Tuesday, 18 February 2020

A gallery and library that
brought literature and arts
to the heart of the East End

Whitechapel Gallery … inviting the people of the East End to go straight in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

One of the many buildings I regret not visiting while I was walking around the East End last month is the Whitechapel Gallery on Whitechapel High Street, built around Aldgate East underground station.

The gallery was established by Canon Samuel Barnett (1844-1913), Sub-Dean of Westminster Abbey, and his wife, the heiress and social reformer Henrietta Octavia Weston Rowland (1851-1936), ‘to bring great art to the people of the East End of London.’

The gallery was designed by the architect Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928) in 1897, it was built in 1898-1899 and it opened in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London.

Charles Harrison Townsend was born in Birkenhead on 13 May 1851. He attended Birkenhead School and was then articled to the Liverpool architect Walter Scott in 1870. He moved to London with his family in 1880 and entered partnership with the London architect Thomas Lewis Banks in 1884.

Townsend became a member of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1888 and in the same year was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He remained an active member of both organisations throughout his career and was elected Master of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1903. He died on 26 December 1928.

The Whitechapel Art Gallery was designed by Townsend in his own highly personal and distinctive style of Art Nouveau, or his personal, late expression of Arts and Crafts ideals. The building has the same two-tower feature as his Bishopsgate Institute but with a wider frontage.

Townsend had the people very much in his mind when he designed the gallery, and the main doors invite people to go straight in at street level. These doors are placed asymmetrically to one side, and the large semi-circular light above them takes the eye upwards and outwards into a large, rounded, keyed arch.

Perhaps this is a defiant answer to the underground trains already running through the darkness here when the gallery was first opened. In contrast to a station’s, the gallery’s portal is bright and inviting, opening quickly into a space where the mind rather than the body might be transported, and its horizons widened.

An expanse of blank wall, originally intended to carry a mosaic by Walter Crane, leads up from the arch to a single run of small windows between two string courses, with some little blocks of foliage-patterning at each end.

The latter motif is picked up again in two wide bands at the base of the towers. The tree forms as planned for here can be seen clearly in the Studio drawing. Like the large rounded portal, they seem to spring from the earth, and are typical of Townsend.

The towers are topped with the curved mouldings that Townsend also loved to use, suggesting the domes that he had originally planned. The turrets on each side are capped with rather jaunty, even playful, ridge-tiling. The government listing describes the gallery’s frontage as ‘an imaginatively detailed and massed façade.’

The gallery has a long track record of education and outreach projects, focused on local people. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community.

Next door, Whitechapel Library also opened on the initiative of Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, and was funded by John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911). It was the first free library in Whitechapel. It opened on Sundays to serve the Jewish community of the East End. Early readers included the poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), who is commemorated as war poet from World War I in Westminster Abbey and commemorated here by a plaque.

Whitechapel gallery opened on Sunday afternoons to allow local Jewish residents to visit, and it gained a reputation for launching the careers of many 20th century artists. Those from the Jewish End, later known as the Whitechapel Boys – six men and one woman – included David Bomberg, John Rodker and Mark Gertler.

Mark Gertler (1891-1939) was born in Spitalfields. He was nurtured by Lady Ottoline Morrell and was on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Set. Many of his paintings depict memories of East End life.

The Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso’s Guernica in 1938 as part of a touring exhibition organised by Roland Penrose to protest against the Spanish Civil War.

The Whitechapel Gallery played an important part in the history of post-war British art, with several important exhibitions at the gallery, including the first British exhibition by Mark Rothko in 1961, and works by John Hoyland, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield among others in 1964. That exhibition brought Pop Art to the general public and introduces some of the artists, concepts, designers and photographers that would define the ‘Swinging ’60s’.

However, these open shows became less relevant as emerging artists moved to other areas and newer venues, such as the Hayward Gallery.

The Whitechapel Gallery had a major refurbishment in 1986 and in 2009 completed a two-year programme incorporating the former Passmore Edwards Library building next door. This has doubled the size of the Gallery and almost tripled the available exhibition space, allowing the Whitechapel Gallery to remain open to the public all year round.

A plaque at Whitechapel Library commemorating the war poet Isaac Rosenberg (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A Whitechapel sign recalls
a Jewish newspaper and
artist before the Holocaust

Arthur Szyk’s medallion for the ‘Jewish Daily Post’ at No 88 Whitechapel High Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

As I walk around looking at buildings, one certain way of coming across an unusual story is to keep my head and my eyes open.

Walking along Whitechapel High Street in the East End one day last month, I could easily have missed the fading but ornate symbolism that decorates an upper floor at No 88 and that is a reminder of pioneering journalism and the many stories of the Jewish East End.

No 88 is an early 19th-century shop and office building, with an entryway to Gunthorpe Street, was once the offices of the Jewish Daily Post, the first Jewish daily newspaper in England. But the story of this building dates back further.

An early, substantial building was standing on this site in 1666. It had nine hearths, and the tenant was Hugh Best, who may have been the tenant of the Star Inn in Bishopsgate. Best leased Whitechapel property to John Sanford before 1677, and left Whitechapel by 1674.

By 1720, this was the London premises of Samuel Bellamy, coppersmith of Whitechapel and Erith. That year, he became a tenant of and subcontractor to the English Copper Company, leasing two copper mills and a house on the Wandle at Wimbledon.

Bellamy left all his properties in Whitechapel and Wimbledon to his widow, Elizabeth and she in turn left them in 1732 to William Thoyts (1708-1773), whose father was her husband’s executor and her cousin.

From 1732 to 1773, No 88 was run by Thoyts, described as ‘a great coppersmith in Whitechapel’ and ‘the King of the Tinkers.’ He died in 1773, leaving a substantial fortune, and his business and property were inherited by his son John Thoyts.

John Thoyts left the business, including his copper mills, to be run by his assistant, Peter Robinson, until his son, William Thoyts, became an adult. The firm continued as Thoyts, Miners and Co at 88 Whitechapel High Street until 1807, succeeded by Morgan & Ward. Thoyts, Morgan & Ward moved to 63 Whitechapel High Street in 1809, and by 1812 No 88 was the Coffee Mart, run by John Johnson, an agent for the West India Merchants.

This four-storey, three-bay building, was extensively rebuilt and extended in 1838 by the Scots distiller James Goldie, he took over the premises from Dudderidge & Co, drapers.

Two years earlier, Goldie had built a new distillery to the rear in George Yard (Gunthorpe Street). But Goldie over-extended himself and went was bankrupt by 1841. The premises were taken over by a new gin distillery, the British Hollands Company, with Goldie as manager. He was also the founding secretary of the Commercial Gas Light and Coke Company.

British Hollands went out of business by 1843, but Goldie’s gas company flourished, and was soon supplying most of East London. The gas company moved offices by 1845, Goldie left London, and from 1847, for almost 90 years, No 88 was an auctioneer and pawnbrokers, first run by George Bonham.

Ashridge Brothers, pawnbrokers, were at No 88 until No 88 became the offices in 1934-1935 for the short-lived Jewish Daily Post. The English-language Jewish newspaper began in 1926. It said its ‘primary object is to give an unbiassed account of daily happenings of interest in Jewish life.’

The building was refurbished by HP Sanders for the Jewish Daily Post in 1934-1935. The ground floor was reinforced by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts to take the presses, and the upper storey offices were refurbished. The most striking additions from the Post’s brief time at No 88 are the decorative metal reliefs by Arthur Szyk (1894-1951).

Szyk was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Lodz, and studied drawing and painting at the progressive Académie Julian in Paris. The Jewish Daily Post published his earliest anti-Hitler cartoons in February and March 1935. Two of his metal reliefs survive at No 88: one over the main door and one inside above the entrance to the lift.

The metal relief above the main door was once painted in gold and depicts a Magen David or Star of David supported by two Lions of Judah wielding sabres. Two medallions on the lions are decorated with menorot or seven-branched candelabra. The lions’ clawed feet rest on a thin turned base that is fixed to the wall.

I did not get inside the building this time, but I understand the relief by Szyk above the entrance to the lift on the first floor depicts traditional Jewish symbolism often found on Torah Arks: two Lions of Judah holding the Luhot or Tablets of the Law, inscribed with the first Hebrew letters of each of the Ten Commandments.

Originally, there were signs on each floor; all but these two were destroyed in a fire in the second half of the 20th century.

In the years leading up to World War II and the Holocaust, the Jewish Daily Post reported on the sufferings of Jewish communities around the world, from Germany to Afghanistan, and in 1935 the editor wrote of events in Germany and ‘the Jewish tragedy in all its full nakedness.’

However, the Jewish Daily Post struggled to compete with its long-established rival, Di Tsayt (The Jewish Times). It went into liquidation in August 1935 when it was sued for libel after it published a salacious story about a rabbi. It ceased publication shortly after the refurbishment of No 88, and Arthur Szyk moved to the US in 1940.

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), ‘Satan Leads the Ball’ (1942), New York

Albert’s menswear moved into the premises in 1942, after their premises nearby were damaged in an air raid. The ground floor shop was refurbished for Albert’s in the 1950s.

The shopfront of polished granite with brass-framed windows, along with shop panelling, dates from alterations made in the 1950s. The entry arch to Gunthorpe Street through No 88 has tiled decoration painted with a map of the area, inspired by Ogilby and Morgan’s 1676 map of London.

In recent years, businesses here have offered Jack the Ripper tours of Whitechapel and vaping accessories.

This building is listed, primarily because of the signs made by Szyk.

As for Arthur Szyk, he developed a line in political caricatures that earned him considerable fame after he emigrated to the US in 1940. His mother, Eugenia Szyk, was murdered by the Nazis in Poland during the Holocaust. He died in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1951.

Szyk was identified as the artist who made the medallions at No 88 Whitechapel High Street by Charles O’Brien in Pevsner City Guides: London East in 2005.

Arthur Szyk, ‘De Profundis’ (‘Out of the Depths’), published in the Chicago Sun in 1943 in an advertisement against anti-Semitism in US textbooks by the Textbook Commission

Monday, 17 February 2020

In search of the ‘white
chapel’ that gave its
name to Whitechapel

Adler Street, off Whitechapel Road, with the ruins and churchyard of the original ‘white chapel’ or Saint Mary Matfelon to the right behind the wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Whitechapel is at the heart of the East End in London, with Whitechapel High Street and Whitechapel Road running from Aldgate High Street and Aldgate East underground station in the west and running on into Whitechapel Road. It continues east into Mile End Road, forming part of the A11 and one of the main arteries from one end of the East End to the other, the others including Commercial Road and Cable Street.

During a recent walk through the East End, I also went in search of the original ‘white chapel’ that gave its name to Whitechapel, which is part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Originally, this was part of the Roman road between the City of London and Colchester, leaving the city at Aldgate.

Whitechapel was once part of the ancient parish of Stepney, and takes its name from a small chapel of ease dedicated to Saint Mary, the second-oldest church in Stepney after Saint Dunstan’s Church. For some unknown reasons, the church was known as Saint Mary Matfelon.

The church was whitewashed at an early stage, and became known as the ‘White Chapel,’ giving its name to the surrounding district. Its earliest-known priest was the Revd Hugh de Fulbourne in 1329.

Stepney was divided into nine separate parishes in 1673, when one of them was the newly formed parish of Saint Mary’s, Whitechapel.

The Rector of Whitechapel, the Revd Ralph Davenant, bequeathed a legacy in 1680 for the education of 40 boys and 30 girls of the parish. The Davenant Centre still exists, although the Davenant Foundation School moved from Whitechapel to Loughton in 1966.

The Revd Richard Welton, who became Rector of Saint Mary’s in 1697, had strong Jacobite sympathies, and regarded his Whig contemporaries as apostates. In 1713, he placed a new altarpiece in the church, depicting the Last Supper. The painter, James Fellowes, was commissioned to paint Judas like Bishop Gilbert Burnet, but Fellowes instead used an image of permission to substitute White Kennett, Dean (and later Bishop) of Peterborough, with the words ‘The Dean the Traitor’ underneath. Saint John the Divine, depicted as a youth, had a likeness to the Stuart pretender, Prince James Edward.

The bishop of London, John Robinson ordered its removal, and Welton was deprived of his office in 1715.

A third church was built on the site in the 19th century, largely at the expense of Octavius Coope, and it was opened and re-consecrated on 2 February 1877. Three years later, on 26 August 1880, the new church was devastated by a fire that left only its tower, vestry and church rooms intact. It was rebuilt and opened once again on 1 December 1882, this time with a capacity for 1,600 worshippers and including an external pulpit for sermons, some of which, it is said, were delivered in Yiddish.

A German fire raid destroyed the church during the Blitz on 29 December 1940. It was left in disrepair until it was finally demolished in 1952.

The site of the church and the churchyard became Saint Mary’s Gardens in 1966, and an outline of the footprint of the church is all that remains of it. The park is known to many local people as ‘Itchy Park.’ It is officially named Altab Ali Park in memory of a young Bengali tailor who was murdered nearby in 1978.

Whitechapel was at the heart of the East End Jewish community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But it was also the scene of the infamous Whitechapel Murders by ‘Jack the Ripper’ in the late 1880s.

In more recent decades, Whitechapel has become home to many people in the Bangladeshi community in London, and in many cases mosques have replaced the old synagogues: Spitalfields Great Synagogue or Brick Lane Synagogue has become Brick Lane Mosque, and Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue has become the East London Mosque.

But one reminder of the once-strong presence of the Jewish community in this part of Whitechapel is in the name of Adler Street, to the east of the site of Saint Mary’s and the park surrounding the ruins of the original ‘White Chapel.’

The name of Adler Street commemorates Herman Adler (1839-1911), who succeeded his father, Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890), as former Chief Rabbi. Chief Rabbi Herman Adler was a regular visitor to Ireland, including two pastoral visits to the Jewish community in Limerick in 1888 and 1892.

The Adler Hall, which once stood on this street, was home to the New Yiddish Theatre in 1943-1947.

An East End fountain
recalls a generous
Jewish philanthropist

The fountain beside Saint Botolph without Aldgate recalls Frederic David Mocatta and his philanthropic work in the East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford


Weekends are busy, with services and sermons in two churches, and I usually find – no matter how much preparation has gone into these during the week – that there is a need for tweaking, adjustments and alterations to sermons and intercessions on Saturdays.

This weekend also saw the deadline for two diocesan magazines: Newslink in Limerick and Killaloe and the Church Review in Dublin and Glendalough.

Without stealing my own thunder, my column in the Church Review next month [March 2020] is my own personal look at the East End in London, and how it has changed over the generations with the arrival of new immigrants, from Sephardic Jews in the late 17th century, to Huguenot and Irish weavers, Ashkenazic Jews fleeing pogroms in East Europe and Tsarist Russia, and later arrivals of Italians, more Irish people, and Muslims from Bangladesh.

The East End became an important focus for Anglo-Catholic ‘slum priests,’ political activists from Emily Pankhurst to Kropotkin, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, and social activists and philanthropists like Thomas Bernardo.

I have got to know the East End in recent years, walking along its many streets, including Commercial Road, Whitechapel and Brick Lane, and visiting its churches, synagogues and mosques.

Beside Saint Botolph without Aldgate, the church where the Revd Kenneth Leech continued the tradition of those radical ‘slum priests,’ an almost forgotten landmark is the fountain erected in 1906 and that recalls the philanthropic work of Frederic David Mocatta (1828-1905).

The Metropolitan Drinking Association was set up in 1859 by Samuel Gurney, a Quaker philanthropist, to provide safe drinking water available for people long before water was provided, on tap, in the poorer housing districts of London.

The Mocatta family, also known as de Mattos Mocatta, Lumbroso de Mattos Mocatta and Lumbrozo de Mattos Mocatta, was a prominent Anglo-Jewish family originally from Portugal and one of the first Sephardi families to move to London following the resettlement in the 17th century.

Family members were known for their philanthropy, leadership and sponsoring the arts and letters. For generations, they were involved in finance, commerce, and the law, they are considered to be one of the principal families that formed a closely-knit nexus of senior Sephardic Anglo-Jewish families. Their family names included d’Avigdor, Sassoon, Goldsmid, Henriques, Kadoorie, Lousada, Mazza, Montefiore, Spielmann, Samuel and de Leon.

The origin of the name Mocatta is unknown. Potential origins include: Mukattil, Arabic for champion; a river called Wadi Mokatta; or Mukataa, Arabic for fortress.

The family left Spain in 1492, moving in France, the Netherlands and Italy, after the Alhambra Decree expelled Jews and Muslims from Spain, not long after the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition.

Antonio de Marchena was a member a branch of the Mocatta family that stayed in Spain during the Inquisition and seemed to become Catholic. He left Spain for the Netherlands in the mid-17th century, and was welcomed back into the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam, where he adopted the name Moses Mocatta.

Moses Mocatta moved with his family to London by 1670, and in 1671 he founded Mocatta & Co, a bullion brokerage firm in Camomile Street in the City of London. It was renamed Mocatta & Goldsmid in 1799, after Asher Goldsmid was admitted as partner in 1787. It is the world’s oldest bullion house and continues today largely as ScotiaMocatta.

One branch of the family obtained a royal licence in 1790 to cease the use of Lumbrozo de Mattos. Members of the Mocatta family were also involved in the beginnings of Reform Judaism in Britain in the 19th century.

The beautifully weathered fountain at Saint Botolph without Aldgate on Aldgate High Street, near Liverpool Street Station and Aldgate Station, was erected in 1906 in memory of Frederic David Mocatta.

Mocatta was a tycoon, financier who had been a partner in Mocatta & Goldsmid and directed the business from 1857 to 1874. But he was also one the great Victorian philanthropists. When he was still only 46, he retired from the family business in 1874, and devoted the rest of his life to works of public and private benevolence, especially among deprived people in the East End.

He was concerned that charities should encourage the independence of the poor. He had a particular interest in housing, education supported many Jewish charities, and many London hospitals and the RSPCA were among the beneficiaries of his philanthropy.

Mocatta was also of learning and was the an author of historical works, including The Jews of Spain & Portugal and the Inquisition. The Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (1887) owed its inception to Mocatta. He also funded publications by other writers and researchers.

To mark his 70th birthday in 1898, he was presented with a testimonial from more than 200 philanthropic and literary institutions.

Mocatta was an observant Jew and belonged not only to two Orthodox synagogues but also to a Reform congregation that his family had played a prominent part in founding. For the last years of his life, he was chairman of the council of the West London Synagogue on Seymour Place, near Marble Arch, Hyde Park and Oxford Street.

When there were calls for the immigrants from East Europe in the late 19th century to be barred from entering Britain, Mocatta fought on their behalf, pleading: ‘It is not right for us as Englishmen to try and close entrance into our country to any of our fellow creatures, especially such as are oppressed. It is not for us as Jews to try and bar our gates against other Jews who are persecuted solely for professing the same religion as ourselves.’

Mocatta died on 16 January 1905. Ironically, later that year of the Aliens Act was passed, bringing in measures to curb immigration.

He bequeathed his library to the Jewish Historical Society of England, of which he was a past president. This library formed the basis of the Mocatta Library, now the Jewish Studies Library, at University College London.

Mocatta House in Whitechapel is a small block of flats on Brady Street, off Mile End Road in the East End, was built that year too and named in his honour.

The fountain at Saint Botolph’s Church without Aldgate was erected to his memory by the people of East London. The fountain is dated 1906 and has a carved stone with an inscription that reads:

Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association
Erected by permission
of the vicar & churchwardens
.

Below, a metal plate reads:

In honoured memory
of
Frederic David Mocatta, in recognition of a
benevolent life.
Jan[uar]y. 16th 1905


Low down, a stone side piece has the lettering:

Vicar – J.R. Marr (possibly J.F. Marr).

I doubt whether any passers-by are tempted to drink from the chained cup and the fountain. But this remains a reminder of a benevolent Victorian philanthropist who devoted his life to impoverished people of the East End.

A nearby blue police phone box survives from the age when telephones were new and the emergency services knew their usefulness.

As for the West London Synagogue, built in an ornate Byzantine style by Davis and Emanuel, it has become the flagship synagogue of the Reform movement in Britain. With its vast domed ceiling, gilded mosaics and bronzed gallery it is still one of the largest and most beautiful Reform synagogues in Britain, and it the only synagogue in Britain with an integrated pipe organ. The senior rabbi is Baroness (Julia) Neuberger, who is due to retire next month.

A blue police phone box beside the fountain survives from an age long before mobile phones … and a reminder of continuing poverty in the East End(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Why striving to safeguard
the integrity of creation is
part of mission for Anglicans

‘Look at the birds of the air …’ (Matthew 6: 26) … birds in the air at sunset at Malahide Castle, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 16 February 2020,

The Second Sunday before Lent (Creation Sunday):

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3; Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26; Romans 8: 18-25; Matthew 6: 25-34.

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … lunch in Lemonokipos in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The three Sundays before Lent once had special Latin names in the Book of Common Prayer, names that were shared in most traditions in the Western Church.

These Sundays were known as Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. The names were based on counting up seventy days to Easter, perhaps in some ways paralleling the seven days of creation.

This Sunday, the Second Sunday before Lent, was known as Sexagesima Sunday – a bit of a tongue twister, even for those of us who did Latin at school.

I find it much easier that in the Church Calendar we call this Sunday ‘Creation Sunday.’ It is so appropriate, with our growing awareness about climate change and the threats to God’s creation – emphasised by recent weather fluctuations, including the storms of the past week, the firestorms in Australia, and the debates about carbon emission and climate change in the recent election campaign.

Care for the creation is not a marginal concern for the Church, nor a matter of the Church keeping up with current social and political trends and fashions. The fifth of the Five Marks of Mission accepted throughout the Anglican Communion is:

● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Our first reading is a celebration of creation, a poetic description of God’s creation, reaching its climax or fulfilment in the creation of humanity and God’s relationship with us.

Like all good stories, this story begins at the beginning: ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1).

At first, there was chaos, ‘an empty, formless void’ (verse 2). However, the life-giving power of God, the ‘wind’ or Spirit ‘from God’ sweeps over this chaos. The creation story is then told in the form of a poem or hymn, with a refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good’ (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25).

God then says, ‘Let us’ (26), invoking the royal plural. The creation of humanity is the climax of the creation story. We are made in God’s image – the Hebrew word used here implies an exact copy or reproduction. Because of God’s blessing, we have procreative power, we are to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion over the earth, acting as God’s regents, taking responsibility for a just rule in and care for the creation.

And we are told that not only that ‘God saw that it was good’ – as on the other days of creation – but, ‘indeed, it was very good’ (verse 31).

The seventh day is then the day of rest, a reminder of the Sabbath. God blesses the seventh day, and God sets it apart or makes it holy. There is no evening at the end of this day – this relationship between God and humanity is to continue for ever, to the end of the story (see Revelation 21 and 22).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that few texts have had a deeper influence on Western civilisation than this first chapter of Genesis, with its momentous vision of the universe coming into being as the work of God. Set against the grandeur of the narrative, what stands out is the smallness yet uniqueness of humans, vulnerable but also undeniably set apart from all other beings.

Our Psalm (Psalm 136) echoes the wonder and humility we might feel as we realise the splendour of creation and know and find the love of God in this creation.

God who made the heavens and the earth, who spread out the waters, who made the great lights, the sun, moon and stars, is the loving God whose steadfast love endures for ever.

The honour and glory that crowns the human race is possession of the earth, which is the culmination of God’s creative work: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it]’ (Genesis 1: 28).

While the creation narrative in Genesis clearly establishes God as Master of the Universe, it is humanity who is appointed master or guardian of the earth.

But this raises fundamental questions about our place in creation and our responsibility for it. A literal interpretation suggests a world in which people cut down forests, slaughter animals, and dump waste into the seas at our leisure, much as we see in our world today.

On the other hand, Rav Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, says any intelligent person should know that Genesis 1: 28, ‘does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfil his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart.’

Could God have really created such a complex and magnificent world solely for the caprice of humans?

Genesis 1 is only one side of the complex biblical equation. It is balanced by the narrative of Genesis 2, which features a second creation narrative that focuses on humans and their place in the Garden of Eden. The first person is set in the Garden ‘to till it and keep it’ or ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2: 15).

The two Hebrew verbs used here are significant. The first verb – le’ovdah (לעובדח) – literally means ‘to serve it.’ The human being is thus both master and servant of nature.

The second verb – leshomrah (לשמרח) – means ‘to guard it.’ This is the same verb used later in the Bible to describe the responsibilities of a guardian of property that belongs to someone else. This guardian must exercise vigilance while protecting and is personally liable for losses that occur through negligence.

This is, perhaps, the best short definition of humanity’s responsibility for nature as the Bible presents it.

We do not own nature; ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24: 1) We are its stewards on behalf of God, who created and owns everything. As guardians of the earth, we are duty-bound to respect its integrity.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) put this rather well in an original interpretation of Genesis 1: 26, ‘Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness.’ Us? Who would God consult in the process of creating humans?

Rabbi Hirsch suggests the ‘us’ in this verse refers to the rest of creation. Before creating us as humans, destined to develop the capacity to alter and possibly endanger the natural world, God sought the approval of nature itself. This interpretation implies that we would use nature only in such a way that is faithful to the purposes of the Creator and acknowledges nature’s consent to the existence of humanity.

The mandate in Genesis 1 to exercise dominion is, therefore, not technical, but moral: humanity would control, within our means, the use of nature towards the service of God. This mandate is limited by the requirement to serve and guard as seen in Genesis 2. The famous story of Genesis 2-3 – the eating of the forbidden fruit and the subsequent exile of Adam and Eve – supports this point.

Not everything is permitted. There are limits to how we interact with the earth. When we do not treat creation according to God’s will, disaster can follow.

We see this today, Rabbi Sacks says, as scientists predict more intense and destructive storms, floods, and droughts due to human-induced changes in the atmosphere. If we do not take action now, we risk the very survival of civilisation.

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 6: 25-34), we continue reading from the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 24, Christ tells us not to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, in a way that gives priorities to my own interests, that is preoccupied with or absorbed by my own self-interest.

Our self-preoccupation and self-absorption cannot lengthen our lives (verse 27). And he points to examples from nature, simple examples from creation, like lilies on the hillsides, grass in the fields, and the birds of the air, to illustrate God’s care for all creation.

‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (verse 34).

Christ is saying that being self-absorbed about our own petty needs will not give us a new tomorrow. But caring for the little details of nature, like God cares for the little details of creation, will ensure that our tomorrows reflect God's plans for the creation.

The Midrash says that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’

Creation has its own dignity, and while we have the mandate to use it, we have none to destroy or despoil it. Rabbi Hirsch says that Shabbat was given to humanity ‘in order that he should not grow overbearing in his dominion’ of God’s creation. On the Day of Rest, ‘he must, as it were, return the borrowed world to its Divine Owner in order to realise that it is but lent to him.’

If we see how we have a unique opportunity to truly serve and care for the planet, its creatures, and its resources, then we can reclaim our status as stewards of the world, and all these things will be given to us as well.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1) … ‘on the seventh day he rested from all his work’ (Genesis 2: 2) … sunrise at Igoumenitsa in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Matthew 6: 25-34 (NRSVA):

25 [Jesus said:] ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

‘Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’ (Matthew 6: 29) … a peacock in a vineyard in Rivesaltes in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today …’ (Matthew 6: 30) … green fields and countryside at Cross in Hand Lane, north of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

58, Morning has broken (CD 4)
596, Seek ye first the kingdom of God (CD 34)
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation (CD 22)

‘Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth’ (The Collect of the Day) … sunrise on the Slaney Estuary at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … tables set for dinner at Pigadi restaurant in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

What does it mean to serve
and guard the earth as
stewards of God’s creation?

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1) … ‘on the seventh day he rested from all his work’ (Genesis 2: 2) … sunrise at Igoumenitsa in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 16 February 2020,

The Second Sunday before Lent (Creation Sunday):

9.30 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer

Readings: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3; Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26; Romans 8: 18-25; Matthew 6: 25-34.

‘Look at the birds of the air …’ (Matthew 6: 26) … birds in the air at sunset at Malahide Castle, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The three Sundays before Lent once had special Latin names in the Book of Common Prayer, names that were shared in most traditions in the Western Church.

These Sundays were known as Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. The names were based on counting up seventy days to Easter, perhaps in some ways paralleling the seven days of creation.

This Sunday, the Second Sunday before Lent, was known as Sexagesima Sunday – a bit of a tongue twister, even for those of us who did Latin at school.

I find it much easier that in the Church Calendar we call this Sunday ‘Creation Sunday.’ It is so appropriate, with our growing awareness about climate change and the threats to God’s creation – emphasised by recent weather fluctuations, including the storms of the past week, the firestorms in Australia, and the debates about carbon emission and climate change in the recent election campaign.

Care for the creation is not a marginal concern for the Church, nor a matter of the Church keeping up with current social and political trends and fashions. The fifth of the Five Marks of Mission accepted throughout the Anglican Communion is:

● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Our first reading is a celebration of creation, a poetic description of God’s creation, reaching its climax or fulfilment in the creation of humanity and God’s relationship with us.

Like all good stories, this story begins at the beginning: ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1).

At first, there was chaos, ‘an empty, formless void’ (verse 2). However, the life-giving power of God, the ‘wind’ or Spirit ‘from God’ sweeps over this chaos. The creation story is then told in the form of a poem or hymn, with a refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good’ (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25).

God then says, ‘Let us’ (26), invoking the royal plural. The creation of humanity is the climax of the creation story. We are made in God’s image – the Hebrew word used here implies an exact copy or reproduction. Because of God’s blessing, we have procreative power, we are to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion over the earth, acting as God’s regents, taking responsibility for a just rule in and care for the creation.

And we are told that not only that ‘God saw that it was good’ – as on the other days of creation – but, ‘indeed, it was very good’ (verse 31).

The seventh day is then the day of rest, a reminder of the Sabbath. God blesses the seventh day, and God sets it apart or makes it holy. There is no evening at the end of this day – this relationship between God and humanity is to continue for ever, to the end of the story (see Revelation 21 and 22).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that few texts have had a deeper influence on Western civilisation than this first chapter of Genesis, with its momentous vision of the universe coming into being as the work of God. Set against the grandeur of the narrative, what stands out is the smallness yet uniqueness of humans, vulnerable but also undeniably set apart from all other beings.

Our Psalm (Psalm 136) echoes the wonder and humility we might feel as we realise the splendour of creation and know and find the love of God in this creation.

God who made the heavens and the earth, who spread out the waters, who made the great lights, the sun, moon and stars, is the loving God whose steadfast love endures for ever.

The honour and glory that crowns the human race is possession of the earth, which is the culmination of God’s creative work: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it]’ (Genesis 1: 28).

While the creation narrative in Genesis clearly establishes God as Master of the Universe, it is humanity who is appointed master or guardian of the earth.

But this raises fundamental questions about our place in creation and our responsibility for it. A literal interpretation suggests a world in which people cut down forests, slaughter animals, and dump waste into the seas at our leisure, much as we see in our world today.

On the other hand, Rav Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, says any intelligent person should know that Genesis 1: 28, ‘does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfil his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart.’

Could God have really created such a complex and magnificent world solely for the caprice of humans?

Genesis 1 is only one side of the complex biblical equation. It is balanced by the narrative of Genesis 2, which features a second creation narrative that focuses on humans and their place in the Garden of Eden. The first person is set in the Garden ‘to till it and keep it’ or ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2: 15).

The two Hebrew verbs used here are significant. The first verb – le’ovdah (לעובדח) – literally means ‘to serve it.’ The human being is thus both master and servant of nature.

The second verb – leshomrah (לשמרח) – means ‘to guard it.’ This is the same verb used later in the Bible to describe the responsibilities of a guardian of property that belongs to someone else. This guardian must exercise vigilance while protecting and is personally liable for losses that occur through negligence.

This is, perhaps, the best short definition of humanity’s responsibility for nature as the Bible presents it.

We do not own nature; ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24: 1) We are its stewards on behalf of God, who created and owns everything. As guardians of the earth, we are duty-bound to respect its integrity.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) put this rather well in an original interpretation of Genesis 1: 26, ‘Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness.’ Us? Who would God consult in the process of creating humans?

Rabbi Hirsch suggests the ‘us’ in this verse refers to the rest of creation. Before creating us as humans, destined to develop the capacity to alter and possibly endanger the natural world, God sought the approval of nature itself. This interpretation implies that we would use nature only in such a way that is faithful to the purposes of the Creator and acknowledges nature’s consent to the existence of humanity.

The mandate in Genesis 1 to exercise dominion is, therefore, not technical, but moral: humanity would control, within our means, the use of nature towards the service of God. This mandate is limited by the requirement to serve and guard as seen in Genesis 2. The famous story of Genesis 2-3 – the eating of the forbidden fruit and the subsequent exile of Adam and Eve – supports this point.

Not everything is permitted. There are limits to how we interact with the earth. When we do not treat creation according to God’s will, disaster can follow.

We see this today, Rabbi Sacks says, as scientists predict more intense and destructive storms, floods, and droughts due to human-induced changes in the atmosphere. If we do not take action now, we risk the very survival of civilisation.

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 6: 25-34), we continue reading from the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 24, Christ tells us not to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, in a way that gives priorities to my own interests, that is preoccupied with or absorbed by my own self-interest.

Our self-preoccupation and self-absorption cannot lengthen our lives (verse 27). And he points to examples from nature, simple examples from creation, like lilies on the hillsides, grass in the fields, and the birds of the air, to illustrate God’s care for all creation.

‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (verse 34).

Christ is saying that being self-absorbed about our own petty needs will not give us a new tomorrow. But caring for the little details of nature, like God cares for the little details of creation, will ensure that our tomorrows reflect God's plans for the creation.

The Midrash says that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’

Creation has its own dignity, and while we have the mandate to use it, we have none to destroy or despoil it. Rabbi Hirsch says that Shabbat was given to humanity ‘in order that he should not grow overbearing in his dominion’ of God’s creation. On the Day of Rest, ‘he must, as it were, return the borrowed world to its Divine Owner in order to realise that it is but lent to him.’

If we see how we have a unique opportunity to truly serve and care for the planet, its creatures, and its resources, then we can reclaim our status as stewards of the world, and all these things will be given to us as well.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … lunch in Lemonokipos in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 25-34 (NRSVA):

25 [Jesus said:] ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

‘Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’ (Matthew 6: 29) … a peacock in a vineyard in Rivesaltes in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Word:

God of the living,
with all your creatures great and small
we sing your bounty and your goodness,
for in the harvest of land and ocean,
in the cycles of the seasons,
and the wonders of each creature,
you reveal your generosity.
Teach us the gratitude that dispels envy,
that we may honour each gift
as you cherish your creation,
and praise you in all times and places.

‘But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today …’ (Matthew 6: 30) … green fields and countryside at Cross in Hand Lane, north of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canticles:

‘Great and Wonderful’ (Canticle 17, Book of Common Prayer, p 129).
‘Glory and Honour’ (Canticle 21, Book of Common Prayer, p 131).

Hymns:

58, Morning has broken (CD 4)
596, Seek ye first the kingdom of God (CD 34)
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation (CD 22)

‘Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth’ (The Collect of the Day) … sunrise on the Slaney Estuary at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … tables set for dinner at Pigadi restaurant in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saturday, 15 February 2020

How a pedestrian bridge
with Jewish links in Cork
became the ‘Passover’

Trinity Pedestrian Bridge in Cork was opened by the Jewish Lord Mayor, Gerald Goldberg in 1977 and is known locally as the ‘Passover’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Trinity Pedestrian Bridge in Cork, close to the RTÉ studios, links Father Mathew Quay and Morrison’s Quay on the north bank of a branch of the River Lee with Union Quay on the south bank.

The bridge takes its name from Holy Trinity Church, also known as the Father Mathew Memorial Church, and leads from the city centre into the area that was the heart of Jewish life in Cork in the early 20th century: there were two synagogues on South Terrace, the Cork Hebrew Congregation and the Remnant of Israel, and for a short time around 1915 a third, dissenting synagogue on Union Quay that also called itself Cork Hebrew Congregation, as well as the site of the earlier Sephardic burial ground.

Trinity Bridge was opened in 1977 by Cork’s first Jewish Lord Mayor, Alderman Gerald Goldberg, and he is named on a plaque on the bridge he opened.

It is typical of Cork city humour that ever since the bridge has been known affectionately to people in Cork as ‘Passover Bridge.’

Gerald Goldberg (1912-2003) was the eleventh of 12 children born to Lithuanian immigrants Louis Goldberg and Rachel (née Sandler). They were both born in the small village of Akmenė and were part of a wave of people who fled pogroms in the Tsarist Empire at the end of the 19th century.

At the age of 14, Louis set out from Riga for the United States in 1882. But he did not know how far the journey would be and went ashore when the boat arrived in Cobh. At the docks he met Isaac Marcus, who regularly met immigrant ships to see if any other Jews arrived needing help. In Cork, Louis was invited to stay with the Sandler family, also from Akmian. There he met Rachel, and they were married nine years later.

Louis Goldberg was well-educated and spoke many languages. But he worked as a street peddler, walking on foot all over Ireland, before opening a drapery shop in Limerick. He was able to bring his mother and two brothers to Ireland.

However, he was beaten during the 1904 Limerick pogrom and his shop was boycotted. He moved with his growing family to Cork, where Gerald Goldberg was born on 12 April 1912.

Gerald Goldberg grew up in a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox home in Cork, and was interested in politics from a young age: he saw the bodies of two Lords Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, lying in state during the War of Independence.

Gerald was educated at the Model School, Cork, a Jewish boarding school in Sussex, the Presentation Brothers College, Cork, and University College Cork, where he was President of the University Law Society.

He qualified as a solicitor in 1934, and had a career in criminal law practice in Cork for 63 years, once representing the Cork writer Frank O’Connor. He was the first Jewish President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.

Gerald and Sheila Goldberg were married in Belfast in 1937 and lived at Ben Truda on Rochestown Road.

During World War II, he set up a committee to assist Jews fleeing the Nazis and the Holocaust, but encountered resistance from various government agencies that discouraged Jewish immigration.

He was elected to Cork Corporation as an independent Alderman in 1967.

Goldberg condemned a speech in 1970 by the then Mayor of Limerick, Steve Coughlan, who made justifying references to the 1904 Limerick Pogrom. That year, Goldberg joined Fianna Fáil and he was elected Lord Mayor in 1977. When he toured the US as Lord Mayor of Cork, he was given the freedom of several cities, including Philadelphia, New York and Dallas.

While he was Lord Mayor, he also opened the Trinity pedestrian bridge, which quickly became known as the ‘Passover.’

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Gerald Goldberg received death threats and the Cork synagogue was firebombed.

After he retired from active politics in 1986, he was one of the early defectors from Fianna Fáil to the Progressive Democrats. His life featured in an RTÉ documentary, An Irishman, a Corkman and a Jew.

He collected antiques and was said to have one of the largest private Jewish libraries in Ireland. He received an MA from UCC in 1968 and an honorary doctorate in 1993. He died at the age of 91 on 4 January 2004.

Since then, a second new pedestrian bridge in Cork has been named after Mary Elmes, who has been described as the ‘Irish Oskar Schindler.’ The bridge, behind the Metropole Hotel, links Merchant’s Quay and Patrick’s Quay.

Mary Elmes was born on Winthrop Street, off Patrick Street and died at the age of 93 in Perpignan in France. She is credited with saving the lives of at least 200 Jewish children during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem has named her one of the ‘righteous among the nations.’

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.

Previous: 4, Remnant of Israel Synagogue, 24 South Terrace, Cork

Friday, 14 February 2020

The synagogues of Cork: 4,
The Remnant of Israel,
24 South Terrace

No 24 South Terrace, Cork, today … the former address of the Remnant of Israel Synagogue in the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The Ashkenazi Jewish community that grew up in Cork in the late 19th century formed the Cork Hebrew Congregation in the 1880s. After meeting for some years in Eastville and then from 1884 in a temporary shul in rented rooms in Marlboro Street, the community eventually moved into a synagogue at No 10 South Terrace.

The synagogue was rebuilt in 1913-1915, to designs by the Cork-born architect Arthur Hill (1846-1921) and opened in 1915.

But there was a second synagogue on South Terrace, known as the Remnant of Israel.

This congregation was formed in the early 1880s, and eventually moved into premises at 24 South Terrace, which had been the address of the Cork Hebrew Congregation briefly before it moved to 9-10 South Terrace, on the other side of the street.

The Remnant of Israel was served by Rabbi Abraham Sheftel Birzansky (1851-1908), from Akmene in northern Lithuania. It is said that most of the Lithuanian Jews who arrived in Ireland in the last quarter of the 19th century, fleeing pogroms and persecution in Tsarist Russia, were from Akmene.

The family names from Akmene in Ireland included Mirrelson, Samuels, Abrahamson, Clein and Eppel. Indeed, it was sometimes said in Jewish circles in Dublin that ‘if you weren’t from Akmene then you weren’t in the club.’

Statistics in the Jewish Year Book show that in the first decade of the 20th century the Remnant of Israel had 35 paying members or seat holders. But soon after Rabbi Abraham Sheftel Birzansky died on 1 August 1907, the Remnant of Israel congregation merged with the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace, probably by 1910.

By 1915, there was a breakaway congregation, also calling itself the Cork Hebrew Congregation around the corner in premises at 15 Union Quay, and claiming it was the spiritual and legitimate heir to the Remnant of Israel.

However, it too appears to have closed after a short period, and there is no sign today at either 24 South Terrace or 15 Union Quay of the Remnant of Israel or the alternative Cork Hebrew Congregation that claimed its legacy.

Previous: 3, Cork Hebrew Congregation, 15 Union Quay
Next: 5, Munster Jewish Community

The synagogues of Cork: 3,
Cork Hebrew Congregation,
15 Union Quay

The site of 15 Union Quay, Cork … once the home of a short-lived breakaway synagogue also calling itself ‘Cork Hebrew Congregation’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

While Cork’s main synagogue for a century or more was the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace, an apparently breakaway group, also calling itself the Cork Hebrew Congregation, existed around the corner at 15 Union Quay.

The congregation on Union Quay appears to have split from the main Cork Hebrew Congregation but claimed to be the successor to the Remnant of Israel Synagogue, a small shul that had been at 24 South Terrace in the 1890s.

The Union Quay shul advertised in the Jewish Chronicle in September 1915 for a ‘competent Melamed with a fair knowledge of the English language, who shall be able to act as Shochet of fowls and as Bal Koreh; salary 30/- per week.’ The advertisement was placed by S Criger of 2 Great George’s Street, Cork.’

Simon Spiro, President of the South Terrace synagogue, wrote to the Jewish Chronicle a week later, pointing out that the synagogue had ‘already two qualified chazonim and chochetim and three teachers of Hebrew and religion, which is quite ample for our present requirements. There can be no further appointments in the Cork Congregation unless and until one of the existing offices becomes vacant.’

The exchange of correspondence continued for weeks.

The Jewish Chronicle reported a meeting of the Congregation at 15 Union Quay in mid-October when AH Goldfoot, SM Creiger, and a Mr Cliffe, were elected President, Treasurer, and Secretary, and the Revd MD Herschman was elected chazan, shochet and teacher. The report added, ‘The President presented the congregation with a Scroll of the Law.’

However, the bitter exchange of corresponded was soon discontinued, perhaps at the initiative of the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and ‘the remnant of the remnant’ appear to have been reconciled with the members of the South Terrace synagogue.

As for the site of the shul at 15 Union Quay, it has long since disappeared, and it has been absorbed into a development that includes a multi-storey car park and a row of small shops, including a café.

Previous: Cork Hebrew Congregation, South Terrace Synagogue
Next: Remnant of Israel, 24 South Terrace.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

The synagogues of Cork: 2,
Cork Hebrew Congregation,
South Terrace Synagogue

Cork Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue on South Terrace closed in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The first Jewish community in Cork, was a relatively small community of Sephardi Jews from Portugal in mid-18th century. These Jews probably did not have a synagogue, although they had their own Jewish burial ground.

But the cemetery had closed by 1788, and this community appears to have died out by the early 19th century after a short while as a result of intermarriage.

Later, an Ashkenazi Jewish community was established in the late 19th century, which founded the Cork Hebrew Congregation in 1881. At first, the community prayed in a small room in Eastville and then rented a room in Marlboro Street in Cork city centre in 1884, before opening a synagogue at South Terrace.

Marlboro Street, Cork … the Ashkenazi Jewish community prayed in a rented a room in Marlboro Street in 1884 before opening a synagogue on South Terrace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

By contrast with the previous Sephardic community, the members of this community, were Ashkenazi, coming from Yakmyan and similar towns near Kovno in what is now Lithuania.

Of course, it is very unlikely that Cork was the intended destination of these Eastern European émigrés. They had fled pogroms in the Tsarist empire, and many of them were also very religious. The explanations offered include stories about an unscrupulous ship’s captain who advised the Jews to disembark and row to America to save money. Another says the Yiddish-speaking Jews confused Cork for New York.

They disembarked at Queenstown, now Cobh, and from there they made their way into Cork City, where they settled in an area known as Hibernian Buildings, in the City Centre, soon to local people as ‘Jewtown.’

This initial group of Jews worked mostly as peddlers, selling door-to-door. These peddlers were known to each other as the vicklemenvickle means ‘weekly’ in Yiddish, and their door-to-door rounds took a week each. They would travel around Cork City and its hinterland knocking on doors and selling various to the local communities.

These first arrivals were soon joined by family members when they heard that Cork was a tolerant city and the people were friendly.

The congregation was formed in 1881, with Isaac Epstein, formerly of Dublin, as the first president, and Meyer Elyan or Ilion (1844-1928) from Lithuania as the first shochet, reader and mohel, and was known as Cork Hebrew Congregation. At first, the community prayed in a small room in Eastville and then rented a room in Marlboro Street in Cork city centre in 1884, before renting premises at South Terrace.

The Revd Joseph E Myers, from Ramsgate in Kent, who had already served congregations in New Zealand, Australia and England, was appointed minister in 1890. A divided community put is divisions aside and a new united synagogue was set up in South Terrace in 1895, when the Chief Rabbi, Dr Nathan Adler, visited Cork.

The synagogue on South Terrace was designed by the Cork-born architect Arthur Hill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The synagogue at 9 and 10 South Terrace faced the threat of closure in 1903 when the Provincial Bank called in the mortgage. But Lord Swaythling, better known as the Jewish philanthropist Samuel Montagu (1832-1911), stepped in and cleared the debt personally.

A new synagogue was built on South Terrace in 1913-1915. The foundation stone was laid on 2 February 1913 by Mr DJ Cohen, vice-president and treasurer of the Hebrew Congregation, Dublin, and it was reported that the ‘new synagogue when finished will be the third in Ireland.’ The contractor was William L Kelleher of Drinan Street, Cork.

The new synagogue on South Terrace was designed by the Cork-born architect Arthur Hill (1846-1921) and was opened on 26 March 1915.

The synagogue was a small, two-storey building with a flat front marked by a triple-arched, ground-floor doorway and narrow upper windows flanking a half-moon central window over the entrance.

Arthur Hill was the son of the architect Henry Hill and a member of a well-known Cork architectural dynasty. He studied at the Cork School and Queen’s College, Cork, before going to London, where he worked in the office of Thomas Henry Wyatt and attended the Royal Academy Schools, the West London School of Art, the Architectural Association and University College.

Back in Cork he joined his father’s practice on George Street by 1869, and he continued to practise from the same address for 47 years. When Queen’s College Cork established an Architectural Section in 1891, he was appointed a lecturer.

Hill had a deep interest in Celtic Romanesque architecture. He completed award-winning drawings of Ardfert Cathedral and published a monograph on Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel.

Two years after the synagogue on South Terrace opened, Arthur Hill retired in 1917. He died on 24 February 1921 at Redgarth, Douglas Road, the house he had designed for himself ca 1903.

The synagogue on South Terrace was known as Cork Hebrew Congregation, but was also known simply as Cork Synagogue and at one stage as the Old Hebrew Congregation.

Some years earlier, Cork Jewish Cemetery, Beit Olam, opened at Blarney Street, Curraghkippane, on the outskirts of the city in 1887. Those buried there include some Jewish victims of the RMS Lusitania that was sunk in 1915 by a German U-boat off the coast of Kinsale and Cobh on its journey from Liverpool to New York.

The new Jewish community in Cork reached its peak by 1939, with about 450 to 500 members. This was an active community, with two football clubs, a table tennis clubs, a debating club, a branch of the Bnei Akiva, an officiating cantor, a shochet or ritual butcher, a doctor and a chevre kedushsa or burial society. For a time, there was also a Talmud Torah next door to the synagogue at 9 South Terrace.

The sons and the grandsons of the peddlers and vicklemen had qualified as professionals in University College Cork and wanted to leave for a place with greater Jewish life and professional opportunities.

But numbers began to decline as the 20th century moved on, and by the beginning of this century only two Jewish families were left in Cork. Services were only conducted every fourth Friday night, and during the High Holidays. Even during the High Holidays, visitors in the form of Chabad-Lubavitch trainee rabbis, had to be brought in from England to make a minyan or religious quorum.

With declining community numbers and unsustainable finances, the synagogue on South Terrace was deconsecrated and finally closed its doors on 7 February 2016.

The Evening Echo reported at the time that only three Jewish men were living in Cork, and that a rabbi and 14 men had travelled to Cork from Dublin for the final service.

‘We are down in numbers. We couldn’t support a rabbi, a Hebrew school, a synagogue,’ Fred Rosehill, chair of the trustees of the Cork Hebrew Congregation, told the Evening Echo. ‘We tried everything. It has come to the stage that there is no money left. If someone gave us money in the morning it wouldn’t matter – we don’t have the members to sustain it.’

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, said he learned of the closure of the synagogue ‘with immense sadness and a heavy heart.’

He said the circumstances that led to its closure were ‘sad, not least because the closure represents a diminution of the religious pluralism in Cork at a very time when, in Ireland as a whole, greater religious diversity than ever before is a mark of our nation.’

The Cork Public Museum at Fitzgerald Park added a permanent exhibit on Jewish history in 2017. The exhibit, ‘The Tsar, the Rosehills and the Music Shop,’ includes photographs of the Hebrew congregation, items from the former synagogue and stories of Cork’s Jewish residents. The pictures, artefacts, and stories were assembled in the museum by West Cork Heritage Works, which specialises in helping communities tell others about their history and heritage.

The exhibition was opened in May 2017 by the Cork-born award-winning filmmaker, Louis Marcus.

The Star of David on the façade has been removed and the building has been converted into a Seventh Day Adventist church. But a light from the former synagogue in Cork now hangs in front of the Ark in Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Dublin, a light that never goes out.



The synagogue on South Terrace has been turned into a Seventh Day Adventist church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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