18 October 2019

Cornwall’s Jews today and
myths about mediaeval
Market Jew and Marazion

The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro … the Torah Scroll from Falmouth Synagogue was given to Kehillat Kernow in Truro in 2004 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The names of the small coastal town of Marazion in Cornwall, the street name of Market Jew Street, the main street in Penzance, and a street in St Ives called Mount Zion, between the Wharf and Victoria Place, made we wonder last week about the history and presence of Jewish communities in Cornwall.

It turns out, in fact, that both the name of Market Jew Street and the name of Marazion came not from the presence of any mediaeval Jewish communities but from the corruption of the name Marghas Yow or Jovis, meaning the ‘Thursday Market.’

But I was working on a series of blog postings on the history of present and past synagogues in Dublin, which came to a conclusion this morning. And so, last week, as I photographed churches, chapels, former convents and a cathedral throughout west Cornwall, I naturally wondered whether there was also a Jewish community or a synagogue in Cornwall.

At the corner of Market Jew Street in Penzance … the mediaeval street name has no links to a mediaeval Jewish community (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Keith Pearce and Helen Fry published their The Lost Jews of Cornwall in 2000. Keith Pearce, in his book The Jews of Cornwall – A History – Tradition and Settlement to 1913, records how the first Jews arrived in Cornwall in the 1740s. They and Charles Thomas, former professor of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, agree the first Jews arrived in Cornwall in the 1740s and they were attracted to the two ports, Falmouth and Penzance, where there was no ghetto system.

A small number landed at Falmouth and one or two at Fowey, only to move on promptly to London and elsewhere. Others arrived in Cornwall, mainly from continental Europe.

The first Jewish communities in Cornwall were formed in Falmouth and Penzance, and there was a smaller community in Truro, with a few Jewish families in other small Cornish towns. The Jewish families who moved to Cornwall include the de Pass and Hart families.

Lehman or Lemon Hart, a trader from Penzance and the grandson of a German rum traders, became famous for his own brand of rum. He set up his own company in 1804 and is thought to have been the person who negotiated with the Royal Navy to provide the required ration of a daily tot of rum for sailors.

There is no evidence that there was ever a synagogue in Truro and services were presumably held in private homes. Although the community did not appoint a minister, it had a shochet in the 1820s.

However, these communities died out by the end of the 19th century. A movement to the cities after the industrial revolution severely diminished Cornwall’s Jewish Community. The synagogue in Penzance had closed its doors by the 1850s, and the building was bought by the Plymouth Brethren.

There are Jewish cemeteries in Penzance and Ponsharden (Falmouth). A small Jewish burial ground is thought to have existed in Truro, but this was abandoned in the 1840s, and no visible remains exist today.

In recent years, a Reform Jewish congregation has been formed by Jews living in and around Truro. Kehillat Kernow, or the Jewish Community of Cornwall, has about 100 members, was founded 20 years ago in 1999, and is an associate community of the Movement for Reform Judaism.

The community has no synagogue and services take place fortnightly on Shabbat mornings in a local school, with alternative venues for High Holidays and some festivals. They are led by members of the community and, occasionally, by visiting student rabbis from Leo Baeck College.

The community uses a Torah scroll on permanent loan from Exeter Synagogue and a scroll it received from the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. The scroll was previously used by Falmouth Synagogue, which closed in 1882, and it was officially handed over by the Duke of Gloucester to Kehillat Kernow at a ceremony in the Royal Cornwall Museum on 28 May 2004.

In the past, services were held at a school in Blackwater, near Truro, and formerly in the Truro Baptist Church. The High Holy Day services this year were held on 8 and 9 October at Roselidden Farm, a retreat centre halfway between Truro or Falmouth and Marazion or Penzance. The services were led by Eleanor Davis, a student rabbi.

Cornwall’s Jewish population today is a small but thriving congregation of around 50 families in Truro. Their numbers are boosted in summer with the influx of visitors and holidaymakers.

The King’s Arms on Market Place in Marazion … the name of Marazion may be a corruption of the name Marghas Yow or Jovis, meaning ‘Thursday Market’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Synagogues of Dublin:
19, Some additional buildings

The former Jewish National Schools on Bloomfield Avenue were built in 1932-1934 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

To coincide with these High Holy Days in the Jewish Calendar, I have been tracing a number of synagogues and former synagogues that have existed in Dublin for more than 3½ centuries, beginning with the small synagogue in upstairs rooms in Crane Lane, off Dame Street, to the small Machzikei Hadass synagogue at 18 Rathmore Villas, behind 77 Terenure Road North.

This series has looked at the great synagogues at Adelaide Road, Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road, and on Rathfarnham Road in Terenure. It has included the lost synagogues at Saint Mary’s Abbey and Stafford Street, the Progressive Synagogue at Leicester Avenue in Rathgar, the temporary synagogues in rented room in Grosvenor Place and on Grosvenor Road, the once humble synagogues squeezed into the side streets of ‘Little Jerusalem’ between Clanbrassil Street, the South Circular Road and Portobello, and the synagogue on Walworth Road that has found new life as the Irish Jewish Museum.

But I have missed many smaller synagogues that were short-lived but played roles in the spiritual life of the Jewish community in Dublin.

For some years, there was a Talmud Torah at No 43 Bloomfield Avenue until around the 1930s, and a room upstairs continued to be reserved as a small synagogue and for meetings of the Board of Guardians into the 1940s.

No 33 Bloomfield Avenue was the home to successive Chief Rabbis of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

No 33 Bloomfield Avenue was the home to successive Chief Rabbis of Ireland, and Chaim Herzog (1918-1997), sixth President of Israel (1983-1993), grew up in this house. His father, Dr Isaac Herzog (1888-1959), a renowned Talmudic scholar, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1921-1937), and later the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine and Israel (1936-1959).

The story is often told that after World War II, Rabbi Isaac Herzog set out on a mission to bring lost children back to Jewish home. As he went from orphanage to orphanage and convent to convent across Europe, but had no documentation to prove children were Jewish. Yet he had heard the stories and deep down knew there had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of missing children still in orphanages and convents.

One day, he devised a plan. He walked into orphanages and spoke out loud, Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Instinctively, many of the children raised their right hands to cover their eyes, showing their undoubted Jewish origins. And so, Rabbi Herzog saved 500 children and brought them home.

There was no Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1937 1948. Dr Immanuel Jakobovits (1921-1999), later Lord Jakobovits, lived at 33 Bloomfield Avenue while he was Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1948-1958).

Plaques at 33 Bloomfield Avenue recall two Chief Rabbis of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Jewish National Schools on Bloomfield Avenue, dated from 1932-1934, when they were built in the Queen Anne style to designs by the architect Rupert Jones (1883-1950). Jones moved from Tipperary to Dublin around 1921, and worked with the Office of Public Works until 1932, when he began his own practice at D’Olier Chambers on D’Olier Street. He later worked from the Estate Office at Mount Merrion Park, and offices in South Anne Street.

The schools were built by the builders John Kenny & Son of Harcourt Street.

The foundation of the school was prompted when both Saint Andrew’s College and the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street introduced Saturday morning classes in 1924-1925 and refused to exempt Jewish boys.

The headmaster was Joe Barron, a founder figure in Seán MacBride’s Clann na Poblachta. The teachers included Maeve Binchy, before she became an Irish Times writer, and Frank Edwards (1907-1983), a prominent Communist from Waterford, who lost his job at Mount Sion School and was blacklisted from teaching in Catholic-run schools because of his role in the Connolly Column in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

The Zion Schools opened on Bloomfield Avenue in March 1934, and continued until 1980, when Zion Schools merged with the preparatory section of Stratford College on Zion Road in Rathgar, which was founded in 1953.

When the synagogue at Lennox Street closed in 1976, the congregation was amalgamated with the small congregation that used rooms in Stratford College at Zion Road in Rathgar, where it continued to worship until 1981.

The Bretzel Bakery at the corner of Lennox Street is known to generations of Dubliners (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In addition, there were many buildings that played an important role in the cultural life of the Jewish community in Dublin. For many Dubliners, the best-known of these is the Bretzel Bakery at 1a Lennox Street in Portobello. The Bretzel Bakery is housed in a stand-alone, three-storey, 19th century building at 1A Lennox Street, close to the former synagogue in Lennox Street and the narrow streets that make up ‘Little Jerusalem.’

This is one of Dublin’s oldest artisan bakeries, but it remains kosher certified and continues to make traditional challah bread. The business claims to date from 1870. Solomon and Malka Clein ran the bakery from the 1920s, when his family moved from Cork to Dublin. It was then run by his son-in-law, Syd Barnett, until 1936, when he sold it to Barney Stein.

Harry Cleim, who married Barney Stein’s widow Ida (née Herman), became associated with the bakery in 1948. The staff included Fred Keane, the head baker, and his assistant, Christy Hackett, neither of whom was Jewish. For some years, Sidney Benson and his brother George ran the bakery as Bensons, but when Sidney retired to Liverpool he left Christy Hackett in charge.

The bakery became a meeting place on Sunday mornings for nurses and doctors coming off night duty in the Adelaide Hospital in the 1950s and 1960s.

Christy Hackett rented the business from Ida Clein in 1964 and changed the name to the Bretzel. From 1964, this was the only kosher supplier of supervised bread and cake in Dublin. The main product was the Jewish challah or plaited bread, and the name Bretzel, from a Transylvanian bread stick in Romania, was chosen to emphasise the shop’s East European links.

His son Morgan Hackett bought the Bretzel after Ida Cleim died in 1996. A year later, both the Jewish community and the Bretzel suffered a setback when the new Chief Rabbi, Dr Gavin Broder, decreed that cakes supplied by the Bretzel could no longer be declared kosher.

William Despard from Limerick and his business partner Cormac Keenan bought the business ‘lock, stock and barrel’ from Morgan Hackett in 2000, and the Bretzel Bakery and café are now owned and managed by William Despard. Negotiations in 2003 restored the kosher status for its bread and patisserie.

The Bretzel is an award-winning bakery and café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Over the decades, the residents of Lennox Street included the playwright and twice Lord Mayor of Dublin John McCann, who was born at No 6 Lennox Street in 1905; the Republican revolutionary Harry Boland, who lived at No 26; and the sculptor John Hughes, who once lived at No 28.

Many of the other streets in ‘Little Jerusalem’ were built on the Emorville Estate, across the road from Portobello Gardens, which was sold and developed from the mid-1860s, and the estate is remembered in the name of Emorville Avenue, which was laid out in the 1860s.

Abraham William Briscoe, who arrived in Dublin as a pacifist Jewish refugee from Lithuania in Tsarist Russia, first lived at Emorville Avenue before the family moved to Beechwood Avenue in Ranelagh. His son, Robert Briscoe, became Dublin’s first Jewish Lord Mayor in 1956, and was Lord Mayor again in 1961-1962. His son, Ben Briscoe, became Lord Mayor in 1988.

Isaac Baker from Emorville Avenue was the secretary of the International Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Trade Union, which had its offices at 52 Camden Street and shared the building with synagogue that closed in 1916.

James Joyce’s parents, John Stanislaus and Mary Joyce, lived at 30 Emorville Avenue after they married in 1881. According to Joyce, the birthplace of the Leopold Bloom in Ulysses was 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street. Other streets and places in ‘Little Jerusalem’ in Ulysses include Leonard’s Corner, Longwood Avenue, Bloomfield Avenue, Synge Street, Lombard Street West, Emorville Square, and Saint Kevin’s Parade.

The artist Harry Kernoff (1900-1974), best known for his paintings and woodcuts of street life and literary figures in Dublin, lived and had his studio at Stamer Street, between Lennox Street and the South Circular Road.

As well as the prayer house at Dolphin’s Barn Cemetery, which dates from the 1890s, other Jewish buildings of note in Dublin have included the Jewish Home, Denmark Hill, off Leinster Road in Rathmines, which was founded in 1950. It had its own synagogue, and it moved in 2005 to the Quaker-run Bloomfield Care Centre in Rathfarnham.

Emorville Avenue … one of the many streets of red-brick terraces in ‘Little Jerusalem’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Yesterday: 18, Machzikei Hadass, Terenure

Series Concluded