Saturday, 5 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
8, Lennox Street Synagogue

The synagogue at 32 Lennox Street in the Portobello area of Dublin was founded in 1887 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The new Jewish immigrants fleeing Poland, Russia and the Baltics who arrived in Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s, settled mainly around Clanbrassil Street and Portobello, and formed their own small congregations or hebroth in an area that would soon become known as ‘Little Jerusalem.

These new hebroth in ‘Little Jerusalem included shuls in Saint Kevin’s Parade (1883), Oakfield Place (1885), Lennox Street (1887), Heytesbury Street (1891), Lombard Street (1893), and Camden Street (1892).

According to Louis Hyman in The Jews of Ireland, the shul founded in Lennox Street in 1887 was one these many hebroth established in this area by the recent immigrants from Lithuania and Poland.

However, the Jewish Year Books and Ray Rivlin in Jewish Ireland (2011) date the foundation of this hebra to 1876, 11 years earlier.

Abraham Lipman Abramovitz, an ordained rabbi, arrived in Dublin in 1887 and was appointed the chazan (cantor or reader) of the Lennox Street synagogue. He served the community as shochet (ritual slaughterer), chazan (cantor or reader), mohel (circumciser) and Hebrew teacher, until he died in 1907. He is one of the many real-life Jews in Dublin from this period named by James Joyce in Ulysses.

When a delegation of chevra from the Lennox Street Synagogue visited Mary’s Abbey Synagogue in November 1889 to discuss amalgamation, they were received sympathetically.

However, the congregation at Saint Mary’s Abbey was planning to build a new synagogue on Adelaide Road, and the synagogue on Lennox Street decided to maintain its independence.

By 1895, the Lennox Street synagogue had 175 subscribing members or seat holders.

The Lennox Street congregation ‘was so fiercely independent that even internal disputes could lead to fisticuffs’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Ray Livlin repeats the story that the Lennox Street congregation ‘was so fiercely independent that even internal disputes could lead to fisticuffs.’

The Levitas family attended Lennox Street synagogue, just around the corner from their home on Warren Street. One Saturday in the mid-1920s, the synagogue nearly went up in smoke. It was not, however, attempted arson. Four playmates had been anxious to bring the Sabbath to a speedy conclusion in order to resume playing on the street. So they came back into the synagogue to hastily say the final prayers, and accidentally knocked over a candle that set a cloth alight, fortunately quickly extinguished. The ‘culprits’ were three brothers – Max, Maurice and Sol Levitas – and Chaim Herzog, a future President of Israel and son of Yitzhak Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

The Lennox Street synagogue still had 70 subscribing members or seat holders in 1955, although this number had dropped to 50 in 1962.

Although many of these small synagogues survived after the opening of the new synagogue at Adelaide Road in 1892, some of them survived for only a few short years, and others closed within a few decades.

When the United Hebrew Congregation was proposed in 1909, it had the support of many of these smaller hebroth. A synagogue opened at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road in 1916, it attracted the members of many of these small synagogues, and a new synagogue built on the site of Greenville Hall opened in 1925.

The gradual move of many Jewish families from the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area to the south Dublin suburbs of Terenure, Rathfarnham and Church was particularly noticeable by the 1950s, and gathered momentum in the 1960s and 1970s.

The small hebroth in ‘Little Jerusalem’ could not maintain their independence and survive these changes. The Lennox Street Hebrew Congregation finally closed its doors in the 1974, moving to Stratford College on Zion Road, Rathgar, where it continued to worship until 1981.

The synagogue at 32 Lennox Street finally closed its doors in the 1974 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday: 9, Camden Street Synagogue

Yesterday: 7, Oakfield Place Synagogue

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