One of the most respected and influential members of Manchester’s wider Jewish community was niftar last week. Humble to the end, he never learnt for semicha so that people would call him rabbi; he remained a Reverend, the title of most of the previous generation of ministers in Anglo- Jewry. I am sure that obituaries will be written about his life and achievements by others. But I was one of his early talmidim and feel an obligation to write a few words about him from my perspective.
I went to his shul, officially a branch of the Great Synagogue, later the Great and New Synagogue, which was and is known by the name Stenecourt, as a young boy. At that time I don’t remember much about the spiritual side of the shul but I do remember that I got a tick on the chart for coming. The aggregate of ticks for all the children was added up and on Chanuka, after the annual youth service, the ones with the most ticks received a prize. I treasured what I had earned, providing me with a fresh impetus for continuing my regular attendance at the shul.
My barmitzvah was in another shul, The Higher Broughton Shul in Duncan St because that is where my parents belonged, but it closed down shortly after, leaving the way open for our family to move to Stenecourt (How amazing it is that the Higher Broughton shul closed down fifty years ago because no Jews lived in that area any more but now it is the centre of renewed Jewish life with the highly respected Rav Yehuda Leib Wittler as the local mora d’asra).
Keeping teenage boys interested was a new challenge for Reverend Brodie, but without any major gimmicks he managed to maintain our loyalty. I remember speaking to university students who seemed to gravitate to Stenecourt and they said that they came because they all regarded Reverend Brodie as a very genuine person, welcoming everybody to the shul and being everybody’s “friend.” I remember shalosh seudos in the winter. The problem was that shalosh seudos was just at the time the results of the football matches were coming in and whether we were “United” or “City” supporters, we were all very tense. How can one enjoy a shalosh seudos if you don’t know how your team has done? So why did we pile in to enjoy matza and herring and a dvar Torah given first to the boys and then to the men? The answer is that somehow the results of the matches were written out by the caretaker and stuck to the door of the shalosh seudos room. I don’t know whether Reverend Brodie had arranged that and no halachic conclusions can be drawn from it but, bottom line, we were in the shul, not the street.
Mincha and Maariv are not usually overflowing with people in the typical Anglo- Jewish shuls but Stenecourt’s minyanim were constant. But one night presented a particular challenge. It was the final of the European Cup between Manchester United and Benfica televised live. Clearly no self-respecting schoolboy would leave the television screen to go to shul. The idea was too preposterous. However Reverend Brodie found a solution. Mincha and Maariv was scheduled at the exact time of half time. We raced to shul for a quick Mincha (heiche kedusha) and even quicker Maariv and amazingly we were home to see almost the whole of the second half. Again no halachic conclusions can be drawn from this but Reverend Brodie had found a way to teach us our real priorities while understanding that we weren’t really holding there. Maybe he had charisma, maybe special siyatta dishmaya but he just kept us all on the straight and narrow. When I was seventeen, he heard I was going to Yeshiva and he was overjoyed. He organized a gift from the shul of a set of Mishna Berura wishing me success in my Yeshiva studies, a set which I still use to this day.
On my holidays from Yeshiva he always asked me to give shiurim and drashos, which gave me the confidence to pursue a rabbinical career rather than a legal one, despite having a place to study law at London University. When the time came for me to marry, he was again our main support, saying to my new bride as we came out of the yichud room, “So Mrs Fletcher, how do you like married life?” No doubt he brought a smile to hundreds of young brides with this little joke. I still remember his drasha at our chasuna even though it was over forty years ago and of course we still have the picture as he presented us with a becher, (Chazon Ish size by special request), on behalf of the shul. After our chasuna, my wife and I went to Amsterdam where I joined the Kollel but whenever we came back to Manchester, Reverend Brodie always invited me to speak in the shul. He wrote a beautiful letter of recommendation to help me find a rabbinic position which was important in my being appointed rabbi of Queen’s Park Shul in Glasgow. My ability to leyn, which was vital there, was much enhanced because of him encouraging me to continue lehning from time to time, after my barmitzvah. And my megila reading which I started in Amsterdam, continued in Glasgow and continue to this day in Ramat Beit Shemesh is based almost entirely on the way I heard it from him in Stenecourt.
For about fifty years Reverend Brodie was centrally involved in all my family events officiating at my late father’s funeral in 2010 and being a rock of support to my mother thereafter. He also was a power of support to my late parents-in-law after they joined Stenecourt from another shul in their later years.
Of course, this is mostly about myself and his vital role in my life. But the boys I went to Stenecourt with in the 1960s all set up beautiful frum Jewish homes and have all been successful, each one in a different way. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people came under his good influence over the decades he was involved in his avodas hakodesh. What wonderful merits he will have taken with him to the olom ho’emes. In later years, the Reverend Gabriel Brodie Beis Hamedresh in Stenecourt is always full with people davening or learning or having meetings in the side rooms. He himself continued to give shiurim inthe shul well after his official retirement. How wonderful of the shul not to wait until after his death to honour him but to rebuild the shul and Beis Hamedresh in his name to allow him to see and enjoy the fruits of his labours of close on seventy years. A light has gone out of Anglo-Jewry. Yehi zichro boruch.