Mr Norman Franks celebrated his 100th birthday with family and friends at Manchester Reform Synagogue, being called to the Torah and enjoying a special Kiddush on the 28th July 2018. Norman came from an Orthodox family. His father was born in Stocks St, Manchester and worked as a joiner, before relocating to Sunderland where Norman was born. The family came back to Hightown, Manchester when Norman was four years old. Norman went to school at North Manchester Grammar. Times were hard and he left school early and had various sundry jobs until he joined the army. During WWII, he served in Egypt, Iraq and Iran as a Staff Sergeant.
Norman was a member of our Reform Synagogue from 1954 and was the General Secretary from 1973 until he retired in 1999. Throughout most of these 26 years, Norman did everything for a congregation: the day-to-day running of the Shul, the financial admin and communications. He initially took up the job at the Shul just as Rabbi Tovia ben Chorin arrived. Norman had been working 72 hours a week in his previous job for two demanding directors. After consulting his wife Gwen, he agreed to work for our Shul with its twelve hundred directors. Norman could tell you the names, addresses and dates of birth of all the members without having to look them up. He said that this ability went back his time as an army sergeant. He was the regimental pay clerk and could remember the names, ranks and serial numbers of scores of soldiers.
Whenever anyone came to the Shul, Norman was their first port of call. He was the first to interview you. A visitor came to the office and on his departure made for the wrong door. “Not through that one”, said Norman, “You’ll end up in the filing system and never be seen again!” Another visitor wanted directions to the Resource Centre upstairs: “Just keep going up and if you come to a boy with wings and a harp you know you’ve gone too far.” And yes, he arranged all the funerals, whether he was in the office or at home on weekdays or at weekends. He lived up to his name: Nachum the Comforter.
His wit and humour will always be remembered fondly. His expressions are still in use: the announcements for the week he called verbals, the list of Aliyot and Mitzvah’s runners and riders, and when civic dignitaries come to a service they’re The chain gang. There were also Norman’s amusing monologues, in which his theatrical background showed through, as well as a raconteur extraordinaire. He was a founder member of the Northern Jewish Theatre Group formed in 1948.
A Shul community thrives to the extent that there are good relationships between its members. And in every community, there are key personalities who stimulate these good relationships – Norman was exemplary in this regard. Norman died at the age of 101 on the 2nd January 2020. May his memory be for a blessing.