Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uncle Isaac

While they tried to sort out the marriage to Eliahoo Joseph, Sophia Hettena and her mother, Farha, spent 18 months in England. And when they finally returned to Egypt, Farha and Sophia left something precious behind.

Members of Manchester’s burgeoning Sephardic Jewish community had taken pity on Farha and Sophia and come to their aid. Salom Attal, a Moroccan Jew by birth and a naturalized British citizen, helped them find an apartment and paid their expenses in Manchester.

Evidently some deal was struck between the Hettenas and the Attals. For when Farha and Sophia returned home to Egypt, with Sophia free from her obligation to Eliahoo Joseph, one member of the family remained behind.

Uncle Isaac
Isaac Hettena, the 3-year-old boy who had accompanied his mother and sister, would spend the rest of his childhood and his early adult years in Manchester. He attended the Manchester Jewish School and served in the British Army during World War I. The city would be his home for much of his life and is today his final resting place.

My father was never told why uncle Isaac had been separated from his five brothers and three sisters back in Egypt. Some said that it was a business deal, and the Attals were unable to have children.

Young Isaac filled a void in the Attals life. The Attals were longing for a son of their own. When the Hettenas entered their lives in 1891, Attal and his wife, Simha, were mourning the death of their son, Joseph, who had died in infancy the previous year. For reasons that are not clear, Isaac would take his place.

Whatever the case, the agreement had been reached between the Hettenas and the Attals quickly unravelled.

In 1897, while Isaac was living with the Attals, Farha Hettena sued Salom Attal in the British Courts of the Mixed Tribunals in Alexandria, Egypt and won a judgement of £740. The precise nature of the dispute is unclear, as the records have proved difficult to locate. Attal appealed and lost.

Attal countersued Farha Hettena in 1900, and the records of this case did survive. The Hettenas had now moved to the more cultured city of Alexandria, home to the largest Jewish community in Egypt.

Attal states that Farha Hettena has been pressing him to hand over the award, threatening him with a court order if he did not pay up. He describes Farha as “a pauper, or nearly so.

In his claim, Attal says that Farha Hettena owed him the even greater sum of £850 for the care he had provided to Isaac over the past few years and other expenses he covered from Farha’s and Sophia’s time in Manchester:

(a) Account rendered to Mr. Hettena as per my books now in the hands of the English Consul at Alexandria about £130
(b) Board pocket money and extras for Farha Hettena and daughter for 18 months supplied at the request of Farha Hettena: £170
(c) Fares to Alexandria Mrs. Hettena and daughter. £40.
(d) Nurse for the son [Isaac] for 2 years £150
(e) Board clothes and school for the son for 6 years. £360

The court was not moved by this argument and ordered him to pay Farha what she was owed. On October 16, 1900, Attal signed over to Farha 10 shares of Egyptian Sugar & Land, a Scottish company. The company went into liquidation a few years later.

Despite the lawsuit, young Isaac Attal grew up very much an Englishman. He remained up in the Attal home in Manchester at 237 Cheetham Hill Road. The 1901 Census of England lists 11-year-old Isaac as Attal’s son. The 1911 Census shows Isaac still living in Manchester with Simha Attal, his adopted mother, who was recently widowed. That same year, the 20-year-old Isaac married an Englishwoman, Ethel Cummins, and listed Salom Attal as his father on the marriage license. Isaac and two Englishmen formed business together called Issac Attal & Company and traded Egyptian cotton.

At some point in his mid-20s, after he joined the British Army during World War I, Isaac Attal became Isaac Hettena again. He remarried and returned to Cairo, but his new wife, a native of England, did not approve. She hated life in Egypt and returned to England with her daughter.

Isaac, a man with two sets of parents, was now torn between his wife and his family. Somehow he managed. When his wife left for England, Isaac remained in Cairo to be with the Hettenas.

Issac was the favorite uncle of my father and his sister.  When the Hettena Brothers were about to cut off support to my dad, his sister and their widowed mother, it was Isaac who stepped in to help.

Isaac was an early riser and had a habit of visiting my father and aunt at seven in the morning for breakfast. He would ring the bell in rhythm as the signal for the household to get up and greet him.

Although he became a Hettena again, Isaac remained loyal to the Attals for the rest of his life. He named his first son, Salom Victor, in his honor of his adopted father. Simha Attal, Salom’s wife, came to Egypt with him and remained part of his family. Issac’s nieces and nephews called her “Granny Attal.”

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