1874 - 1974
One Hundred Years
A Short History of the
Middlesbrough Hebrew Congregation
by PHILIP NIMAN
5634 - 5734
1874 - 1974
One Hundred Years
A Short History of the
Middlesbrough Hebrew Congregation
by PHILIP NIMAN
5634 - 5734
We are indebted to Mr. Philip Niman for editing and producing this commemorative booklet.
We remain everlastingly grateful for the kindness and friendship shown to us by our fellow citizens of the Christian faith in whom we found indivisible kinship and indissoluble brotherhood. This spirit of comradeship throughout the boundary of our communal existence bears the hallmark of warmhearted fellowship and deep sincerity.
Looking forward, let us re-dedicate ourselves to building the future in brotherliness with our co-religionists, in continuing to enhance our Synagogal values and to bequeath our sacred heritage to our children.
May a spirit of peace unite the hearts of mankind, for greatest source of blessing is peace.
Park Road South, Middlesbrough
The Author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of many local people for helpful information and particularly Mr. L. Bharier who made available some very useful notes prepared by his brother the late Mr. N. Bharier. He also wishes to thank Mr. W. Lillie and Mr. C. Hurren, formerly of the Middlesbrough Public Library and Mr. David Carrington, the Librarian of the Jewish Chronicle.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN MIDDLESBROUGH
It is not certain when the first Jew came to Middlesbrough. It is known that Jews congregated in temporary places of worship from the early 1860's until a permanent Synagogue was erected in Brentnall Street in 1874. The first Service was held there on Shabbat June 6th and the building was formally opened and consecrated on Wednesday, 24th June, 1874.
The first Jew to organise a service was probably a Mr. M. Maurice Levy in 1862. To him has been accorded the honour of founding the Middlesbrough Hebrew Congregation. Mr. Maurice Levy was referred to in a Sermon delivered by Rev. H. P. Levy at the opening of the cemetery in 1885, when he stated "About 23 years ago Mr. M. Maurice Levy settled in this town. When he came, there were no Jews and 12 months later he was followed by his son-in-Law Isaac Alston, who later became a Leader of the Community and a Member of the Middlesbrough Town Council." Mr. Isaac Alston was to take an important part in the affairs of the Congregation until 1905 when he emigrated to Melbourne. An inscribed silver breastplate bearing his name still adorns a Sefer Torah in the present Synagogue. It was presented to the Synagogue prior to his departure.
The earliest mention of Jewish settlement in the town is recorded in "The Middlesbrough Weekly News and Cleveland Advertiser" of October 6th 1865 which states, "Arrangements have just been completed and premises secured in Lower East Street for the holding of worship according to the Mosaic Ritual. The advent of a large number of Jews into the town has called for the opening of this new place of Worship." Burnetts Directory of 1871 refers to a "Jewish Synagogue at 56 Garden Street. The Reader is Mr. J. Lazarus." This Synagogue at the corner of Hill Street was the upstairs portion of a Boot and Shoe Warehouse belonging to Robinsons, the Wholesale Leather Merchants. It soon became too small and services were later held in a temporary Synagogue in Newport Road. The Reader was then Mr. Jacob Marks.
In an interesting letter, Mr. B. H. Alston then of Melbourne, Australia, wrote to the late Mr. Nat Bharier on the 7th March, 1935. Recalling his childhood days in Middlesbrough he stated "Gradually as the first Jews began to arrive in Middlesbrough, either from Poland or Russia, we were able to form a Minyan, the services being held either at my Grandfather or Father's home. Each of these gentlemen possessed a Sefer Torah. My Grandfather brought his from Poland. A year or two later, my Father engaged rooms which were fitted up in two divisions for males and females. One of these rooms was no more than a loft over a Joiner's shop. 1 was the first boy Barmitzvah in this temporary Synagogue in 1872 before the present Synagogue was built."
In another letter from Mr. W. J. Barnett of Manchester there is mention of two places of worship. One in Garden Street over a stable and the other in Granville Terrace, Linthorpe Road, over the shop of a Mr. Getz. Mr. Harris Smollan acted as Reader, without remuneration.
By the 1870's Middlesbrough was growing rapidly, and the Jewish population increasing. A permanent Synagogue was urgently needed and a site in Brentnall Street was purchased from the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate for £370 and building commenced in the Summer of 1873. It was a well chosen site being on the perimeter of the town. Newport Road then ended at Boundary Road and there was little more than fields beyond Southfield Road. This was 15 years before the Town Hall was built.
There are lengthy reports in the local Press of the laying of the foundation stone but little of the local Chronicles of the time referring to the actual opening of the Synagogue.
The "Middlesbrough Exchange" of August 22nd 1873 not only gave a detailed report of the consecration of the foundation stone but devoted its leading article to the event, stating that "the Jew could lay the foundation stone of his Synagogue today in Middlesbrough with as great a sense of freedom as Solomon felt when he laid the foundation stone of his glorious temple in Jerusalem well nigh 3000 years ago and without even that sense of exile which possessed his ancestors when they sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept." The stone was laid on August 21st 1873 (Ab.28th5633) by the Rev. A. L. Green, Minister of the Portland Street Synagogue, London. Wardens were Isaac Alston and Abraham Nathan; Committee Members: Jacob Wilkes, Asher Michaelson, Levy Kauftnan, Louis Smith, Isaac Smollan, Napthali Laski and Moses Getz. Rev. Marks was the Reader. Samuel Goldstein Hon. Secretary. Architect was Edward Tidman.
The building due to be completed in January 1874 was delayed until May and formally opened by the Chief Rabbi, Dr. H. Adler on the 24th June 1874 The formal consecration by the Chief Rabbi was assisted by Rev Furst, the newly appointed Chazan, in the presence of a large Congregation which included the Mayor and many Christian Clergy. The Chief Rabbi who stayed at the Queens Hotel in Harris Street nearby was presented with an illuminated address by Mr. I. Alston. The ladies of the Congregation presented a velvet curtain for the Ark and Baroness De Rothschild made a gift of two mantles for the scrolls, one in white satin and one in purple velvet. The young men of the Congregation who took an active part in promoting the erection of the Synagogue presented coloured glass windows placed above the Ark representing the ten commandments on two tablets of stone. These were later removed in 1935 and now adorn the eastern wall of the present Synagogue in Park Road South.
The proceedings were followed by a Dinner in the Cleveland Hall when Mr. Nathan the President occupied the Chair.
The total cost of the building in Brentnall Street was estimated at £1,600 but in fact it cost £2,500 by the time it was completed.
The Mayor of Middlesbrough attended the Consecration and the Dinner that followed. The following day he made a special visit to Middlesbrough Station to pay his respects to the Chief Rabbi on his departure, while the President and members of the Committee accompanied him to Preston Junction (Eaglescliffe).
Father Ignatius preaching in All Saints Church in whose parish the Synagogue then stood, and which was built shortly after the Synagogue said that we, the people of Middlesbrough should be proud that we have a Synagogue in our midst.
A Communal Hall and Schoolrooms were built later and further extended in 1919. It was to serve the Congregation for over half a century as a useful meeting place for social gatherings, Simchas, Schoolrooms a Beth Hamedrish and overflow services for the high holidays.
MOTIONS AND PROPOSALS
The Minutes of the affairs of the Congregation do not begin until late 1876. They were probably not recorded until then. Some early extracts are very interesting.
On December 31st, 1876, it was proposed by Mr. E. Berger that Mr. S. Leventhall and Mr. W. Friedlander be fined one shilling each for leaving the Synagogue on Sabbath morning before "Oleynu."
A Special Meeting was called on June 23rd 1878 to consider a complaint "that Messrs. I. & L. Phillips insulted Mr. Wilson and created a disturbance in the Synagogue." They were fined 7/6d. each. At the same meeting Mr. Alston was fined one shilling for non attendance; and Mr. Albert for refusing a Mitzva on Yomtov, fined five shillings, notice to be sent to him to that effect.
On September 12th 1880 it was proposed "that the sum of 7/6d. be allowed for the purpose of appointing a man to keep order on Yom Kippur." And on August 28th 1881 Mr. Phillips proposed "that Mr. Alston be not allowed to officiate at the coming holidays as he is not religious enough." This proposal however could find no seconder.
On October 31st 1897 after a great deal of discussion the Rev. Silverston was officially engaged as Chazan at a salary of 35 shillings per week.
WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS
According to Mr. N. J. Marks, the present Registrar of Marriages, the first Jewish wedding took place in Middlesbrough on 30th August, 1871 between Louis Dyialoszynski and Elizabeth Samuelson of Suffield Street. The Ceremony was consecrated by Rev. L. Lazarus. Mr. 1. Alston and Mr. S. Gordon were witnesses. The certificate simply says that it was solemnised "in the Synagogue Middlesbrough" which at that time would be Garden Street.
Until 1885 Jewish funerals must have been extremely difficult undertakings. The late Mr. Benny Goldstein recalled his Mother (an early settler in the town) describe a journey with coffin and horse-drawn hearse to the Jewish Cemetery at Hartlepool. This was before the Transporter Bridge was built and the whole funeral cortege had to be ferried across the River Tees to Port Clarence.
On the 4th March, 1884, Messrs. Wilks, Hush and Nelson petitioned the Middlesbrough Corporation for a piece of ground to be set aside as a burial place. This was later granted. plans were .approved and the cemetery at the corner of Burlam Road and Nursery Lane was formally opened on Monday, 27th July, 1885 by the Rev. Dr. Herman Adler, Chief Rabbi, in the presence of the Mayor, Town Clerk and local Councillors. The first Jew to have the melancholy distinction to be buried in consecrated ground in Middlesbrough was Mr. David A. Barnet on the 18th October 1885.
After nearly 50 years the New Cemetery in Ayresome Green Lane was opened on 26th June 1932 by Mr. M. Marks, again in the presence of the Mayor and Town Clerk and was consecrated by Rabbi Miller.
OVER THE YEARS
Once Middlesbrough had a settled Synagogue building, cheder and chevra kadisha, the Community flourished and organised Jewish Societies became active. There were Friendly Societies, Literary Societies, and a Beth Hamedrish. A Zionist Society seems to have been very strong. A Branch of the Chovevi Zion Movement (Lovers of Zion) was started before the end of the Century. Shortly after the first world war some local men, ardent Zionists, formed a Company called " The Palestine Fishing Company Ltd.," and with true pioneering spirit they bought a fishing boat in the early twenties and the late Mr. Fred Burnett sailed it out of the Tees on a voyage to Haifa. Unfortunately, as a fishing business it failed because of difficulties in landing the catch, the Haifa Harbour not then having been built. The same fishing boat was later engaged in the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Over the years Middlesbrough has seen some spiritual leaders of distinction. Rev. M. E. Davies came to Middlesbrough in 1888. A London born man he was educated at University College London and Jews College. He stayed over 20 years. In the Gazette Year Book of 1901 he is described as "The Rabbi of the Jewish Congregation and Superintendent of Schools."
The most scholarly Rabbi was Dr. I. Epstein who obtained his Doctorate whilst in Middlesbrough. He left the town in 1928 to become the Principal of Jews College and edited many scholarly works, including the Soncino Talmud. Rev. Solomon Turtledove came in the early 1920s and remained until he died more than 30 years later. He was an enthusiastic student of Hebrew Philology and taught modern Hebrew in Cheder some twenty years before the Jewish State. Rabbi Dr. Epstein was followed in 1929 by Rabbi L. Miller who collaborated in the English translation of the Talmud and later by Rev. Wulwick who later became a Rabbi in Manchester. Rev. Silverston served the town as Chazan for nearly 40 years. He composed many pieces of Liturgical music especially the Hallel.
During the first World War a large number of local Jewish men enlisted and five lost their lives. Their memory is inscribed in a Memorial which was consecrated and erected in Brentnall Street Synagogue and later erected in Park Road South.
In the second World War 96 men and women served in H.M. Forces and 16 in full time civilian defence and nursing. A souvenir review of their service records was published by the late Rabbi (then Rev.) Wulwik in 1945. Two men lost their lives in the Second World War; Capt. Henry Segerman R.A.M.C. killed in the Battle of Alamein and A.C.2 Solomon Niman killed in a local air raid shortly after enlisting in the R.A.F.
PARK ROAD SOUTH
After 60 years of worship, the Synagogue in Brentnall Street was becoming too small and too remote. Although it was not realised at the time, the Jewish population had numerically reached its peak and it was felt that a much larger building was needed. Congregants were also migrating to the residential areas of Linthorpe and Acklam and a Synagogue was needed within walking proximity. As a consequence a site was chosen for a new Synagogue in Park Road South which paradoxically was soon to become too large and on the edge of the residential area, rather than in the centre of it. The late Mr. Thomas Freeman then the President found the site and negotiated the purchase from the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate. Regrettably he died just before its completion. The building cost £6750 and the furniture including the oak seating and Bimah cost an extra £1000. For about two years between the closing of Brentnall Street and the opening of Park Road South, services were held in Linthorpe Village in two houses converted for the purpose. Festival Services were held in Ayresome Street Schools and neighbouring halls.
The Synagogue in Park Road South was designed by Mr. Jack Lazarus, a brother of the present President of the Congregation He worked in association with the Architects, Kitching and Archibald. Having spent some years as an Architect in Palestine in the early thirties, Mr. Lazarus says he was influenced by the design of the buildings there. The foundation stone was laid on November 10th 1937 by Mr. Maurice Marks the President and the Synagogue was formally opened on June 15th 1938 by Mr. H. H. Roskin of Cardiff, formerly a Master at the Middlesbrough High School but then a practising Barrister. He was a member of the Benjamin family who settled in the town in the early days of the Congregation. The building was consecrated by the Chief Rabbi, Dr. J. H. Hertz with Rabbi L. Miller and Rev. G. Wulwick also officiating.
The formal opening took place in the presence of a large congregation which included the Mayor, Civic Dignitaries, the Leaders of neighbouring Committees, and Christian Clergy.
The original plans envisaged and allowed for a Communal Hall which was added in 1956 and formally opened on January 15th of that year by Mrs. Ettie Marks following a Consecration Service by Rev. B. Kersh in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress. The Hall was later named the Agnes Spencer Room in appreciation of a large donation made by this gracious lady, a local non-Jewess, because of her late husband's long and successful business relations with his Jewish partners, namely the Marks family, founders of the firm of Marks and Spencer.
MIDDLESBROUGH GIVES SHELTER
Like all other Jewish Communities throughout the world, Middlesbrough played its part in the relief from Jewish persecution in Germany and mid-Europe which began in the middle thirties. From 1933 to the beginning of the war, Jewish refugees came to Middlesbrough from Hitler’s Europe. Some came only for temporary shelter, others stayed permanently. Many took an active part in the administration of the Synagogue. Of these, Mr. Jack Fishburn spent almost thirty years as the holder of one office after another, including several years as President. On his death, a forest of trees in Israel was planted in his name and a case containing the list of donors was placed in the entrance hall of the Synagogue to his memory.
Following the "Crystal Night" in Vienna in November 1938 which produced the worst outburst of anti-semitic persecution in pre-war days, a large number of Austrian and German children were rescued and brought to England. Rabbi L. Miller with Mr. Philip Simon and Mr. N. J. Marks went to London and brought 16 young girls back to Middlesbrough. At first they were accommodated in individual private homes but were later housed at 5 The Avenue, Linthorpe, given by the Benjamin family. By the end of the war more girls were accommodated there and some 25 young ladies finally left the town to join their relatives. The whole project was supported by voluntary contributions.
RELATIONS WITH OUR NEIGHBOURS
Middlesbrough can boast of a century of happy relationship of the Jews with their non-Jewish neighbours, including the Christian Clergy. The late Canon Wareham of St. Barnabas Church, many times mentioned both publicly and privately that he was proud to include a Synagogue in his Parish! And on the day after Rabbi Miller's death, special prayers were said in his Church. There was, however, one unhappy episode now almost forgotten. In 1933 the Middlesbrough Motor Club by a majority voted that the Club no longer accept Jews as members. The incident produced nationwide publicity which reflected adversely on the Club. This is the only known overt act of anti-semitism in One Hundred years of otherwise congenial relationships.
Middlesbrough Jewry have not played a great part in the Civic affairs of the town. There have been only four Jewish Councillors since Jews began to settle here. They were Isaae Alston (1874-76), Isadore Bloom (1914-1926), Saul Levy (1925-1936), and Jules Reubens (1926-1946). None reached Aldermanic rank and there has been no Jewish Mayor, nor a Jewish Member of Parliament. However the neighbouring constituency of Cleveland elected Mr. Herbert Samuel (later Lord Samuel) as their Member of Parliament in 1902. He retained his seat until 1918 and during that time gave much pride to the Middlesbrough Jewish Community.
The first Jewish J.P. was appointed in 1963 and she held the position for 10 years. There are now five Jewish magistrates on the Teesside Bench. Clifford Cohen, a Stockton man, presided over the local County Court Bench for 20 years. He was extremely popular on Teesside with both Jews and non-Jews. As an Officer in the second World War he was taken prisoner at Dunkirk and was later awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry and fortitude. At the time of his death in 1973 he was a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Durham.
Rev. Bernard Kersh, the Minister of the Cork Community was appointed as Minister in Middlesbrough in early 1952 and he followed Rabbi Miller as the Spiritual Leader. He has since acted also as Headmaster of the Hebrew Schools, Shochet and Mohel. But like so many small provincial Communities, his Synagogue has seen the decline numerically of his Congregants with the consequent falling off of attendance at Synagogue Worship. The young people prefer to migrate to larger towns, and leave for the Universities and for occupations further afield. Unfortunately, although Teesside is a growth area not many Jewish families have settled here in recent years. However in 1968 when the Hartlepool Congregation ceased to function as an organised Community, many of their members joined the Middlesbrough Synagogue. The Stockton Congregation followed suit in 1971.
The outlook seems very uncertain and unless there is a complete revival of Jewish interest and Hebrew observance there are grave misgivings about the next 100 years. Regretfully we are not following the spirit of our Founders. In spite of their poverty, limited education, language difficulties and prejudice, they showed a great example of service to the Community. A Hundred Years later we are more educated, integrated in the life of the district and more affluent. But we can still look for inspiration to the memory of our Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers who came here One Hundred years ago and laid the foundation of a thriving Community.
(Reproduced by kind permission of Judy Niman, David and Barbara)