03 October 2019
The Synagogues of Dublin:
6, Saint Kevin’s Parade Synagogue
From the day it opened in 1836, and for the first decades of its existence, Saint Mary’s Abbey Synagogue was the only synagogue in Dublin, and the attendance and membership were drawn mainly from the Anglo-Jewish middle classes in Dublin. However, its strict Victorian standards of decorum fostered a formal and stuffy atmosphere that later earned it the nickname of the Englishe shul (‘English synagogue’) among a newer immigrant community.
At the beginning of the 1880s, the Jewish community in Dublin may have numbered 400 or even 500 people. But Dublin still only had one synagogue or shul at Saint Mary’s Abbey, off Capel Street.
For Jews among the trickle of people already arriving in Dublin from Eastern Europe, the synagogue at Saint Mary’s Abbey was too Anglicised and had too much of a German-Jewish character.
An overwhelming exodus of Jews from the Russian Empire began following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the pogroms that followed. Some of these Jews found their way to Ireland, and their numbers eventually rose to a few thousand.
They settled mainly in the South Circular Road-Clanbrassil Street area of Dublin, which would become known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’ Others arrived in Cork and Limerick, though in smaller numbers.
Most of these new arrivals in Dublin regarded the Saint Mary’s Abbey shul as too modern and too assimilated for their preferences. Many formed ad hoc minyanim in private houses, and eventually they founded a number of small shuls, perhaps up to seven in number.
The first of these was Machzikei haDas (מחזיקי הדת, ‘those who reinforce the Law’). This synagogue was founded in Saint Kevin’s Parade, off Clanbrassil Street, in 1883 and took its name from a 19th century network of shuls and yeshivas in Eastern Europe that aimed to improve education and observance.
The synagogue was formed by converting a small house in Saint Kevin’s Parade. The founder and first President was Reuven (Robert) Bradlaw, who was also instrumental in founding the Jewish Cemetery at Dolphin’s Barn, where he is buried.
The founding members were an orthodox group of people who thought the synagogue at Saint Mary’s Abbey was not frum or orthodox enough for them. Two years after its foundation, the synagogue had 80 seatholders in 1885, according to the Jewish Year Book (1896/1897).
Reuven Bradlaw was also one of the people who carried a Sefer Torah at the foundation ceremony for the opening of Adelaide Road Synagogue in 1892. His son-in-law, Dr George Selig Wigoder, was a prominent community worker and the author of scholarly Talmudic treatises.
Moses Herzog, a member of the Saint Kevin’s Parade Synagogue, appears as ‘Moses with the left eye’ in the Cyclops episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The Steinberg family, who arrived from Munkatch in Czechoslovakia (now Mukachevo in West Ukraine) in 1928, were also involved in the synagogue at Saint Kevin’s Parade.
Another leading family in the shul, the Wertzberger family, came to Dublin from Czechoslovakia at end of the 1920s, and opened a shop at No 42 Clanbrassil Street in 1937. Nick Harris, in Dublin’s Little Jerusalem (2002) recalled how as he was growing up ‘Mr Wertzberger … had a small shop in house in Clanbrassil Street.’
Zlate Weinberger, a concentration camp survivor, arrived in Dublin after her release in 1945. The Wertzberger family shop remained open until 1961.
By 1956, the synagogue membership was put at 40 seatholders, according to the Jewish Year Book (1957). This had halved six years later when there were 20 seatholders in 1962, according to the Jewish Year Book in 1963.
Aharon Steinberg was responsible for a regeneration of the shul and may have given its current name as it moved from Saint Kevin’s Parade to Rathmore Villas, behind 77 Terenure Road North, in April 1968 shortly before he died. The original Aron Kodesh or Holy Ark for the Torah Scrolls was also moved from Saint Kevin’s Parade to Terenure.
Tomorrow: 7, Oakfield Place Synagogue
Yesterday: 5, Saint Mary’s Abbey Synagogue