18 August 2023

Stratford College students
launch new interactive
walking tour of Jewish
heritage sites in Dublin

Students in Stratford College, Rathgar, have launched a Jewish Dublin interactive heritage trail

Patrick Comerford

When I was back in Dublin last week, I was staying near Portobello, and took time for an early morning stroll back through the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area off Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road, an area that I have known intimately since my childhood and that was home to many members of the Comerford family in previous generations.

During my visit, I also learned how Transition Year students in Stratford College, Dublin, have launched a Jewish Dublin interactive heritage trail, outlining areas in the city that once had close links to the Jewish community.

This Jewish Dublin interactive heritage trail has been created as part of the Jewish Arts and Culture Ireland (JACI) programme. A video guide and map are available to download for anyone interested in tracing the history and the stories behind these places, from the Jewish businesses that were once part of life on Clanbrassil Street and ‘Little Jerusalem’, to the Bretzel Bakery in Portobello.

This historical walk is available to download HERE.

I have been named among the contributors and resources in this new walking tour for my series of blog postings on ‘The Synagogues of Dublin’

It was heartening to see I have been named among the contributors and resources to this new resource for my series of blog postings on ‘The Synagogues of Dublin.’ Other contributors who are acknowledged include Dr Natalie Wynn, who has worked alongside me on a number of books edited by Dr Salvador Ryan, Steven Jaffe, director of Belfast Jewish Heritage, Ruti Lachs of Cork Jewish Culture Walk, the late Asher Benson, and the Irish Jewish Museum and Archives.

The walking tour begins at Stratford College, a co-educational fee-paying school in Rathgar. It was originally founded by the Jewish community in 1954, and today the school welcomes students of all faiths and none. This commitment to cultural and religious diversity, while maintaining its commitment to the religious education and formation of Jewish students, makes Stratford College unique.

Herzog Park, beside Stratford College, was acquired by Dublin Corporation in 1954 and was set out as a park in 1985. Originally known as Orwell Quarry Park, it was renamed in 1995 in honour of Chaim Herzog, former President of Israel, who grew up in Dublin. Children from Stratford National School were involved in designing the playground.

The school was first located in a house called ‘Stratford’ on Terenure Road East and later moved to the present campus in Rathgar. Zion National Schools in Bloomfield Avenue, an earlier school, is also included in the new walking tour. It opened in 1934 and was the first purpose-built Dublin Jewish school in which both Hebrew and secular education were combined.

Zion National Schools in Bloomfield Avenue opened in 1934 and was the first purpose-built Dublin Jewish school (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The guide points out that for almost 100 years the heart of the Jewish community in Dublin centred around South Circular Road and the Clanbrassil Street area of Portobello, known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’ From the mid-1870s onwards, east European Jews had begun to settle in Dublin. Until the 1980s, its kosher shops served the Jewish community.

The Jewish population in Ireland increased tenfold, from 394 in 1881 to 3,805 in 1911. After World War II, the number peaked but then began to gradually decline. The trail offers a glimpse of Jewish life through selected buildings and accompanying memories.

The trial visits the Stolpersteine or ‘stumbling stones’ at Saint Catherine’s National School on Donore Avenue, which I also visited last week. The stones commemorate six Irish victims of the Holocaust: Ettie Steinberg Gluck, her husband Wojteck Gluck, and their baby son Leon, along with Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Saks and his sister, Jeanne (Lena) Saks. Ettie Steinberg attended this school.

Around the corner, Greenville Hall Synagogue on South Circular Road was built for Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. The synagogue was completed after World War I, but closed in 1984.

Adelaide Road Synagogue was the first purpose-built synagogue in Dublin and served the Dublin community from 1892 to 1999. It was called the ‘English shul’ by East European immigrants because it followed the style and customs of British synagogues.

The Bretzel Bakery on Lennox Street has been open since 1870 and is a Portobello institution, well known to generations of the Dublin Jewish community. Its Kosher status has been re-established since William Despard took over the shop in 2000.

Nearby, a shul or synagogue was founded at 32 Lennox Street by immigrants from Lithuania and Poland in 1887. The people who arrived from Poland, Russia, and the Baltics in the 1880s formed small congregations or hebroth in ‘Little Jerusalem.’

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 synagogue on Lennox Street closed in 1974 and moved to Stratford College, where worship continued until 1981.

Many Jewish families moved from to the suburbs of Terenure, Rathgar and Rathfarnham from the 1950s on and the small hebroth in ‘Little Jerusalem’ closed. Some of the people who moved out built the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road in Terenure, a few doors from where I was born. It was designed by Irish architect Wilfrid Cantwell, with a 600-seating capacity, and was completed and dedicated in 1953.

Shabbat Shalom

A small shul or synagogue at 32 Lennox Street was founded by immigrants from Lithuania and Poland in 1887 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

No comments: