greatest stroke of luck, arose from the acquisition of the Yarnton Manor Estate. Situated in the village of Yarnton some four and a half miles north of Oxford, the estate comprised a gracious manor house, dating from 1611, a great tithe barn and six pleasant cottages with grounds extending to eight and a half acres including a two acre orchard. At the time, I had a graduate student, Mr. Tudor Parfitt, now Dr. Parfitt and Reader in Modern Hebrew at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, who described the Long Gallery in the manor house as the "biggest bedsit in Oxford", which it may well have been. He used to invite me to visit him from time to time and we would speculate longingly on the possibility of the estate becoming the campus of the Centre. Tudor was of the opinion that after some fourteen years of being landlords, the owners might be inclined to consider relinquishing that role. Encouraged by his advice, I embarked upon a series of conversations with them which lasted many months. At first we discussed the possibility of renting part of the estate, and then, perhaps, renting it all. Later the conversations turned to the possibility of purchasing part of the estate, and subsequently to purchasing it all. Finally, they agreed to sell, which left the problem of finding a purchaser. There is an anecdote set in a Jewish village in Poland in the eighteenth century, concerning a matchmaker who visited the local Rabbi and told him that he had a wonderful match for the Rabbi"s daughter. When the Rabbi enquired about the prospective son-in-law, the matchmaker said he had in mind the son of Prince Radzivill. The Rabbi was outraged, asking how the matchmaker could possibly fly in the face of Jewish tradition and suggest a Gentile husband for his daughter. But the matchmaker urged him to consider the great advantages which could accrue to the Jewish community from such a match. By repeating his arguments day after day, he finally persuaded the Rabbi to accept the bridegroom for the sake of the Jewish community. When the Rabbi finally succumbed, the matchmaker said "Good, now all I have to do is to convince Prince Radzivill!"

The story aptly indicates our predicament. Having convinced the owners to sell the Estate, how could the very considerable purchase price be met? Fortunately, the late Mr. Leslie Paisner had provided me with an introduction to the late Dr. Arthur Levin who was subsequently to build the first private hospital, The Wellington, in London. Although a Cambridge man, Dr. Levin readily accepted the idea of a Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies at Oxford. Arriving at Yarnton Manor on a beautiful spring day in 1973, he shared the vision of what it might become, and arranged for me to meet the other Trustees, Mr. John Franks and Mr. David Wolfson, (now Lord Wolfson.) I recall traveling to Worcester to see Mr. David Wolfson in his office, and arguing the case for establishing the Centre on the Yarnton Manor Estate at some length. Mr. Wolfson agreed that the idea had much to commend it, but asked if I could convince him that the Trust should support a Centre for Hebrew Studies rather than, for example, a Centre for Chinese Studies. As we would both he taking the same train from Worcester, he invited me to produce an argument at that time. On the train I told him that I could probably make a better case for Chinese Studies, but my own intellectual and emotional interests were bound up with Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and that was why I was advocating such a Centre. He must, apparently, have accepted this rather feeble argument, because the Trust decided to purchase the Yarnton Manor Estate, which it then put at the disposal of the Oxford Centre at a "peppercorn rent" on a seven-year lease. The Centre was, however, to be responsible for the upkeep of the estate, which was considerable. This great act of generosity on the part of the Trustees of the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust and the remarkable contribution which it has made to the growth and development of the Oxford Centre, and hence to Hebrew and Jewish Studies in general, deserves the warmest recognition and praise. Quite apart from the initial purchase, the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust generously met such major expenditure over the years as repairs to the stonework, and the gradual installation of central heating to the cottages greatly appreciated by visiting scholars from warmer climes and the purchase of additional land and further cottages, which proved to be of the greatest assistance as the number of visiting scholars constantly increased.

The final piece of property within the eight and a half acres of the estate was erected in 1992; the plans were approved only after two years of negotiation with the Planning Authority. The costs of building were met by an anonymous donor. The building contains sixteen study-bedrooms, a common room, and a dining room, but it can also be divided into four self-contained flats for visiting scholars when necessary. The clever design blends into the landscape, and the significant additional accommodation has been of great benefit to the one-year graduate program for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Finally, in 1992, the Centre purchased Exeter Farm, comprising a gracious President"s Residence, and a handsome stone barn, within pleasant grounds extending to one and a half acres. This property is within five minutes" walk of the main campus, and it represents a worthy residence for the President of the Centre. The barn also contains a self-contained apartment for a visiting scholar as well as considerable space for library and other academic purposes.

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