Isle of Man Jewish Community




Page created: 22 August 2005
Latest Update or revision: 10 November 2014


Lionel Simmonds

From the Jewish Chronicle 9 August 1957 and reproduced with their kind permission

In my younger days one of the songs that was all the rage was: 'Has anybody here seen Kelly, Kelly from the Isle of Man.' It so happened that a film of that era was entitled: 'The Cohens and the Kellys.'  In my recent visit to the Isle of Man I was looking more for Cohen than Kelly, with an eye also to locating Levy, if he existed, or even humbler members of the House of Israel.

From the quantitative standpoint the search yielded little, for nowadays Jews on Ellan Vannin (to give the island its Manx name) are almost as rare as Manx-speaking Manxmen: the representatives of Jewry number only eight or ten families out of a total population of 50,000.

It was not always so.  During the Second World War there were on the island some 1,500 German-Jewish civilian internees, whose spiritual and material welfare was zealously watched over by the Chief Rabbi's Religious Emergency Council.  A frequent visitor to the camps was Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld, who inspected them on behalf of the Council.

It was interesting to turn back the pages of THE JEWISH CHRONICLE of the war years to read about the hopes and frustrations of these Jewish internees.  Undeterred by the privations which they had to endure they succeeded in staunchly upholding the banner of Yiddishkeit, which prompted a 'J.C.' correspondent to write in November 1940, 'Today the island has what must be the fullest Jewish life in the world.  In ordinary camps on a weekday there are more worshippers than in the Great Synagogue, London, on a Sabbath.'  Lectures were delivered on a variety of Jewish topics, and the community was served by two kosher boarding houses.

To use a 'classic' phrase, these were the olav hasholomon days.  What was once a buoyant island community is but a shadow of its former self.

Judge of Appeal

Few events of significance have occurred since the war to remind Anglo-Jewry of its island outpost. One or two intermittent flashes have coruscated across the communal scene, such as in 1953, when Mr. Neville Laski, Q.C., now Judge Laski, the Recorder of Liverpool, was appointed a Judge of Appeal of the Isle of Man.  And last year it came as a surprise to learn that Mr. Samuel James, a London financier, who has lived on the island for 20 years, had died leaving 300,000 with bequests to the British Central Aid Committee of the Shaare Zedek Hospital, Jerusalem and Youth Aliyah.

Before beginning my investigations of the contemporary communal scene I consulted the sine qua non of the Jewish tourist, 'The Jewish Chronicle Travel Guide,' which informed me of the address of the Hon. Secretary of the Isle of Man Hebrew Congregation, Mr. Samuel Coplan, in Castle Street, Douglas.  Mr. Coplan, who was born in Glasgow - his wife Annie, is also Scottish - has lived on the island for 30 years.  Although he is designated the Hon. Secretary he might be described as the general macher of the community, occupying the posts of Parnas, Gabbai, and on occasions Chazan, when the community can scrape together a minyan for a yarzheit.  But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he told me, services are held in the Masonic Hall and are attended by about fifteen or twenty people, the only occasions when the community really gets together.  Before the war, he said, about fifty or sixty congregants might attend such services, and, for a time, the community had a resident minister.  Nowadays one is flown over from Liverpool, Hull or Blackpool to officiate at Holy-day services.

Some 25 years ago, Mr Coplan said, there was a kosher boarding house at Douglas, but none exists today because of the lack of Jewish visitors.  I was surprised to hear this in view of the fact that I met a number of Jewish holiday-makers during my stay on the island, which seems to cater for every taste from the rock-'n'-roll addict to the lover of quiet, woodland streams and sun-kissed sandy beaches.  Moreover, flying enthusiasts, of which our community is by no means deficient, can reach the island from Liverpool in 45 minutes or from London in one hour and three-quarters, and there are flights from Glasgow and Ireland.

Because of the lack of kashrus, kosher meat has to be flown from Liverpool, an expensive item and a constant reminder, as Mr. Coplan told me with his wry Scottish humour, of the old adage, 'It's hard to be a Jew.'  It is also hard for the Jews to maintain, let alone increase, their Jewish knowledge, for there is no cheder and the baal habayit has to be the Hebrew teacher.  For the performance of a Brit Milah a mohel has to be flown over from the mainland.  The community has a burial ground, which was consecrated during the last war and is attached to the Douglas Corporation's cemetery.

A Pioneer Settler

Before I left Mr. Coplan he spoke of the very cordial relations which exist between the islanders and the Jewish population.

Most of my stay was at the delightful little seaside resort of Port Erin, where I met Mrs. Dollie Hyman, who, apart from Mr. Abe Nyman, is the only Jewish resident of this town.  The late Mr. Samuel Hyman, her husband, was a highly-respected citizen of Port Erin and with his wife did much to improve conditions for the German-Jewish women internees during the war.  They saw to it that the internees had proper hospital care, collected clothing for the, and provided other material comforts.  Incidentally, the late Mr. Hyman's father opened a shop on the island 40 years ago and was one of the pioneer settlers.

Mrs Hyman told me about one of the most remarkable services ever held.  It took place in the cinema in Port Erin on Rosh Hashanah during the war.  There were 200 congregants and no minyan!  Nearly all the worshippers were women internees who had been separated from their men folk.

The other resident of Port Erin, Mr. Nyman, who is aged 76, is a retired Halifax business man who settled there 19 years ago.  He is a founder and the Chairman of the dramatic society of Rushen, the island's southernmost county, and is also President of the Port St. Mary's Bowls Club, after being Secretary for 14 years. 

In the course of my stay I visited Castletown, the old capital.  This time I was looking for Kellys rather than Cohens and was seeking to steep myself in the richness of the island tradition.  One of the places which excited my curiosity was Witches Mill with its adjacent museum of magic.  As I glances through its fascinating exhibits I noticed a number of rare Cabbalistic works and my eye lighted on one in particular.  It was entitled in Hebrew 'Miftach Shlomo' (the key of Solomon) and was explained, on the cover, as being 'A Hebrew manuscript newly discovered and now described by Hermann Gollancz (later to become Sir Hermann Gollancz), Goldsmith Professor of Hebrew at the University of London.'  The book was published in Frankfort-on-Main and London in 1903.  If there were no Jews in Castleton there was at least the historic presence of a rabbi, professor, and knight.

The Jewish Chronicle

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