The Raisman Family


The following has appeared in various issues of the British Jewry Newsletter and are reproduced here with kind permission of John Raisman & Naomi Barnett.


The Bar Mitzvah of Matan Daniel GNESSON took place at Beit Shean, Israel, in the shul located in the beautiful guesthouse where all his family and friends stayed for the weekend. Matan, the son of Helen & Stuart, grandson of Arnold and the late Daphne GNESSON, and of Ruth and John RAISMAN, read the complete sedra. As the shul’s sifrei Torah were Sephardi (vertical), Stuart had arranged for his cousin David LUSTIG to bring his own very old Ashkenazi sefer. He had bought it from a shul in Hull that was closing down, and had dedicated it to his wife’s late mother, Rene FISHMAN, and his own parents.

Using the JC Archives, Matan had discovered that his maternal ancestors, the LICHTENSTEINs and the RAISMANs, lived in Hull and district from the 1850s, so it is very likely that he read from the same sefer as his 4x great-grandfathers. The mantle covering the sefer had been lovingly made and embroidered by his maternal great-grandmother Rebecca DORFMAN, née BINSTOCK, for Matan’s shul in Israel, so the family connections were very strong.

He had also confirmed that his great-great-grandmother, Rebecca RAISMAN, née LICHTENSTEIN, was headmistress of the Hull Hebrew Girls’ School1, and that her father in-law Moshy RAISMAN was one of the founders of the New Briggate Shul, Leeds . Moshy started the first commercial matzo bakery in Leeds in 1875, trading as RAISMAN & Morris2. He later moved to Preston, trading as RAISMAN & Co.3 and, during the 1914 -18 war, producing biscuits for the military. The firm moved back to Leeds about 1920, and rumour has it that the factory was sold to Rakusens.

Matan also found a report of a rose bush being planted in memory of his late grandmother Daphne GNESSON, a teacher at Rosh Pinner School4. Another covered his mother Helen’s Bat Mitzvah, the first in Princes Road Shul, Liverpool5. If anyone has any information on any of my antecedents I would be pleased to hear from them.

JC sources
114/10/1892, p16; 211/3/1892, advertisement; 326/2/1915, p 26; 45/2/1988, p15; 53/9/1976, p11

BOOK REVIEW: The Undark Sky: A Story of Four Poor Brothers by Geoffrey Raisman, Harehills Press, Reviewed by Naomi Barnett

"Even on the darkest nights there’s always some light in the sky. However little it is, the sky never gets completely dark." This observation was made by the author's father, Harry Raisman, who had a lifelong fascination with mathematics and astronomy. Denied the opportunity to have a formal education because his income was needed to support the family, he educated himself in other ways and left an indelible impression on his only son.

The theme of the book deals with a family of 11 surviving children and their parents seeking to succeed and improve their lot in life.

Like so many other families who suffered through the pogroms of Tzarist Russia, the Raisman family ancestors moved from “Der Hame”, a town called Shakee, and landed in Hull. The story moves fairly rapidly from their arrival in Leeds in 1876, through a failed business venture, to a lifetime involvement with the clothing industry - a course similarly traversed by many thousands of migrants. Tailoring was the means by which the family could earn enough to educate some of their children for a better future. Raisman paints very graphic pictures of the early days in Leeds. He describes the desperate poverty of all the Jewish migrant families who tried to eke out a meagre existence. To add to the Raismans' miserable poverty, they were gamblers, a disease which ran through several generations.

The author takes us on a journey through the growth of the family with its many extended branches, the plan made by his uncles Myer and Jeremy to take the family beyond the Leylands, through two Wars, the Great Depression and many other events. We read of the wonderful achievements of Jeremy in India. His fortuitous move in entering the Indian Civil Service was surely a life-changing experience and a major achievement for a child of a migrant. Following the end of the British presence in India, Jeremy continued his high achievements in commerce in England. There are sad tales about John, who lives in exile in Argentina, and Louis, who lost contact with the family and who died penniless in Canada.

Uncle Myer played a huge part in Raisman’s life. The thread woven throughout the book shows how Myer lived a completely selfless life. He took on the huge task of staving off poverty and holding the family together, no mean feat, and a wonderful achievement. How satisfying it was for Myer that two of the brothers and, in his turn, his nephew the author, attended Oxford University. Myer must have been so proud of Geoffrey’s achievements; their relationship was very special! It seems they also shared a wonderful friendship. The author describes in touching terms how his Unky Myer died, and his last words of delight at imagining a prize acceptance by his nephew.

There are some wry observations scattered through the story. One about his father by Jeremy: "Other men live on their income, father lives on his outcome". This was no doubt related to the gambling of Maurice. Again on the same theme: "A working man has to gamble, it’s the only way he can make any money".

An interesting touch by the author which made the book more appealing to me was his spelling of certain words in a homely North-Country "Yinglish" way; for example, Hymy, Maishy, Kovner, Matsy, Pailishy. I also enjoyed reading the familiar names of streets, landmarks, parks, shuls and cemeteries. I haven’t been to Leeds but it has been a huge part of my life for almost 40 years, as my husband was born there.

Raisman has succeeded in telling a story about his ancestors in an entertaining way. At the same time he takes us for a vicarious journey along that path. The Undark Sky is a "must read" for anyone who wants to learn more about the tailoring trade's early days in Leeds, about the City of Leeds itself, and how the migrants struggled to survive in the latter part of the 19th century.


MORE   About the Database.
Background on how it all began and how it turned out.

MANHAM   The Manham Family.
Theresa Stewart shares some of her research stories on this fascinating family.

RAISMAN   The Raisman Family.
John Raisman writes about his family history, plus a book review by Naomi Barnett.

LANDA   The Landa Family.
Sherry Landa has written numerous pieces about her own family history research which was the precursor of the Leeds Database .

IMMIGRATION   To Leeds from Lithuania & Latvia.
Angie Elfassi shares a momentous trip.

MORE   On Engagements, Betrothals & Forthcoming Marriage Announcements.
How many announcements in the press, were actually followed up with a marriage? Not as many as you might think according to this article by Sherry Landa.

JOSEPH   Jewish Genealogy in Leeds-from Abroad.
The story of Jonny Joseph's research journey.


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