12 August 2022

A musical, walking tour of
historical Jewish Cork is so
popular it is booked out

Cork’s last synagogue synagogue on South Terrace closed in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today (12 August 2022) is Tu B’Av (ט״ו באב) – the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av – which is a minor Jewish holiday. It originally marked the beginning of the grape harvest but is often marked today as the Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, a Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

This is a day of joy that follows Tisha B’Av by six days and contrasts with the sadness of Tisha B’Av.

Shabbat Nahamu, the name given to Shabbat this weekend, takes its name the haftara or reading (Isaiah 40: 1-26), which begins Nahamu, nahamu ‘ami, ‘Be consoled, be consoled, my nation’. The prophet reassures the people that God will not forsake them and he will forever hold to his covenant.

The term nehama (נחמה) is often used as a consolation from mourning, but is a special kind of consolation, expressing regret or a changing of mind in which we somehow recognise that our original course or path is no longer viable or available. God uses this term when he resolves to flood the earth after creation and it is used again when God decides to forgive the people after they have worshipped the Golden Calf.

As the Jewish calendar moves away from the Ninth of Ab, the focus is now on what can be done that is viable and meaningful for the future.

I was writing two weeks ago about an online presentation on Irish Jewish history, ‘Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’: A Jewish History of Ireland,’ a 90-minute talk by Alexander Vard looking at the story of the Jewish community in Ireland (31 July 2022).

This weekend, as part of Cork Heritage Open Day tomorrow, Ruti Lachs is leading a Cork Jewish Culture Musical Guided Walk in Cork City tomorrow morning (13 August) at 11 am.

This weekend walk takes about 1 hour 15 minutes. But it is so popular and in such demand that within four hours of the Cork Heritage Open Day website going live, all tickets were all taken up.

If you are disappointed at missing this opportunity tomorrow, then Ruti Lachs has decided to run another walk, the last of the summer, at 11 am on Sunday 28 August.

Ruti Lachs is a musician and a member of the Cork Jewish Community. In her walks, she takes visitors through the historic – and more recent – Jewish sites in Cork City, telling stories of the old community, and playing some klezmer music and Yiddish songs, the music of the Lithuanian Jews who made their home in Cork 130 years ago. There is plenty of time too for questions.

The site of the Sephardic cemetery in Cork was discovered in Kemp Street, on the south-east corner of White Street, to the rear of the Cork Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue in South Terrace, which closed in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first Jewish community in Cork was a relatively small group of Sephardi Jews, founded when Jews from Portugal settled in the city in the mid-18th century.

According to some sources, the community was established sometime between 1731 and 1747. Other sources say the Sephardi Jews did not settle in Cork until 1772, although there are reports of Jews in the city in 1771. Relatively little is known of these Jews and it is uncertain whether they established a synagogue, although they had their own Jewish burial ground in Kemp Street. This community appears to have died out by 1796.

Later, an Ashkenazi community was established in the late 19th century, and founded the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace in 1881. A short while after, there was a split in the community and a second congregation, the Remnant of Israel Synagogue, was established. The two rival congregations continued to exist until unity was restored after 30 years. Another short-lived breakaway congregation, the Cork Hebrew Congregation, was formed on Union Quay in 1915.

The Jewish community in Cork continued to grow after World War I, and reached its zenith in the 1930s with 400-500 people.

Shalom Park at Monerea Terrace was developed in 1989 on land donated by Cork Gas Company, which provided the traditional style lighting in the park. By then, however, numbers were declining, and only a handful of Jews remained in Cork by 2016. The Cork Hebrew Congregation closed the synagogue and sold the premises that year, bringing to an end some 135 years of continuous Jewish congregational presence in the city.

Then, following the closure of the synagogue, new group emerged in 2016. At first it called itself the Munster Jewish Community, and it is now known as Cork Jewish Community.

This community describes itself as ‘a community without a shul.’ Although based in Cork, membership is a broad mix of Jews throughout Munster, living, working, studying or visiting Cork, Clare, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

Cork Jewish Community is unaffiliated and has a predominantly Liberal and Reform flavour, but it warmly welcomes individuals and families from all Jewish affiliations. It is an eclectic community, with new faces from Turkey, Israel, America, South Africa, Ukraine, and even Dublin, as well as Irish and English long-term members.

Recently, the community had a lively Shavuot service with about 20 participants and five different cheesecake recipes. The service included a reading from the Book of Ruth led by Sarah Goldberg, a facilitated discussion led by Sophia Spiegel, music from Fresh Air Collective, klezmer dancing, and a sing-along.

The Guided Musical Walk of Cork Jewish Heritage is a led by Ruti Lachs, a member of local music group the Fresh Air Collective, and formerly Pop-Up Klezmer. She may be joined by another musician for a short performance of klezmer music and Yiddish song.

She has been researching the old community in Cork through interviews with local people and former residents of Cork around the world. Her research was collated into two documentary videos, ‘Cork Jewish Culture Virtual Walk’ and ‘Memories of a Cork Jewish Childhood,’ both made during the pandemic.

The video exploring the history and culture of Cork Jewish communities past and present won a Irish National Heritage Week award in 2020. It was produced by Ruti Lachs, co-presented by Marnina Winkler and Val Davin, filmed by Fintan Lucy and edited by Wombat Media.

Shabbat Shalom

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