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.

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