17 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
18, Rathmore Villas, Terenure

The small Machzikei Hadass synagogue is discreetly located in heart of Terenure village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The small Machzikei Hadass synagogue at 18 Rathmore Villas, behind 77 Terenure Road North, is within a short walking distance of Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road – and from the house where I was born. Yet, its discreet location in the heart of Terenure village makes this one of Dublin’s least-known synagogues.

Although this synagogue was founded in 1968, its beginnings go back to the foundation of a synagogue in 1883 at Saint Kevin’s Parade, off Clanbrassil Street, in Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem.’

The Jewish community in Dublin numbered about 400 or 500 people in the 1880s. But the city had only one synagogue, at Saint Mary’s Abbey, off Capel Street. In the eyes of the new Jewish refugees and migrants from East Europe arriving in Dublin in the 1880s, this one synagogue was quite Anglicised, too modern and assimilated and with something of a German-Jewish character.

Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, a large number of pogroms broke out throughout the Russian empire, leading to a large exodus of Jewish people from Russia, Poland and present-day Lithuania and Latvia.

The new arrivals in Dublin first settled mainly in the area clustered around Portobello, the South Circular Road and Clanbrassil Street that became known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’

They never felt fully at home in the synagogue at Saint Mary’s Abbey and formed ad hoc minyanim or quorums of ten adult males in private houses. These small congregations led in turn to the eventual foundation of half a dozen or more small synagogues in Little Jerusalem.

One of these small synagogues was founded in Saint Kevin’s Parade, off Clanbrassil Street, in 1883. It is was one the last of the small synagogues founded in the area at that time. The founder and first President (Parnes) of the synagogue, Reuven Bradlaw, was also involved in the foundation of the Bais Olam or Jewish burial ground in Dolphin’s Barn, where he is buried. He was one of the men who carried a Sefer Torah at the opening ceremony for the synagogue on Adelaide Road in 1892.

While most of these earlier, small synagogues in the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area came together in 1920s in the synagogue at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road, this synagogue maintained its separate identity in the decades that followed.

By the time the congregation moved to Terenure in 1968, it was known as Machzikei Hadass (מחזיקי הדת, ‘those who reinforce the Law’). The name comes from a 19th century organisation of synagogues and yeshivas in East Europe that aimed to improve Jewish education and observance, and may have been added at the time of the move to the present site in Terenure in 1968.

Machzikei Hadass moved from Saint Kevin’s Parade to Terenure over 50 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Steinberg family arrived from Munkatch in Czechoslovakia in 1928. Aharon Steinberg was responsible for a regeneration of the synagogue in Saint Kevin’s Parade, and he may have given it its current name when it moved to its present site at Rathmore Villas, behind 77 Terenure Road North.

Aharon Steinberg presided over the move over half a century ago, in April 1968, not long before he died. A marble plaque commemorating the move can be seen at the entrance, beside the original foundation plaque. The Aron Kodesh or holy ark holding the Torah Scrolls is the original one from Saint Kevin’s Parade.

The name of Reuven Bradlaw’s wife, as donor, is inscribed on the silver yad or Torah pointer used to this day in the Machzikei Hadass. His name and the date 1883 are on the marble foundation plaque at the entrance to the synagogue.

The synagogue celebrated its centenary on Shabbos VaYigash, 10 December 1983, with the Chief Rabbi, Dr David Rosen, and the late Judge Wine in the box, and with over 100 people in the synagogue and at a Kiddush that lasted rather longer than usual.

When the synagogue at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road closed in 1984, many of its members joined the observant community of Machzikei Hadass in Terenure, which offered a warm welcome to newcomers who were less observant religiously than its traditional membership.

Two of Aharon Steinberg’s sons were Presidents of the synagogue: Louis Steinberg, who died in 1980 and Jack (Yankele) Steinberg, who was President from 1983 to 1997 and who died in Manchester in 2009.

Almost all of the current regular attenders came to this synagogue in recent decades. Even though the congregation may struggle to reach a minyan of ten adult males on a Saturday, the synagogue has benefited from the trickle of immigration in recent years, and it celebrated its first Bar Mitzvahs in 18 years in 2011.

The synagogue at Saint Kevin’s Parade, off Clanbrassil Street, Dublin, was founded in 1883 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Yesterday: 17, Terenure Synagogue, Rathfarnham Road

Tomorrow: 19, Some other buildings in Dublin.

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