Monday, 7 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
9, Camden Street Synagogue

The synagogue at 52 Lower Camden Street in the Portobello area of Dublin was founded in 1892 and continued until 1916 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The new Jewish immigrants fleeing Poland, Russia and the Baltics who arrived in Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s, settled mainly around Clanbrassil Street and Portobello, and formed their own small congregations or hebroth in an area that would soon become known as ‘Little Jerusalem.

These new hebroth in ‘Little Jerusalem included shuls in Saint Kevin’s Parade (1883), Oakfield Place (1885), Lennox Street (1887), Heytesbury Street (1891), Lombard Street (1893), and Camden Street (1892).

According to Louis Hyman in The Jews of Ireland, the shul founded at 52 Lower Camden Street in 1892 was one these many hebroth established in this area by the recent immigrants from Lithuania and Poland.

The Camden Street hebra was established in 1892 by Myer Joel Wigoder from Lithuania. Within three years, the synagogue had 90 seat-holders or subscribing members in 1895.

The plaque at Concern’s Head Office at 52 Lower Camden Street remembers the building’s past as a synagogue and union offices (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In 1912, No 52 also became the offices of the International Tailors’, Machiners’ and Pressers’ Union, also known for a time as ‘The Jewish Union.’

The trade union historian Manus O’Riordan has traced Irish-Jewish involvement in the labour movement back to 1908, when Yiddish immigrants formed this union. It was registered as a trade union in 1909, and organised its first strike that year, involving only Jewish employers. Philip Sayers, an active member of the community, negotiated a settlement.

Three years later, when the union membership had expanded and included Christians, it organised another strike against exploitative employers of all faiths.

The union moved its offices from 11 York Street to 52 Lower Camden Street in 1912, sharing the premises of the Camden Street Synagogue.

Harry Levitas from the Lithuanian shtetl of Akmeyan and Leah Rick from the Latvian capital of Riga were married in the Camden Street Synagogue in 1914. Harry had fled from Lithuania and Leah had fled from Latvia in 1913. Both were escaping the anti-semitic pogroms of Tsarist Russia; they met in Dublin and were married in August 1914.

Harry was a prominent activist in the Amalgamated Jewish Tailors’, Machinists’ and Pressers' Union. When he was blacklisted by employers, the family was forced to move to Glasgow in 1927.

Their eldest son, Max Samuel Levitas (Motl Shmuel ben Hillel), who was born at 15 Longwood Avenue in June 1915. He later took part in the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, he was a Communist councillor in Stepney for 15 years.

Max delivered his last public speech in October 2016, at the age of 101, at the 80th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Cable Street. He was still active in political causes when he died last year at the age of 103 on 2 November 2018. He was buried in Rainham Jewish Cemetery.

His brother, Maurice (‘Morry’) Levitas (1917-2001) was born at 8 Warren Street. He was a veteran of the Connolly Column in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. He took part in the commemoration of the Connolly Column in Liberty Hall in 1991, when he was chosen to read out the list of members. He also attended a ceremony hosted by the Lord Mayor in the Mansion House in 1997 to honour the surviving Irish members of the International Brigade. He died in London in 2001.

However, on the other side of Europe, Harry’s sister Sara was burnt to death along with fellow-villagers in the synagogue of Akmeyan, and Leah’s sister Rachel was killed with her family by the Nazis in Riga.

Meanwhile, the Camden Street Synagogue closed in 1916. The building later became part of the headquarters of Concern International and in 2002 Max Levitas was invited to unveil a plaque on the building celebrating its links with both Dublin’s Jewish community and the trade union movement.

There was another synagogue nearby in Heytesbury Street, which runs parallel to Camden Street. It opened in 1891, but closed in 1895, and to date I have been unable to identify its location.

The synagogue at 52 Lower Camden Street in the Portobello area of Dublin closed its doors in 1916 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Saturday: 8, Lennox Street Synagogue

Tomorrow: 10, Dublin Hebrew Congregation, Adelaide Road

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