The Green Park Hotel always stood on four pillars: tradition, religion, family and food – as is declared in the opening scene of Marsha Nuriya Lee’s award-winning film about the most famous Jewish hotel in England.
"The Green Park" (2015) will be screened for the first time in Israel in the presence of producer Lee herself, at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, on Tuesday (May 22).
The story of the opulent hotel, which was located in Bournemouth and shut its doors in the 1980s, reflects the story of British Jewry as a whole – from the mass immigration of Jews due to pogroms in Eastern Europe; to the formation of a flourishing and united Jewish community; and finally to globalization, disintegration and deterioration.
It all began with two families, the Richmans and the Marriots. Like many other Jews from Eastern Europe, they fled from Russia and Poland in the late 19th century and settled in London's East End. The young Ruben "Ruby" Marriot and Sarah Richman fell in love and married after a short while. Like many young immigrant couples, they both considered various professional options. Marriot did not wish to become a tailor like his father, but was very ambitious and sought to pursue a more “British” occupation.
His business opportunity came from a most unexpected place: Bournemouth, the popular and beautiful resort on England's southern shore. Marriot noticed an old building for sale there, on top of the eastern cliff overlooking the English Channel. With help from friends and family, he managed to raise the requisite sum and purchased the structure, which underwent a thorough renovation as part of his plan to establish a trendy new hotel designed in the popular art deco style.
The hotel was inaugurated in 1943, at the peak of preparations for the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. Thousands of soldiers flooded the small resort town, among them many Jews who were surprised to receive invitations to a Passover seder at the splendid new, kosher hotel called Green Park.
That was the first out of dozens of seders, Hanukkah celebrations and stylish Purim costume parties held in Green Park for over 40 years, during which the hotel became a vibrant Jewish center never seen in England before.
It was a family-run hotel, managed by the Marriots and the Richmans. Ruby Marriot used to offer a warm personal welcome to his guests at the entrance. Guests would then go to the reception desk where Ray Richman was in charge of reservations and payments. The main financier was Judy Richman; the chief caterer was Hannah Richman. Marriot’s sisters-in-law worked in the hotel for some 40 years, until it closed, in 1986.
Matriarch on the premises
However, the chief operator and grand matriarch on the premises was Bubbe Richman, a stocky woman, a heavy smoker, a living remnant of the old Jewish world who would curse loudly in Yiddish and cheat at cards – who wasn’t going anywhere and had no intentions to change.
One should not get the wrong idea: Green Park was no humble, simple place. It was a fine establishment, favored by British Jewish high society, by those who wished to display and enjoy high-class manners and lifestyles, while at the same time maintaining their religious traditions.
Among the distinguished guests who stayed in Green Park over the years were business magnate Sir Isaac Wolfson; the bookmaker Cyril Stein; Sir Jack Cohen, founder of the Tesco supermarket chain; Oscar Deutsch, president of the Odeon cinema change; the legendary Beatles manager, Brian Epstein; and many others.
The hotel had magnificent suites, elegant bathrooms, card rooms and dance halls for nighttime parties. The crowning glory was its delicious, carefully prepared kosher meals. To quote a television commercial from the 1960s: “At the Green Park Hotel all of your kosher needs will be fully met! We have separate facilities for milk and meat, our fish are all fully scaled and freshly caught in the North Atlantic, it’s all fresh, and of course – no pork!”
Two additional ideals characterized the hotel: tradition and religion. As Edward Lee, one of the second-generation children of Green Park, shares in the movie about the hotel: “For 50 weeks a year you’re trying to assimilate and two weeks a year going back to your roots.”
Green Park not only a venue for card games, parties and Jewish dating, but was also deeply committed to Jewish traditions and rituals. You did not have to be Orthodox to attend services in the synagogue there on Shabbat eve or holidays: “The Jewish rituals joined all the participants together.”
During the 1970s the hotel began to decline. New ideas and fashions, as well as increasing globalization gradually wore out the unique social fabric of the place. The older generation, who had deep respect and feeling for Jewish tradition and for the unification of their community, failed to pass on these values to their grandchildren. The generational gap deepened, the world economy was changing, vacations abroad became cheaper and trendy (for example, to Italy and Majorca) – and all these circumstances brought the end of the establishment.
Green Park shut its doors, and Bubbe Richman passed away, followed by Ruby Marriot. Sisters Judy and Hannah Richman now live together in an art deco house in Bournemouth, not far from a huge apartment complex – an ugly monument for the most famous Jewish hotel in England that used to stand there.
The Beit Hatfutsot blog tells the story and makes accessible materials from the history of the Jewish people, in Israel and the Diaspora, from its distant past until our times in the modern State of Israel. It tells the story of culture, people, curiosities, new angles on phenomena and well-known cases, or turns the spotlight on those we have never known about.
For the Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People website go to: www.bh.org.il
For the museum's blog: www.bh.org.il/category/blog-items