17 February 2023

Erwin Goldwater, the violinist
from Kovno who helped to
found a synagogue in Dublin

Erwin Goldwater, the Dublin violinist, was born in Kovno and was a founding figure in Terenure Synagogue in Dublin

Patrick Comerford

Jewish Arts and Culture Ireland (JACI) is being launched in Cork this weekend (Sunday 19 February 2023), with ‘Kovno to Cork’, a journey in music and words reflecting the immigrant experience from the Irish Jewish immigrants of the 1880s to present-day newcomers.

The programme includes a live interview with the Dublin film director Lenny Abrahamson, in conversation with the Human Rights lawyer Saul Woolfson, who chairs Jewish Arts and Culture Ireland (JACI).

The evening’s programme also includes the premiere of one of Ruti Lachs’s new pieces from the Irish Klezmer Suite, as well as the performance of two other original pieces by her.

Istvan Barnacz from Hungary on the violin and Brian Connor from Belfast on the piano are playing Jewish classical and film music. Simon Lewis, the poet from Carlow, reads from his collection Jewtown (Doire Press, 2016), set in Cork. The Fresh Air Collective, including Edel Sullivan (fiddle), Eileen Healy (guitar), Lucy Tasker (clarinet) and Ruti Lachs (accordion), are playing klezmer and folk music. Dr Vivi Lachs from London, who spoke recently in Milton Keynes Synagogue on Yiddish culture in the East End, is speaking about Yiddish song and story.

Many of the Jewish refugees who arrived in Cork – and in other Irish cities, including Limerick, Belfast and Dublin – in the 1870s and the 1880s were fleeing oppression and pogroms in the Tsarist empire. Those who fled Lithuania were known as Litvaks.

Today, Kovno or Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania The shtetls in Kovno they came from were all within 50 km of each other. Many of the Jewish figures in Cork who inspired the poems by Simon Lewis were often known as Akmajianites because they came from the village of Akmajian in Kovno.

The violinist Erwin Goldwater is an interesting example of one of these Jewish Litvaks from Kovno who found success in cultural life in Ireland, and he became a key figure in founding the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road in Terenure, Dublin.

Erwin Goldwater’s father, Morris Mendel Goldwater, was a son of Rabbi Abraham Goldwasser. He was born Mosek Menachem Goldwasser in Sochotszow or Sochaczew in central Poland on 23 February 1867 – although census returns suggest he was born in 1863. His parents were Abraham or Abram Goldwasser and Zilpa Frankel or Frenkel.

Morris married Machla (Minnie) Binkowsky in February 1885 at Kolo in central Poland, but they soon moved to Kovno, where he worked as art dealer in 1892-1894. Morris and Minnie had a large family of children, born between 1887 and 1904. The first two children – Israel (Erwin) Goldwater, the future violinist and musician, and Abram were born in Kovno. The other children included: Maryjem Zilpa (Mary), Chana Ruchla (Rosie), Jenny, Rebekah, Phillip, Jacob (Jack), Freda and Abraham (Alf).

Morris left Poland with his family when he was about 28, and moved to London by 1894-1895. They lived in Mile End in the East End, and Morris worked as a woollen merchant and an art dealer.

Israel (Erwin) Goldwater was born in Kovno in 1892 (or 1887) and grew up in London. He studied the violin under the Czech violinist Otakar Ševčík (1852-1934), who was based in Prague and Vienna and who taught briefly in London. Erwin was the first violin at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in London, before moving to Dublin in his early 20s to conduct the orchestra at the Carlton Cinema when it opened in Sackville Street (later O’Connell Street) in Dublin in 1916.

No 76 Lower Clanbrassil Street … once the home of Robert Comerford and later Goldwater’s shop (Photograph courtesy Manus O’Riordan)

Erwin arrived in Dublin shortly before the Easter Rising, perhaps with the assistance of cousins among other Goldwater families living in Dublin. He was undaunted by the changing political climate; he remained in Ireland, carved out a successful career, and became a leading figure in the Jewish community in Ireland.

Cinemas were a booming business in Dublin at the time, and they often provided the principal opportunity for people to hear live, classical music. The Carlton Cinema, for example, introduced the concert soloist as a permanent feature.

The Irish Times described Erwin Goldwater’s debut at the Carlton on Saint Patrick’s Day 1916 as a ‘new departure in connection with cinema entertainments [that] takes the form of a violin recital by Mr E Goldwater, a pupil of Sevcik, and formerly first violin at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Mr Goldwater will conduct the orchestra at the Carlton.’

Goldwater’s appointment at the Carlton undermined a long-standing claim by the Bohemian Cinema in Phibsborough that it had Dublin’s largest and best picture-house orchestra. A month later, however, the Bohemian engaged Clyde Twelvetrees – concert cellist and professor of the Royal Irish Academy of Music – to play as part of its daily programme. Not to be outdone, the Pillar Picture House engaged, Joseph Schofield in April 1916. A month later, the Bohemian contracted a second soloist, the violinist Achille Simonetti.

Surviving programmes from Erwin Goldwater’s times at the Carlton in the late 1910s show how as a soloist he added a further musical layer to the cinema bill at Dublin’s most prestigious picture houses. The programme for the week of 10-17 December 1917 – when the feature was Maslova (Tiber, 1917), an Italian adaptation of Tolstoy’s The Resurrection – features the films and music played and shows how the musicians changed during the day.

Erwin Goldwater’s musical selections for Maslova were printed opposite the film programme. He also played a violin solo, which that week was Henryk Wieniawski’s Légende.

In one day in that decade at the Carlton and Dublin’s other prestige ‘picture houses’, a cinema-goer could experience music played in turns by a solo pianist, a trio, a larger orchestra and a concert soloist. The advent of the cinema offered people quality music in a readily accessible form.

Erwin Goldwater stayed on in Dublin after the War of Independence and the Civil War, and he married Marie Fine, daughter of Simon Fine, in Dolphin’s Barn Synagogue on 2 July 1933. He was 39 and she was 19, and they both gave their address as 398 Harold’s Cross Road. WB Yeats had part of his childhood on the same row of houses at No 418, and at the time my grandmother was living around the corner in Ashdale Park.

The wedding was conducted by the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Dr Isaac Herzog (1888-1959), whose wife Sarah Hillman (1898-1979) was also born in Kovno. The wedding reception was held in the Winter Gardens at the Theatre Royal.

Erwin Goldwater may have been helped in moving to Dublin by other members of the Goldwater family. Goldwater’s butcher shop was at 76 Lower Clanbrassil Street in Dublin’s Little Jerusalem from the 1930sIt had been the home my grandfather’s first cousin, Robert Comerford (1855-1925), when he died there on 1 May 1925. Janie and Isaac Goldwater ran Goldwater’s shop at No 76 from the 1930s until it finally closed in 1977.

Meanwhile, Morris Goldwater applied for naturalisation in London in 1923. In his application, he states he had one sister last heard of in Poland, but it was not known if she was still alive.’ It is not known whether he had other siblings. In a letter dated 25 June 1923 he expresses his wishes ‘to go to Poland to see my relatives.’

Some time after his naturalisation, Morris Goldwater moved from the East End to live with his son Erwin and daughter-in-law in Dublin. He died at their home on Highfield Road, Rathgar, on 31 January 1942.

In the post-war years, Erwin Goldwater was an eminent member of the Jewish community in Dublin. In 1945-1949, he was President of Rathmines Hebrew Congregation, which had its synagogue at 52 Grosvenor Road, Rathgar.

He donated to the publication of the book Degel Yosef by Rabbi Zalman Yosef ben Yitzchok Aloni, published in Dublin in 1949 in memory of his parents.

Erwin Goldwater and Woulfe Freedman bought the site for the new synagogue in Terenure, then known as Leoville at 32a Rathfarnham Road, and opposite the then Classic Cinema. They paid £1,490 for the site and donated the site to the congregation.

I have often jested that I was born beside a synagogue and across the road from a cinema. With his background in cinema music, Erwin Goldwater must have relished the humour within the Jewish community in Dublin that referred to the new synagogue opposite the Classic Cinema as the ‘cinema-gogue.’

The new synagogue designed by Wilfrid Cantwell was built in 1952-1953 and was dedicated on 30 August 1953. Erwin Goldwater was chair of Terenure Hebrew Congregation from 1949. He was 67 when he died on 21 May 1959 at 42 Cowper Road, Rathmines.

One of Erwin’s younger brothers, Jacob (Jack) Goldwater, also moved to Dublin. Jack Goldwater was born in Mile End in April 1899, and married Rachel Goldfoot. He died in Dublin in 1966.

Shabbat Shalom

Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Dublin … Erwin Goldwater was instrumental in buying the site (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 17 February 2023

‘Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life’ (John 12: 25) … a statue of Archbishop Luwum (right) on the façade of Westminster Abbey

Patrick Comerford

These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time. We are in a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Before today becomes a busy day, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday next week (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum (1922-1977) is recalled on this day in a lesser Festival in the Calendar of the Church of England and other Anglican churches. He was the Archbishop of the (Anglican) Church of Uganda from 1974, and was one of the most influential modern Church leaders in Africa. He was murdered in 1977 by either Idi Amin personally or by Amin’s henchmen.

The archbishop was born in a village in Uganda 1922, and trained as a primary teacher before he converted to Christianity in 1948. A year later, he went to Buwalasi Theological College, and he was ordained deacon in 1953 and priest in 1954. He was consecrated a bishop in 1961 and five years later became Archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire – the second African to hold this position.

Archbishop Luwum was openly critical of the excesses of Idi Amin and his regime after he seized power in 1971. In 1977, the archbishop delivered a note of protest to Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and disappearances. Shortly after, he and other Church leaders were accused of treason.

On 16 February 1977, he was arrested and was publicly humiliated at a rally called in Kampala by Amin. He was killed the next day – supposedly in a car crash, although he had been shot through the mouth and in the chest several times. Time magazine suggested Amin himself had pulled the trigger.

The Gospel reading this morning (John 12: 24-32) is a reminder, as we remember Archbishop Janani Luwum, of meaning of self-giving and the risk martyrdom in Christian thinking.

Archbishop Janani Luwum is recognised as a martyr in the Church of England and other Anglican churches, and his statue is among those of the Martyrs of the 20th Century on the west façade of Westminster Abbey.

The ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 24-32 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 24 ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Bray Day.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Jo Sadgrove, USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, who shared the challenges of uncovering USPG’s archives.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for the work of Garfield Campbell as he explores USPG’s archives. May USPG learn from both its history and from its growing relationship with the Church of the Province of the West Indies.

The Collect:

God of truth,
whose servant Janani Luwum walked in the light,
and in his death defied the powers of darkness:
free us from fear of those who kill the body,
that we too may walk as children of light,
through him who overcame darkness by the power of the cross,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Janani Luwum:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

A prayer for the healing of the nations at Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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