15 February 2020

The synagogues of Cork: 5,
Munster Jewish Community
‘a community without a shul’

Chanukiahs on the last night of Hanukkah in Cork on 29 December 2019

Patrick Comerford

When the Cork Hebrew Congregation closed the city’s last and only synagogue four years ago [2016], Cork was left without a synagogue for the first time in more than a century. But the city still had a Jewish community.

The Munster Jewish Community describes itself as ‘a community without a shul’ and is based in Cork, but it has a dispersed membership, scattered throughout the neighbouring counties of Clare, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

It includes a broad mix of Jews living, working, studying or visiting Munster, and was formed after the Cork Synagogue closed in 2016.

The community has a predominantly Reform flavour, but welcomes all individuals and families from any affiliation, and they hold events and services as often as they can.

The community has welcomed a number of visiting rabbis, including Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Rabbi David Kudan, and Rabbi Reena Judd from Quinnipiac University, and her husband Jim.

Baroness Neuberger, who has a house in West Cork, is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords and a former chancellor of the University of Ulster. She has been the full-time senior rabbi at the West London Synagogue since 2011, and is due to retire at the end of next month [March 2020].

Rabbi David Kudan is the spiritual leader of two congregations in Malden: the Conservative Congregation Agudas Achim - Ezrath Israel and the Reform Temple Tifereth Israel. He has served from Paris to Chicago, and at Harvard University, and is a member of the outreach faculty of the Union of Reform Judaism.

There have been celebrations of Chanukah in Cork and Sukkot in Ballineen, Rosh Hashanah in Bru Columbanus, Cork, live links for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur with West London Synagogue, Seder nights in various homes, and Shabbat services in Bru Columbanus, Wilton and Dunmanway.

Last year, on the last night of Chanukah (29 December 2019), Councillor Dan Boyle acting on behalf of the Lord Mayor of Cork, spoke in Shalom Park, and hosted a reception in City Hall, when families lit their chanukiahs, said prayers and sang songs, the children played dreidel games and everyone listened to Klezmer music.

A first for Munster Jewish Community last year was a live ‘twinning’ link with a Reform Community in Brooklyn to celebrate Havdalah.

A community member, Aida Phelops, has spoken about the persecution and expulsion of Iraqi Jews, and about the experiences of her family at that time. An Iraqi Jew, she was born in Baghdad, brought up in Britian, lived in Israel for a while, and is now living in the Beara Peninsula, West Cork. In recent years, she became an Irish citizen and sees herself as an Irish Iraqi Jew.

Ruti Lachs, a community member, has taken her one-woman show, A different Kettle, to a variety of venues, including the Cootehill Arts Festival, Co Cavan, Midleton Arts Festival, Midleton, Co Cork, the Inkwell Theatre, the Trackton Arts Centre, Co Cork, Kanturk Arts Festival, Kanturk, Co Cork, and venues in Cork and Douglas.

Other community events have included Simon Lewis’s book launch and live poetry readings between Ireland and the US.

The community is active in the Three Faiths Forum in Cork, and took part in the Holocaust Memorial Service at Cork Unitarian Church last year.

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