Leah Reiss z”l, 1899-1989

Today is the twentieth Yahrzeit (Jewish anniversary of death) of my maternal grandmother, Leah Reiss (née Levy), and another e-memorial (I posted the first on the Yahrzeit of Jonny, my late brother) presents an excellent opportunity to remember a real character and, in her own unique way, Eishet Chayil (woman of valour) . . .

If there is a Platonic ‘universal form’ of Polish Grandmother, my guess is it will not be too dissimilar from “Grandma”. Neighbours would often hear her call out to her then fifty-something year old son – when he picked my grandfather up for work – to check that he hadn’t forgotten his chocolate!

Missing the business on Tel Aviv beach (Grandma is sporting a pearl necklace in the Israeli summer!)

Missing the Business: On Tel Aviv beach in summer . . . Grandma sporting a pearl necklace!

Grandma was born, at the close of the nineteenth century, to new immigrants –  from Rozwadów, Galicia – to the East End of London. She married my grandfather, Sam Reiss, a furrier by trade, who took over her family’s hosiery business on Brick Lane – the precursor of today’s Reiss global fashion chain – before moving it to Whitechapel High Street (where one store is still trading today). Grandma lived for her family and “the business”, and my mother grew up on a counter rather than in a pram.

A firm believer that “blood is thicker than water”, “Auntie Leah” would do anything for her own, especially nephews and nieces, for whom she would often stand up against tyrannical parents. Sadly, this benevolence did not extend to my grandfather’s family, who (for no good reason in particular) could do no right in her eyes, and the relationships between the numerous Reiss sisters-in-law made those of the Dallas Ewings seem harmonious!

And Grandma didn’t give her children’s spouses an easy ride either. When my uncle dared to date a French-Egyptian girl, from a non-Orthodox family – and, perhaps more significantly to Grandma, one of modest economic means – Grandma flew to Paris, unannounced and uninvited, to inform the girl’s mother that this was a wedding that would not be happening (it did). Grandma would also often chide my father – like any good Irishman, fond of a glass or three of the “hard stuff”, when popping in on his way home from synagogue – for drinking too much (my grandfather would wink at him, as if to say “ignore her” . . . which my father always did!)

Jonny, Me, Mum & Grandma (circa 1968)

All Smiles: Jonny, Me, Mum & Grandma (circa 1968)

There was a flip side, however, to all of this. Grandma was a woman of rare substance and steel, and, when my brother Jonny’s problems began, she came into her own – Jonny would go round to Grandma, already in her seventies, for TLC, at a time when no one else could cope with him.

Grandma was a worrier as well as a warrior –  her motto should have been “Work won’t kill you, not worrying will” – and, whenever we told her to stop, she would reply “If I don’t worry, who will worry for me?” To her way of thinking, worrying – far from being harmful– was essential.

The most memorable story involving Grandma, however, and the one which perhaps best illustrates her unique character, relates to the occasion on which she was a passenger in my mother’s car, stopped for speeding on Hendon Way. My mother wound down her window, but Grandma was not taking a back seat: “Thank you, Officer,” she interjected, “I am so pleased you stopped us . . . I always tell her that she drives too fast.” And there was no way my mother was getting a ticket after that!

Grandma only had peripheral vision for the last ten or so years of her life, though her immense pride would never allow her to admit it – in an attempt to get to the East End, to ‘help’ in “the business”, we would sometimes catch her trying to feel her way down to Hendon Central Tube station.

A cliché maybe, but Grandma . . . they don’t make ’em like you anymore. Hope you’re not giving the Angels too hard a time!

“Little Michaeleh”


9 responses to “Leah Reiss z”l, 1899-1989

  1. Graham Summers

    mike….I read the obituary on your grandmother a’h.
    I remember her well and fondly having been her neighbour for many years on Prothero.
    A lovely lady and one that added a touch of class to our road and a connection to the Jewish world of yesteryear.
    Please wish your mum long life and all good wishes from the summers family @ 19.

  2. Thanks for your kind comments, Graham. She was “lovely” . . . as long as you stayed on her right side! 😉

  3. Wish I’d met her. Sounds formidable.

  4. Funny & touching. Reminded me of my own grandmas, or as french-speaking sepharadic Jews would refer to them: “mémé”.

  5. Joni Grodzinski

    Your grandmother Leah – my grandmother (Esther Kornbluth)’s older sister.

    What a wonderful obit. I’ve learnt more about your lovely family from this and the posting about your grandfather, Sam, than I ever did from my family.

    My mother, Rita, was very fond of your grandmother – was she one of the “nephews and nieces, for whom she would often stand up against tyrannical parents”??

    Your second cousin,

    Joni Grodzinski

  6. Hi Joni,

    At the behest of my mother (sitting next to me!), I am (very) belatedly correcting your comment above, “for the record”: your grandmother, known to our lot as Auntie Toba, was my grandmother Leah’s older sister (and not vice-versa).

    And, regarding your mother, my mother further informs me that while my grandmother was extremely fond of her . . . her parents were not “tyrannical”!

    Your cousin in Tel Aviv,


  7. Joni Grodzinski

    Please give your mother my regards – I hear from my wife’s aunt Menetta Steinberg that she is a great bridge player and that is all you need to get on in Netanya.

    Gosh what a long time for a reply – the bit about “tyrannical” was not from me – I was quoting you. So who were the “tyrannical parents”?

    older / younger sister – I think this was like “achi yefet hagadol” [v. commentators as to who was the oldest], my records are clear about birthdates:-

    (1) 1 Nathan (Nachman Yehudah) LEVY, 2664
    Birth: 1857, Austria1
    Death: 24 Aug 1925, London 12 Gore Road Hackney, age: 68
    Burial: Edmonton Plot E 3 44?
    Emig: bef 1898, age: 411
    Emig Memo: Leah born in England
    Yahrzeit: 4 Elu 5685, age: 68
    Occ: Draper; Traveller1
    Father: Eliezer Elimelech ARATEN HALEVI, 2197 (-<1887)

    address in 1901 – 76 Plummers Row 1
    On the 24th of August (4th Elul). at 12, Gore-road, Hackney, Nathan Levy (late 78, Berner-street), devoted husband of Sarah Levy, and loving father of Mrs. Kombluth, Michael Levy, and Leah, Deeply mourned…wife, son, daughters, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and grandchildren2

    Spouse: Chaya Sarah BRODT, 2663
    Birth: 1858, Austria1
    Death: 9 Nov 1934, 17 Brick Lane E1, age: 76
    Burial: Edmonton Plot E 2 44?
    Yahrzeit: 2 Kis 5695, age: 76
    Father: Yosef Yekusiel Zusha BRODT, 2194

    Sarah Levy1

    Children: Tauba Esther, 2754 (1881-1965)
    Michael Lazarus, 2899 (1884-1962)
    Sophia (Simia), 2196 (1887-1919)
    Leah, 2776 (1898-1989)

    (2) 1.1 Tauba Esther LEVY, 2754
    Birth: 1881, Rozvadov Nr Mielic
    Immi: bef 1898, London, age: 171
    Immi Memo: sister Leah born in UK
    Death: 24 Nov 1965, 51 Highfield Avenue NW11, age: 84
    Burial: 24 Nov 1965, Edmonton Plot E 4 47, age: 84
    Yahrzeit: 29 Che 5726, age: 84

    aged 20 in 1901 1
    ..latePhillip Kornbluth. in her 84th year Deeply mourned by her sons, daughters., sons-in-law…December 3 1965 (Page:2/3) 3

    Spouse: Philip (Shraga) KORNBLUTH, 2753
    Birth: 7 May 1878, Mielec Poland
    Birth Memo: I do not know source
    Immi: bef 1902, London, age: 23
    Death: 28 Jan 1951, 63 Meadway LONDON NW11, age: 72
    Burial: Edmonton Plot E 4 47
    Yahrzeit: 21 Shv 5711, age: 72
    Occ: Coat work; seller1
    Father: Moshe KORNBLUTH, 2893
    Mother: Ziessel LEHMANN, 2965

    Nationality and Naturalisation: Kornbluth, Phillip, from Austria. Resident in London. Certificate 18714 issued 18 January 1910. 4

    Kornbluth P South Hackney (NE London Beth Hamedrash) Warden
    Kornbluth P Whitechapel Road Synagogue Treasurer
    Kornbluth P Whitechapel Road Synagogue Delegate to the Federation
    Kornbluth P Whitechapel Road Synagogue Delegate to the Burial 5

    Marr: 20 Jul 1902, London Great Graden St Syn
    Marr Memo: JG has copy cert

    Shraga left home and came to London as a young man, he roomed with the Levys and fell in love with Esther

    Children: Joseph, 2755 (1904-1971)
    Akiva (Keva), 2756 (1906-1973)
    Bella, 2758 (1908-1999)
    Naphtali (Nathaniel), 2757 (1914-1997)
    Sid (Shimmy), 2759 (1916-1994)
    Sophie RITA, 2506 (1921-1992)

    (2) 1.2 Michael Lazarus LEVY, 2899
    Birth: 1884, Roswadow1
    Death: 13 Sep 1962, age: 78
    Burial: 14 Sep 1962, Bushey H 4 111, age: 786
    Yahrzeit: 15 Elu 5722, age: 78
    Occ: Coat machinist1

    Lazarus Levy age 17 in 19011

    Elazar Elimelech b. Nachman Yehudah Halevi6

    On Thursday September 17, 1962, 17 Elul , Michael Levy, our dear
    husband and father passed away in his 79th year. Deeply mourned by his wife. Matilda, son. Hymie (Lever), daughter, Renee (Lew) son-ln-law. Jack, daughter-In-law, Sylvia …40 Lytleton Road N27

    Spouse: Matilda ISRAEL, 2637
    Death: 15 Mar 1968, London, age: 78
    Birth: 18908
    Burial: 17 Mar 1968, Bushey H 4 112, age: 786
    Yahrzeit: 15 Ada 5728, age: 78

    Sarah Matil b. Tzvi Halevi aged 786
    LEVY Matilda, widow of the late Michael Levy, passed away on Friday March15, 1968 at her home 112 Monarch Court , N2 after a short illness……son, Hymy Lever, daughter. Renee Lew, daughter-in-law. Sylvia, son-in-law. Jack, grandchildren… ..Shiva terminates today 20 Church Mount N29

    Marr: London

    Children: Harvey (Hymie) Leslie, 2775 (1909-1989)
    Renee, 2671 (1919-)
    Joseph Sidney Joe, 2225 (~1922-1960)

    (2) 1.3 Sophia (Simia) LEVY, 2196
    Birth: 1887, Rozwadow1
    Death: 2 Jan 1919, London, age: 32
    Death Memo: died in childbirth
    Burial: Edmonton Plot E 2 44? g6?
    Yahrzeit: 5 Shv 5679, age: 32
    Occ: button hole worker1

    aged 14 in 1901 1

    Spouse: Nachman ISRAEL, 2195
    Birth: 1884, Ropshitz
    Death: bef 1930, age: 46

    Nachman Shalom HaLevi (see children's tombstones)

    ISBAKL.-On the iMtt of AagustAb 18th, Nathan Israel, deeply mourned by… children May his dear wmt teb iw peace .Skikah at above Address. American and Canadian papers please….AUGUST 19 1927 (Page:2/3)10
    ISRAEL, Nathan

    Edmonton records Nathan Israel
    – is this he?

    Children: Leopold (Lee), 4116 (1909-1957)
    Joe(y), 6117 (-1967)
    Hyman, 6118
    Anne, 4119 (1919-2000)

    (2) 1.4 Leah LEVY, 2776
    Birth: 1898, London
    Death: 28 Jan 1989, age: 91
    Burial: Bushey
    Yahrzeit: 22 Shv 5749, age: 91

    aged 3 in 1901 1
    REISS.Leah. Passed away January 20, 1989 (Shevat 14, 5749). Deeply mourned by devoted husband Samuel, daughters Mavis and Norma, and son Stanley…. May she rest in everlasting peace.11

    Leah Reiss z"l, 1899-1989
    February 8, 2009 •
    Today is the twentieth Yahrzeit …..

    Spouse: Samuel REISS, 2665
    Death: 28 Mar 1995, London, age: 92
    Birth: 1903, Ropshitz
    Yahrzeit: 26 VeA 5755, age: 92
    Father: Father REISS, 1977

    ….Leah, youngest daughter of Mrs. Levy, 12, Gore-road. Victoria Park-road, to Samuel, eldest son of Mr & Mrs. Reiss of 7 Turner Street, Commercial Road. E113

    REISS Samuel, our dear father passed away peacefully in his 93rd year. Respected and loved by all who knew him. Deeply mourned by his children Norma. Mavis and Stanley, daughter-in-law, sons-in-law, grand… great grand daughter14

    Sam Reiss z"l, 1903-1995
    Michael Isaacson's blog March 27, 2009 • 12 Comments
    Few are the folk who do good deeds without fanfare, . . . . . .."15

    Marr: abt 1927

    Children: Gerald, 3017 (1934-1942)
    Stanley, 2209 (1934-1996)
    Norma, 1981 (1928-)
    Mavis, 1989

    1. 1901 Census, UK.
    2. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1925 Aug 28 p2.
    3. Jewish Chronicle. 1965 Dec 3 p2/3.
    4. "http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue.&quot; Piece details: HO 144/1049/186126 .
    5. "Jewish year book 1932 see web site http://www.berzack.com/jeff/LSyn31EK.htm.&quot;
    6. Tombstone. visited Tisha B'Av 2008.
    7. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1962 Sep 21 p2/3.
    8. Tombstone.
    9. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1968 Mar 22 p2/3.
    10. Jewish Chronicle. 1927 Aug 19 p2/3.
    11. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1989 Jan 27 p21.
    12. "web site – see detail."
    13. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1927 May 6 p1.
    14. Jewish Chronicle. copied 1995 March 3 p.
    15. "web site – see detail." https://melchettmike.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/sam-reiss-zl-1903-1995/.

  8. Thank you for the detailed(!) reply, Joni – I will take a look at the info when I get a moment.

    I don’t know that mum is “a great bridge player” – she would have been the first to tell me! – but she is most certainly a main attraction in Netanya.

    I realised that you were “quoting [me]” and was merely pointing out that your parents – again, according to my mother – were not “tyrannical” ones against whom my grandmother felt that she had to defend her nephews and nieces (as to who was, I will leave that until we next meet!)

    Your records just go to prove the older/younger sister point, i.e., that your grandmother was – contrary to what you wrote in your original comment – around 18 years older than mine.


  9. David Kornbluth

    Hi MelchettMike
    whose son are you?
    Is it Norma ?
    I never even heard of Gerald, your parent’s brother.
    But Uncle Sam and Auntie Leah are central characters in my early life.
    Amazing stuff you’ve got on them. Especially if Joni Grodz, the geneologist of our side,says so.
    I’ve been in israel since 1980, married with three wonderful kids and so far a grand pair of grandkids. It seems much of you’re end of the family is moving over too. I sometimes bump into them here

    Sam was a real character. My Dad , Nat Kornbluth, was very fond of him and yes often went over to him from our shop at 56 Whitechapel High St, to get his advice on New Issues of shares. Pa was close to Stanley , his favourite cousin. The both ran shops not far away from each other for decades and were always in touch. I remember Uncle Sam’s shop well. I could never understand how they did so well, my Dad always said they were better and bigger than him, from such a small shop. Pa said it was the huge passing trade as Sam was near the Lane. Sam and Leah were Characters. Sam was always wise and talkative , tho unfortunately his largesse of which you speak did not reach as far as my end of the family(!).
    I will no doubt think of more anecdotes for you.
    The work you have put together is truely wonderful.
    Very best wishes
    hoping to ear from you
    David Kornbluth
    Son of Nat, Naphtali Kornbluth
    Brother of Philip , who drew my attention to your dual obits and also knows a lot of family history

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s