On a beautiful sunny evening the members of Lodge of Israel No 1502 together with their guests were delighted to mark the diamond jubilee of Hershel Eric Leon Levinson who has been a steadfast contributor of both his time and skill to the lodge in the execution of his many offices over the last 60 years. The principal guest for the evening, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Derek Parkinson, was on this celebratory occasion, accompanied by grand officers Barry Elman and Andrew Ross, along with Bob Povall Liverpool Group Chairman. Ensuring the smooth running of the festivities and leading this grand array of officers into the lodge room was Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Mark Barton.
The master of the lodge Paul Rattigan welcomed Derek Parkinson to the lodge, which was meeting for this evening in the large Corinthian room of Liverpool Masonic Hall. Paul remarked to Derek that the lodge was very honoured to receive him this evening for such an exceptional occasion. On accepting the gavel, Derek replied: “Normally this gavel is quickly returned, but on this special evening I will retain it for a while”. Before beginning the main body of his address, Derek began by stating that: “The brethren here today belong to a unique organisation in which men of any race or religion can come together in a belief in brotherly love, relief and truth. To live by these standards for 60 years speaks volumes of the Mason that we are here to recognise this evening and it is therefore right to congratulate him on the very auspicious occasion of his diamond jubilee.”
Derek began by recalling the memorable events of 1928, the year of Hershel’s birth. On the day of the birth Italian pilot Mario de Barnardi set a new air speed record of 336.6 miles per hour, the first person to fly at over 300 miles an hour. Also on the day that Hershel was born, the Grand National was run at Aintree, a day full of mist, with the ground wet and heavy. It was at the notorious Canal Turn, that one of the horses fell bringing down most of the others. Tipperary Tim who went on to win, coming in at 100/1. One other horse actually finished the race, Billy Barton, who had fallen but his jockey remounted and came in second.
At the time of Hershel’s birth the family lived in Kelvin Grove, a small cul-de-sac near Princes Park Gates. Derek explained that Hershel’s father, Maxwell had been born in Belarus, but his family had to flee the persecution then rife in that area and arrived in Liverpool. Maxwell obtained employment with the Ingersoll watch company in Argentina. He was then promoted and moved to the New York office. Before heading for New York, he returned to Liverpool to see his family and while there met a young lady, Minnie Glynn, and fell immediately in love. He never did make New York. Taken into the family business of Minnie’s father, Maxwell married Minnie in 1922.
Hershel was the third of four children born to the couple and was educated at Morrison Elementary School on Greenbank Road and as this school was near to the Synagogue in Greenbank Drive they gave Hebrew lessons for the Jewish children. When he was 11 he won a scholarship to the Liverpool Institute and was due to start there in September 1939. However, by then the school had closed and all the pupils had been evacuated to Bangor in North Wales, so Hershel went to live there with Mr and Mrs Emrys Jones and their daughters. When he arrived he was the only other male in the house and so got on very well with Mr Jones and got good support from him.
As there hadn’t been any bombing of Liverpool during the early part of the war Hershel and the other Liverpudlians all returned home, but the following year Hershel’s family decided to self-evacuate to Llandudno until 1943. After the war, he continued his education at the Institute and took ‘A’ Level exams but then at 18 he was conscripted into the services and joined the Royal Air Force. Having been in the Air Training Cadets whilst at school the RAF was a logical choice and Hershel became a radio operator in communications and served for almost three years.
The stay in Liverpool was very short lived, for Hershel embarked on the Empress of Scotland for a six-week all-inclusive cruise to Singapore. Once there he was transferred by land to Johore in Malay for three months and then on to Kai Tak Airbase in Hong Kong which at that time was a combined civilian and military airport and had been Hong Kong’s only international airport since 1925. Hershel was associated with the 88th Squadron Coastal Command that had Sunderland Flying Boats to provide courier services between bases in the Far East, and was eventually disbanded in 1954.
After his time in Hong Kong he returned to the UK being demobbed with back pay and a new demob suit. At the end of 1945 about 75,000 suits were being made each week and one of the principle suppliers was Burtons, founded by Montague Burton, himself a Lithuanian Russian migrant. It is thought that Montague Burton’s name is probably the most likely origin of the phrase ‘the fully monty’ meaning ‘the works’ or everything.
Having arrived back in Liverpool, Hershel’s father informed him that his partner in the company had died and so there was an opening. That meant starting straight away but Hershel signed up for the Business Administration course at the local College of Commerce and got the training and qualifications to help in managing the company, originally called Erskine clothing. In 1952, his father bought a warehouse in the Isle of Man and started a company called IOMA Clothing and incorporated all the business under that name. The company supplies custom made clothing and uniforms, but Derek said that Hershel had told him he found some other areas of the work especially interesting, particularly the contracts to make theatre and film costumes. They made some of the bespoke clothes for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and has worked on almost 40 films, as well as a number of stage musicals. There was a lot of competition over who was going to make Brad Pitt’s trousers for one film. Hershel has been a director of the company ever since it’s early days and is still Chairman of the Board.
Hershel met his first wife in the 1950’s, an Israeli girl named Lea, who had come over to gain further experience as a midwife at the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. They married in Israel, returning to Liverpool and had one son, David. David returned to Israel with his mother and has himself had one son and two daughters, which Hershel still sees. In 1969 Hershel married again, to Maureen, and the couple have had two sons, one is involved with the family business while the other followed an academic route and is a college lecturer by profession. Sadly, Maureen died 15 years ago. Apart from keeping up his interest in the family business, Hershel is also Chairman of the Residents Organisation where he now lives and previously he was Chairman of the Reformed Synagogue in Church Road North.
Moving on to his Masonic career, Derek added that this was the reason why all had come here on the evening, and that Hershel had been introduced into Freemasonry by his father and grandfather. His father was the proposer while his mother’s cousin, Mark Levin seconded him, with Hershel initiated into Lodge of Israel No 1502 on the 13 May 1957. He progressed through the various offices and eventually became WM, he was installed in November 1973, 16 years after initiation. By good fortune however that did mean that he was the WM for the lodge centenary celebrations the following year and that was a very proud moment for him and a very memorable year when Sir Knowles Edge presided over the lodge centenary celebrations held here at Hope Street.
In 1975 Hershel was a Founder member of Masada Lodge No. 8638, which became amalgamated into Lodge of Israel in 2002. In 1995, the Provincial Grand Master appointed Hershel to Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon with a further promotion eight years later to the rank he holds today, Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden. Hershel was also a member of Menorah Chapter No 4513 for 33 years.
At this point in the procedure Derek requested the Liverpool Group Chairman, Bob Povall to read the diamond jubilee certificate issued by command of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. Derek then concluded by saying directly: “Hershel, you have done a lot in your life and contributed to society and Freemasonry in many ways during your 89 years, serving your faith and community, and contributing to the business life of this city and it is a fitting tribute to you and indeed a pleasure for me personally and for all your friends and colleagues here this evening to be able to celebrate with you the significant milestone of achieving 60 years as a member of Craft Freemasonry.”
The formal element of the evening having come to a close, the gathering retired to the dining suite to continue the celebrations in true Lodge of Israel style. Tribute after tribute to Hershel floated around the room during the course of the meal but the main ones were reserved for the more formal session of speeches. There was, of course, that from Derek Parkinson and the primary one from Barry Elman, a long-term friend and member of the lodge
In response, Hershel entertained his audience with humorous anecdotes and tributes of his own. It was a gem of a moment from a pure diamond in Freemasonry. The occasion had been a wonderful diamond jubilee for Hershel and a memorable occasion for all who had been privileged to be in attendance.