Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
16, Leicester Avenue

The Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue at 7 Leicester Road, Rathgar … the foundation stone was laid in 1952 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue, Knesset Orach Chayim, at 7 Leicester Road, Rathgar, dates from 1946.

The proposal for a Liberal or Progressive Jewish congregation was first put forward by Lawrence Eleazar (Larry) Elyan (1902-1992), a civil servant from Cork. The first members included Dr Bethel Solomons (1885-1965), the Master of the Rotunda Hospital and a former Irish rugby international (1908-1910), who became the congregation’s first president; Professor Mervyn Abrahamson, of the Royal College of Surgeons; Abraham Jacob (Con) Leventhal (1896-1979), Lecturer in French at TCD and a friend of Samuel Beckett, and who interviewed James Joyce in Paris on the day of the publication of Ulysses; and Dr Ernst Schreyer, a prominent lawyer in Germany before World War II, who taught German at TCD.

Dr Hans Waldemar Rosen (1904-1994), the conductor of the RTÉ Singers, was the congregation’s organist for more than 40 years, although he was not Jewish himself.

The congregation was formed at the same time as a new Orthodox congregation was worshipping nearby, first at 6 Grosvenor Place (1936-1940), and later at 52 Grosvenor Road (1940-1948), before moving to Rathfarnham Road, Terenure, in 1948.

The first meetings of this congregation were held in a Quaker meeting house until 1952, when the foundation stone of the new synagogue in Leicester Avenue was consecrated. The synagogue is beside the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar.

This was a good time for Dublin’s Progressive Jews, with the numbers of children in religion classes rising to 55 by 1956.

The first cantor was the Revd D. Friedmann, from about 1946 to about 1948, and the minister from 1948 to 1951 was Rabbi Dr Jakob Jankel Kokotek.

Rabbi Kokotek was born in Bedzin, Poland, on 22 June 1911, and was brought up in Germany. After arriving in England as a refugee, he served as rabbi and minister of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood (1941-1945) and Southgate and Enfield Progressive Synagogue, now Southgate Progressive Synagogue (1946-1948), before coming to Dublin in 1948.

Later, he served at Liverpool Liberal Synagogue, Hope Place (1951-1956), and the New Jewish Liberal Association, later known as Belsize Square Synagogue (1956-1979). He died on 10 September 1979.

The last resident rabbi left in 1972.

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh has served the congregation part-time since 2005. He was the founder rabbi of Congregation Shir HaTzaphon in Copenhagen and later he was Dean and Director of Jewish Studies at the Leo Baeck College, London. He was the rabbi of Wembley and District Liberal Synagogue, now the Mosaic Liberal Synagogue (1983-1997).

Rabbi Emeritus Charles Middleburgh remains a frequent visitor to the synagogue.

The Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark in the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since its foundation, the congregation has been based on values of inclusivity and the practice of Liberal Judaism. Membership is open to all Jews, and the participation of non-Jewish spouses or partners in the life of the congregation is welcomed. The synagogue has a reputation for providing a warm welcome at its services.

Services are held every Erev Shabbat, on High Holy Days and the Festivals, and on many Shabbat mornings. Frequent family services are also held as are special events marking key milestones in Jewish life – births, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Kabbalat Torah, weddings and anniversaries.

Jacqueline Solomon, a founder member of the synagogue, celebrated her bat mitzvah 10 years ago at the age of 82, when the service was led by Rabbi Middleburgh.

DJPC celebrated its 70th anniversary in May 2016 with a gala dinner and a weekend of services and events, attended by representatives of many traditions, including Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Michael Jackson, and leaders of the Romanian Orthodox, Unitarian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Bahá’í communities.

The shul is an international partner in Mitzvah Day UK and members are involved in a wide variety of Irish interfaith and other local cross-community activities. This was one of the synagogues I frequently visited with students when I was teaching the module on Liturgy on the MTh course at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. Earlier, as a young teenager, I passed this synagogue regularly, visiting an uncle who lived around the corner, and in my late teens visited here for Kol Nidre night.

Cheder is held on Sunday mornings during school term for the children of members. In addition to teaching Hebrew and Bible studies along with Jewish customs and practices, there is a variety of outings and special events for the pupils and their families.

Each year some of the older youth and young adults attend Jewish camps organised by Liberal Judaism in Britain, Europe and Israel. The synagogue is a constituent community of Liberal Judaism, formerly known as the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (ULPS). I continue to use the ULPS frequently in my personal, daily prayers.

The congregation has its own cemetery in Woodtown, near Rathfarnham, established in 1952.

Inside the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue with students on the liturgy module at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tomorrow 17, Rathfarnham Road, Terenure

Yesterday 15, Grosvenor Road

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