21 November 2022
Searching for Jaffe and
Rubinstein family links in
Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’
My grandfather’s eldest brother, James Comerford (1853-1915), his wife Helena (Lena) née Donovan, and their family lived for most of their lives in the Clanbrassil Street area of Dublin. For generations of Dubliners, this was the heart of ‘Little Jerusalem’, an area that once had a large number of Jewish families who first arrived as immigrants and refugees from Poland, Ukraine, the Baltics and the former Russian Empire.
This was the ‘Little Jerusalem’ that 100 years ago provided many of the characters that pop up throughout James Joyce’s Ulysses, first published in 1922 but set on 16 June 1904.
It was said in my family that in those days you could walk along Clanbrassil Street and every second person you met was either Jewish or a member of the extended Comerford family.
In 1911, my great-uncle and great-aunt were living upstairs at 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street. On the ground floor, No 82 was Rubinstein’s kosher butcher shop, opened in 1905 by Myer Rubinstein. The Rubinstein family, instead of living above the shop, lived at 22 Emorville Avenue, off South Circular Road, one of the many streets in ‘Little Jerusalem’. Their daughter Hilda and Joseph Woolf were married in Greenville Hall or Dolphin’s Barn Synagogue, on 6 August 1933, with the Revd B Yaffe among the officiants.
As the 20th century moved on, Myer Rubinstein’s son, Barney Rubinstein, had a shop on the corner of Lombard Street corner, Oche Woolfe’s shop was on the opposite corner, Beila Erlich was further along the street, while Janey Goldwater and her husband Isaac Goldwater each had a shop, one in poultry and one in other produce.
The business at No 82 was continued by another son of Myer Rubinstein, Philly Rubinstein, who is credited by Ray Rivlin in Jewish Ireland, a social history with finding the site for Edmondstown Golf Club in the 1940s.
I have eaten in Rubinstein’s restaurant in Kraków and most people know the name of the cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965), who was born in Kraków. Perhaps the Rubinsteins of Clanbrassil Street were part of a long-tailed, extended European Jewish family, like the Rappaport, Horowitz and Jaffe families.
Clanbrassil Street was Dublin’s main Jewish shopping street throughout the first half of the 20th century. There were 23 kosher shops on the street in 1943, but this figure steadily declined after World War II to 16 by the end of the 1950s, nine by the end of the 1960s, only five were open by the end of the 1970s, and two in the 1980s. Rubinstein’s shop at No 82 closed in 1979, and Beila Erlich’s was the last of the Jewish shops on Clanbrassil Street.
My grandfather Stephen Comerford (1867-1921) and his elder brother, my great-uncle James, seem to have been close despite a 14-year age gap. James and Lena were the parents of three sons and two daughters, my father’s first cousins, and many of them lived in the Clanbrassil Street or ‘Little Jerusalem’ area.
Their second child, Catherine Mary, was born on 21 April 1890, and when she was baptised in Saint Kevin’s on 25 April 1890 my grandfather Stephen Comerford was her godfather. She married Michael O’Brien of 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street in Saint Kevin’s on 23 November 1931.
Back in the time of the 1911 census, when my great-uncle James was living at No 82, the floors above Rubinstein’s shop were shared by the Comerford with the Coleman and Joffe family. Mary Coleman was a sister of James and Stephen Comerford, and her husband Francis Coleman was a first cousin of Thomas A Coleman (1865-1950), the architect, of Ashlin and Coleman, who was born at 61 Lower Clanbrassil Street in 1865.
The other family sharing No 82 above Rubinstein’s shop with the Comerford and Coleman families in 1911 were the Joffe family. Isaac Joffe, a 58-year-old Jewish shopkeeper from Russia and his Russian-born Jewish wife, Hannah (56).
I have tried to trace Isaac Joffe and his family in recent years, but with few results. He is probably the Isaac Jaffe, dealer, of 32 Lower Clanbrassil Street who died six years later on 9 July 1917 after two strokes at the age of 66.
Undoubtedly he was related to another Isaac Jaffe – perhaps a first cousin – living in the same area at this time. Isaac Bernard Jaffe (1863-1937), was born in Kovno or Kaunas in Lithuania in 1863, and moved with his wife Annie and their daughters Zelda and Mabel in the 1890s first to Glasgow and then to Dublin. He lived for much his life at 30 Emorville Avenue, Dublin, and other Jaffe family lived at 22 Emorville Avenue and at 22 St Kevin’s Parade at the same time.
His daughter Sarah Mollie (Mabel) Jaffe (1891-1974) was born in Akmene, Lithuania, on 30 August 1891. Zelda married Abraham Muscovitz in 1909 and Isaac Bernard Jaffe officiated at Sarah’s wedding to Jacob (Jack) Brazil (1893-1972) in the Greenville Hall or Dolphin’s Barn Synagogue in Dublin on 23 July 1919.
As the Rev B Yaffey, he appears as the reader of the congregation in the Jewish Year Book until he died Isaac Bernard Jaffe died at Emorville Avenue on 29 January 1937 at 75. The witness at the registration of his death was Harry Aitkins (? spelling) of 87 Lower Clanbrassil Street.
Sarah and Jack Brazil moved first to Gateshead and then to London and were the parents of five children, including Harry Victor (Herschel) Brazil (1920-1986), who became a rabbi in Queen’s, New York, and a mashgiach or kosher inspector for a hotel chain.
There were other Jaffe, Joffe and Yaffey families in Ireland at this time, including families living in Kenilworth Park, Dublin, and in Limerick, Waterford and Belfast, and they all seem to have been closely inter-related.
The Jaffe family in Limerick were also part the Lithuanian branch of the Jaffe family. Fleeing the Russian Empire at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, they bought tickets for New York City, but were cheated, being instead dropped off at Cork.
Dr Henry Norman Jaffé (1898-1969), who left Limerick in 1904 at the height of what is often labelled the ‘Limerick Pogrom,’ was the grandfather of the popular historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and his brother, the writer and historian Hugh Sebag Montefiore. But their great-great-grandparents, Benjamin and Rachel Jaffe, remained in Limerick and were living in Catherine Street in 1911, along with their great-grandparents, Marcus and Leah Jaffe, who also lived on Catherine Street. A Jaffe family continued to run a business in Cecil Street, Limerick for some decades.
Henry Jaffe moved first to Newcastle upon Tyne and later thrived as a doctor in Nottingham. He married Miriam Woolf (1896-1993), whose family escaped from Poland and would later include two Lords Chief Justice. Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh were among the guests at their home, The Hollies, in Nottingham.
Their son, Dr Gabriel Jaffe (1923-2016), was also a GP, practising in Bournemouth, where he was also a town councillor (1967-1995) and the Mayor of Bournemouth (1977-1978), the town’s first Jewish mayor.
Their daughter, the actress and novelist Phyllis April Jaffé (1927-2019), studied at Rada and at 18 starred in ‘The Sacred Flame’ at Birmingham Rep. She lived in Oxford Street, London, during World War II, while working at the Jewish Quarterly and at her aunt Rose’s bookshop. After a V2 hit Selfridges, she found Rose in bed covered in broken glass and thought she was dead until she sat up, unscathed.
In 1952, April married the psychotherapist Dr Stephen Eric Sebag-Montefiore (1926-2014), a great-grandson of the banker Sir Joseph Sebag-Montefiore (1822-1903), nephew and heir of the wealthy philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore.
Stephen Sebag-Montefiore’s mother, the former Audrey Mabel Rose Haldin (1899-1984), was a grand-daughter of Sir Herbert Leon (1850-1926) of Bletchley Park, which I visited last week.
Isaac Joseph Jaffe (1807-1890) of Hamburg was the owner of Jaffe Bros, a linen import-export firm, with branches in Belfast, Dundee, Hamburg, and Leipzig. He had 11 children in his first marriage and four more in his second.
One of Isaac Joseph Jaffe’s children, Edgar Jaffe, was an economics professor in Heidelberg, and married Else von Richthofen, sister of DH Lawrence’s wife, Frieda. He was an associate of the sociologist Max Weber and was the Socialist Finance Minister of Bavaria in the 1920s.
Another son, Daniel Jaffe, was the father of Sir Otto Jaffe (1846-1929), twice Lord Mayor of Belfast. Otto Jaffe was born in Hamburg in 1846 and was brought to Belfast by his parents in 1852. He was educated in Belfast, Hamburg and Switzerland.
After working in New York from 1865 to 1877, he became chief director of the Belfast firm. He married Paula Hertz in 1879, and they were the parents of two sons, Arthur Daniel and William Edward Berthold Jaffe.
He was life president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, a Justice of the Peace and consul in Belfast for Germany. He was Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899 and 1904, and was knighted in Dublin Castle in 1900.
World War I gave rise to anti-German sentiment in Britain and Ireland and he felt forced to resign as an Alderman on Belfast City Council in 1916 when he was almost 70. He and his wife moved to London, where he died in April 1929. Lady Jaffe was too ill to attend his funeral and died a few months later, in August 1929.
Otto Jaffe erected the Jaffe Memorial Fountain in Victoria Square, Belfast, to commemorate his father. The fountain was moved to the Botanic Gardens in 1933, but it was restored and returned to Victoria Square in 2008.
The Jewish Encyclopaedia describes the Jaffe or Joffe family as a family of rabbis, scholars and communal workers. Members of the family include numerous famous rabbis, ‘court Jews,’ Talmudic scholars, scientists, business figures, academics and politicians. Family members are found in Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ireland, Britain, Italy, Canada, Israel and the US.
According to legend, the family was descended from the 12th century Jew Samuel ben Elhanan, who claimed descent from the biblical commentator, Rashi, who claimed to be a 33rd-generation descendant of Johanan HaSandlar who in turn claimed descent from King David through the Kalonymos or Kalonymus family, a prominent Jewish family with a Greek name in Italy, mostly in Lucca and in Rome.
The name Kalonymos (αλώνυμος) means ‘good name,’ perhaps a translation of the Hebrew ‘Shem-Tov.’ Traces of the family in Italy are said to be found as early as the second half of the eighth century. Of course, none of these claims is clearly documented.
The main branch of the family claims descent from the 12th century Tosafist, Elhanan Jaffe of Dampierre (died 1184), and through him from Moses Jaffe of Bologna, who died in 1480. He was a Polish rabbi who was forced to live in Italy, where he served as the Av Beit Din of several communities.
His son Abraham settled in Bohemia and became prefect of Polish Jews in the early 16th century. He died in 1535. A descendant of this Abraham was the celebrated Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe, author of Lebushim, an important code of rabbinical law.
The descendants of Mordecai Jaffe of Prague in western Europe included prominent business leaders, politicians, scientists, academics, journalists and jurists. Along with Sir Otto Jaffe, they included the Israeli general and politician Avraham Yoffe, Joel Joffe, Baron Joffe, and Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of Die Zeit. In eastern Europe, his descendants who held key rabbinic positions included Mordechai Jaffe (1742-1810), who founded the Lechovitch Hasidic dynasty, Mordecai-Gimpel Jaffe (1820-1891) and Dov Yaffe (1928-2017).
A member of the Jaffe family who cut an admirable and heroic figure in recent years was the Lanour life peer, Joel Goodman Joffe, Baron Joffe (1932-2017), a South African-born lawyer whose father was born in Lithuania. He worked as a human rights lawyer 1958-1965, and was the defence attorney of the leadership of the ANC at the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial, helping to represent Nelson Mandela and his co-defendants.
After the Rivonia trial he was refused entry to Australia as ‘undesirable’ and he moved to Britain in 1965. In Britain, he set up Hambro Life Assurance with Sir Mark Weinberg and chaired Oxfam in 1982-2001. He was made a life peer in 2000 with the title Baron Joffe of Liddington, and proposed the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, a private member’s bill, in 2003.
Lord Joffe appeared along with the surviving defendants and defence team at the Rivonia Trial in a documentary film, Life is Wonderful in 2017. He died later that year on 18 June 2017.
Rubinstein’s shop and 82 Clanbrassil Street have long been demolished. But it would be interesting to find out, in time, how these Jaffe, Joffe and Yaffe families are related to Isaac and Hannah Joffe, refugees from Lithuania, who shared the residential space above Rubinstein’s shop with my Great-Uncle James Comerford and his family.