Manchester, England is home to an estimated 20,000-30,000 Jews, roughly 40 percent of whom keep kosher. Three of the community’s six kosher butcher/delicatessen shops are run by Richard Hyman and his wife, Joanna.
The 99-year-old family business, known to locals as “Titanics,” was born out of the most famous maritime disaster in history.
Richard, 42, is the great-grandson of Joseph Abraham Hyman, a survivor of the Titanic who was a third-class passenger aboard the ship.
“He was traveling alone,” Richard says of his great-grandfather in an e-mail conversation with The Observer. “The idea was that the streets were paved with gold in the United States and he would earn money to send back to the family so that they could follow in.”
Born in Russia in 1878, Joseph Abraham Hyman lived in Manchester before boarding Titanic at Southampton. He listed his destination as Springfield, Mass., where he planned to join his brother. Three days after the sinking on April 15, 1912, when the rescue ship Carpathia arrived in New York on the evening of April 18, Hyman gave extensive accounts of the disaster to The New York Herald and The New York Times. Both were published the following day.
After Titanic’s collision, Hyman related, he ultimately made it to the boat deck. He found himself on the starboard side near collapsible boat C and noticed this was the last boat at that part of the ship.
The forward deck was jammed with the people, all of them pushing and clawing and fighting, and so I walked forward and
stepped over the end of the boat that was being got ready and sat down,” he told The New York Times. “Nobody disturbed me, and then a line of men gathered along the side, and only opened when a woman or a child came forward. When a man tried to get through he would be pushed back.”
Also on collapsible C was J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line.
Hyman told The New York Herald that after the men had rowed collapsible C about a half mile from Titanic, they heard a small explosion and a terrible cry. “The cry was blood curdling and never stopped until the Titanic went down, when it seemed to be sort of choked off. The cry is ringing in my ears now and always will.”
Shaken to the core, Hyman’s wife refused to make the crossing to join him in America, Richard says. But Hyman, too, was afraid to travel by ship to England.
“So a cousin of his got him drunk and put him on a boat back,” Richard explains. “We don’t know who the cousin was, as I don’t think my great-grandfather spoke to him again!”
Hyman got the idea for a kosher deli/grocery store while he was in New York. This kind of shop was new to England. Although Hyman named his business J.A. Hyman Ltd., locals referred to him as “the man from the Titanic.” Soon enough, customers began calling the North Manchester shop “Titanics.”
Hyman died in 1956, 13 years before Richard was born. The family tells Richard that his great-grandfather never spoke about his escape once he was back in England.
“We still have customers who come in and tell me now they used to get the salmon fligel (fin) of Jewish lollipop as they called it from my great-grandfather when they were little — a tradition that still continues today,” Richard says.
In addition to their North Manchester store, less than half a mile from the original shop, the Hyman family also has two others south of Manchester.
Their website (www.titanics.co.uk), with the slogan, “You Shop, We Schlep!” accounts for 15-20 percent of their retail business. They ship all over the United Kingdom and deliver from the far north of Scotland to the southern tip of England.
“The same items are popular now as they were then,” Richard says. “We make our own smoked salmon to the original recipe along with pickles, salt beef, etc. I have also just started making my grandfather’s hot dogs, salamis and pastrami again; he had written down his recipes and it has taken me years to decipher his handwriting and measurements, but they are still great now.”
Richard started working at Titanics as a “Sunday boy” after his Bar Mitzvah. He says his parents didn’t pressure him to enter the family business.
“I went to university to keep my options open, however my grandparents wanted me to carry the business on,” he says. “It is a very hard business to be in and you have to love it and live it for it to succeed.”
Richard took over the business from his father, Stanley. These days, Stanley acts as an advisor.
“Changes are vast though,” Richard says. “People now want convenience, they want to get cooked foods or have something that is easy to prepare and cook.”
Titanics, under full-time supervision of the Manchester Kashruth Authority, offers its customers, traditional to modern selections, cooked and raw. “We are one of the few proper kosher butchers in Manchester now,” he says. “There used to be 50-plus.”
As far as Richard and Joanna’s children — Callum, 9; Leo, 5; and Jessica, 3 — are concerned, Richard doesn’t pressure them to join the family business. But he’s trying to give them the same love of food that he has. “If they do decide that it is what they want to do for a career, they have that knowledge.”
(Marshall Weiss is the editor and publisher of The Dayton Jewish Observer.)