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The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street and the Yarmulke

Shoshana R. Meiri

Bank notes might be plentiful in the tony Bank of England, but few people would think to look for a yarmulke in its hallowed halls. Yet for a quarter of a decade Dr. Sholom Springer was Yiddishkeit's unofficial ambassador to the Bank's employees, when he wasn't helping to update the computer operations of one of England's most venerable institutions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

london

A mist hangs low over the Thames, theLondonstreets in a grey drizzle. Near the river, an imposing white-stone building, exquisitely balconied, columned and carved, towers overThreadneedle Streetlike a colossus. Two doormen in pink tailcoats flank a pair of weighty bronze doors, and nod courteously at the men and women in tailored suits striding inside.

This is the fiscal nerve centre of the British economy: the Bank of England, founded in 1694, in the “Square Mile” of the City ofLondon. The Bank issues bank notes, sets interest rates to control inflation, and works to maintain financial stability in theUK. Affectionately called the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, the Bank of England is one of the most important financial centers in the world.

For almost three decades, this epitome of the British establishment was the daytime home of a man utterly different from the archetypal Bank employee. Dr. Sholom Springer, who sports a large, black, unapologetic kappel (yarmulke), worked for the Bank of England for twenty-six years, until he took early retirement nine years ago. He describes the Bank of England as “the most English of English establishments, steeped in tradition, and probably the brainiest place inEngland.” It recruits its senior personnel chiefly from Oxbridge (Oxford andCambridgeUniversities). When he joined — in less egalitarian days — it employed many members of aristocratic families.

With a trim black-peppered grey beard, Dr. Springer looks significantly younger than his 65 years. At first meeting, he appears the quintessential Englishman: he is grave, reserved, dapper, and speaks with a crystal-cut, BBC accent. But under the measured exterior bubbles a wry sense of humor. An alumnus ofManchesterandGatesheadyeshivos, he holds a BSc in mathematics and a PhD in mathematical physics, earned post-yeshiva. At 27, two papers of his thesis on the mathematics of blood flow were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (London), the oldest and most prestigious scientific publication in the world.

He speaks with respectful affection about his Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yehuda Segal ztz”l. “Everyone knows the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah as a great tzaddik, which he was,” he says, “but he had great personal interaction with the bochurim. The Rosh Yeshivah used to call me ‘Sholeim.’”

To illustrate the Rosh Yeshivah’s human touch, he tells how the bochurim played football, which Rav Segal disapproved of and stopped. “He heard I was upset because I was one of the organizers. He called me and said, “Sholeim, you think this is a prison, don’t you? But it isn’t. Because in prison they do play football. And here we don’t!”

Sholom Springer married Soroh Horovitz in 1969. Early in his career, he designed computer systems and registered with several employment agencies for a position as a freelance computer programmer. When one agency alerted him of an advertisement from the Bank of England for a programmer with mathematical expertise, he was “quite overawed by the idea,” but decided to take the plunge. Competing with other applicants, he was interviewed by the head of the department, together with a consultant specially recruited to help identify the right candidate. “When I got the job I was absolutely elated, walking on a cloud.” 

 

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