Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Jews Schmooze

Yesterday I visited the Jewish synagogue in North Belfast for the launch of Jews Schmooze, a programme of talks, exhibitions and  concerts that is intended to celebrate Jewish culture.  The centre-piece will be the world premiere in the synagogue of a new production by the Kabosh theatre company.  It is entitled This Is What We Sang and it follows five Jewish family members during Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Today the Jewish community in Northern Ireland numbers around 400 people but it is a community with a long history and it has contributed much to life in Northern Ireland. 

Growing up in the north of the city I knew a number of Jewish young people who attended the Belfast Royal Academy when I was there.  At that time, back in the 1960s, the community was larger than it is today.

Over the years I have visited the synagogue a number of times and on one occasion I gave a talk on the life of one of the most notable members of the community, Sir Otto Jaffe.

I have a personal interest in the life of Otto Jaffe, who was Lord Mayor of Belfast on two occasions, in 1899 and 1904, and who was a Liberal Unionist.  He was a successful businessman and also a generous philanthropist.  The leading figure in the Jewish community of his day, he built the old synagogue in Annesley Street and also the Jaffe School on the Cliftonville Road.

The year 1904 was a good year for the Jewish community in Belfast with the opening of the synagogue and the honour of a Jewish Lord Mayor.  Unfortunately the experience of the Jewish community in Limerick in that year was rather different and a Redemptorist priest, Fr John Creagh, led an anti-semitic pogrom which drove many Jews out of the city.

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