11 September 2020

When Cork men ‘mumbled
along to the cantor’s funereal
chants’ on the last Sabbath

The synagogue on South Terrace closed in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

In my Friday evening reflections, I often draw on the Authorised Daily Prayer Book, with its introduction, commentaries and notes provided by the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, or on Service of the Heart, published in London over half a century ago by the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in 1967, and edited by Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern.

But I was exploring Cork’s Jewish history and legacy earlier last week as part 2 of this year’s ‘Road Trip’ took me to Cork, and I am thinking again of my walking tour around Jewish Cork, following the new ‘Virtual Walk’ through Jewish Cork launched last month by the performance artist Ruti Lachs, who is active in the Munster Jewish Community.

The synagogue on Union Terrace in Cork closed in 2016, but the city’s Jewish community is remembered in Shalom Park is in the area known as ‘Jewtown,’ Cork’s equivalent of ‘Little Jerusalem’ in Dublin, between Clanbrassil Street and Portobello.

The virtual tour is presented by Ruti Lachs and Marnina Winkler, and includes interviews, stories, and music, and a poem by Simon Lewis.

After last week’s visit to Cork, I bought Simon Lewis’s Jewtown (Doire Press, 2016), a collection of 57 brief poems that recall many of the stories of this area.

Simon Lewis moved from Dublin a few years ago to take up a teaching post in Carlow. There he joined a writers’ group and was challenged to write about his Jewish and Irish background, leading him to examine Jewish history in Cork.

The synagogue at 10 South Terrace, built in 1896, closed in February 2016. Simon Lewis’s final poem in Jewtown, ‘The Last Sabbath at South Terrace Synagogue,’ describes one of the final services in the shul, and recalls Freddie Rosehill, the last chair of the trustees of the Cork Hebrew Congregation.

‘The Last Sabbath at South Terrace Synagogue,’ by Simon Lewis

Shipped in from Dublin, the men gathered like beetles
around the orange glow of the gas heaters, grumbling
as the Sabbath candles were lit. Above them, the women
looked down from the crumbling balcony at the ruins,
the walls twinkling with dew, the rot chewing the panels
and the blue velvet table covers airbrushed by damp.
The men shifted in the pews as their knees stiffened
and they mumbled along to the cantor’s funereal chants.
At the front of the Shul was Freddie, his silver crutch
rooted to the carpet bearing the weight of his body,
of the synagogue, of one-hundred and twenty years
of peddlers, grocers, directors. His face, red with the strain,
gave in by the first Kaddish, drooping back into the pew,
knowing he was part of the furniture, ready to be moved on.

Freddie Rosehill died within 10 months of the synagogue closing, at the age of 88.

The ‘Walking Tour’ page can be found HERE

Doire Press is based at Inverin, Co Galway, and can be found HERE.

Shabbas Shalom!

The former synagogue at South Terrace … recalled in Simon Lewis’s poem, ‘The Last Sabbath at South Terrace Synagogue’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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