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Rabbi Jerachmiel Cofnas
Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Jerachmiel Cofnas was born in 1912 in Deksnia, Poland in the Vilna Geburnia. He had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. His father was a Rabbi and Shochet and his grandfather, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Freedman, came to Manchester at the turn of the century. Jerachmiel also had uncles in Manchester. After marriage Jerachmiel’s father and mother came to Manchester, where they lived for 10 years and had 4 children but Jerachmiel’s father found life too irreligious for him and eventually moved back to Poland, where Jerachmiel was subsequently born. Jerachmiel’s mother was from Moldetchna, Russia where her father was a Dayan. Jerachmiel has vague memories of the First World War and soldiers passing through their small farming community. Life was very hard and they were often hungry. There were about 35 Jews in that farming community but the ground was not fertile and they barely eked a living. They had a shul and led a religious life. He describes the hardships of living in a primitive environment and the intensity of religious life.
Jerachmiel and his siblings had private teachers and attended cheder and then went to Yeshivah ketana and then Yeshivah for older boys. They family moved from Deksnia to Aishishok and then to Ostryn. Jerachmiel went to Radin where he learnt in the Chofetz Chaim Yeshivah and described his memories of the Chofetz Chaim as well as of other great Rabbis in other Yeshivahs, such as Rabbi Shimon Shkob (Breinsker). Jerachmiel learnt to be a shochet from his father and he took semicha and learnt to be a mohel. His brother went to Chevron Yeshivah and then Manchester where he was a Rabbi in Birmingham and he arranged for Jerachmiel to come to Birmingham in the late 1930s.
The journey was stressful because he missed his train in Holland and had no money for another. A kind hotelier helped him. He found adjusting to live in England very hard since he was not used to seeing non-religious Jews and he knew no English. His sister-in-law taught him and he attended night school. He helped his brother in the shul and eventually took over from him in the New Synagogue in Birmingham. He married in 1943 Bertha Sternberg from Manchester and they had 1 boy and 2 girls. He served as Rabbi, shochet and mohel in Birmingham for 45 years and found he got on well with the shul executives. He always saw the good in people and felt his role as mohel brought him close to the congregants. He did have tricky situations during his ministry but was firm with his religious principles and was supported by his executive.
He received letters from chaverim in Vilna at the beginning of the war and Red Cross notes from his father but then lost contact. His father was killed during the war with his stepmother and his married sister and family. In Birmingham his children attended the Jewish School and then non-Jewish Schools. They belonged to B’nai Akiva. His son Lionel went to Yeshivah in London and Gateshead and became a Rabbi. He is now a Rabbi in Liverpool and has 4 children all married.
The place I was born was very small, almost like a kibbutz, there were 35 inhabitants and they were all Jewish. The only non-Jewish person was the one who looked after the flock. Everybody was issued with a plot of land, because there was plenty of land in Poland, not inhabited. All the inhabitants of that place were farmers. My father acted as the Rabbi there and, he was the shochet [kosher butcher].