05 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


Gerald said...

I am , I believe, the last surviving member of Lennox Street Shool My Name is Zerrick (Jerry) Woolfson, and my dear late father William Lewis Woolfson (Woolfe Woolfson) was the \president for it's almost last 30 or more years, and before that Vice President to Mr. Isaacson. After my Dear Father passed away in 1973, my late brother Louis John Woolfson became the President. for he last several years, until it finally closed. I was at that final meeting where we decided to close it. It was totally supported by my family for most of 30 odd yea period and the memebers paid no dues. It was often a difficult job to go around the area rousting out enough for a minysn.10 males over barmitzvah age .We did this for at least 5 or more years.

One correction. Lennox Street opened in 1878, and there were old siddurim (prayer books) with an ink stamp inside the front cover "Lennox Street Hebrew Congregation founded 1878.

I still have a shofar, brought over by the first members from Naira (the Yiddish name, Jaunjelgave the Latvian name)in Latvia. It is very unassuming , an ordinary ram's horn, and for many years here in Canada I was the Shofar Blower of our small Orthodox Congregation, formed by myself and another handful of devoted people, It was and is called Aish HaTorah, now mcuh larger with a resident Chabad Rabbi and school etc.

I am 93 years old. My eldest sister Lilian Woolfson-Hardy, is 102, still living in Dublin with her family.

I liked the Series very much, and concerning the article on Greenville Halle Synagogue, My family lived about 8 houses past it, at the corner of Donore Avenue. I was thrown out of my bed by the bombing, Our house lost allit's glass (much ended in my bed) and all the slates from the rook. Greenville Hall, although closer to the bomb (just across the street) suffered only shrapnel pocks in the pillars outside. So the report of serious damage is not correct. The house across the rd. where the bomb fell was totally demolished. The Reverend Roith Family of 5 girls and boys, lived there. friends of mine. NOT ONE was hurt, although they all had to be basically "dug out". Our Creator watched over us that night for sure.

A lot more to add but I'm written out .Slainte. Le'Hitraot.

Gerald said...

My comment on Mr. Comerford was included in my comments already sent in. I enjoyed the series very much, and knew about every one of the synagogues except the Lower Clanbrassil Street one. I have been in many of them,in fact all that were functioning from ,say 1933 and onwards including in Terenure Rd Synagogue.I was even in The Grosvenor Rd shool. There was a youth Club there for several years and run by a Rabbi Medalie, I was a member , boys and girls, we played table tennis and other activities.

THe one shool I did not like to go into was Walworth Rd. now a museum. There was a kind of antagonistic rivalry between them and Lennox Street, both very close to one another and drawing from the same area. We regarded them as "latecomers"......!!!

Oh yes. I haven't used the Google email for many years. I use Hotmail and my address is drjmmen@hotmail.com


Zerrick (Jerry) Woolfson.

Forgot to add that my Grandfather Zorach Woolfson was the Gabbai of Lennox street for about 25 years, until he passed away.in 1923. "Zorach" is my Hebrew name. "Zerrick' is just a transliteration.

Unknown said...

hi granddad levitas as i knew him lived a few doors near me .what plays on my mind where did fred leave about 1965 with suitcase in hand walking down warren st. yours kenneth wallace

Unknown said...

My name is Isaac and I have been researching my family history. I live in the USA but many generations back my ancestors Nisan Moisel and his daughter Jane Edelstein lived in portobello. Ive been searching for more information on them and I believe that they went to this shul from around 1890 to probably around 1930 when Jane moved to Canada to be with her sons although one of them stayed in Dublin. If anybody knows if records were taken on who went here and knows if they even still exist somewhere I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in their direction. Thank you very much.