JCR-UK

Blackburn Jewish Community

and Hebrew Congregation

Blackburn, Lancashire

 

 

   
 

 

Blackburn Hebrew Congregation
and its Ministers

by Hilary Thomas
 

My recent book “From Poland To Paradise Lane and Other Journeys“ is a history of the Jewish community of Blackburn which includes the story of the foundation of its synagogue in May 1893.

Blackburn's first incumbent Russian-born Reverend Philip Gallant was appointed by Chief Rabbi Dr Hermann Adler that year. In the first five years of its existence,the Congregation was served by as many ministers.

By November 1894 Reverend Moses Eker was in charge. He too was Russian-born and had served the York community prior to his arrival in Blackburn. Of his eleven children, Asher the sixth, was born in Blackburn where his Brit Milah took place. The two eldest children Esther and Abraham were born in Russia, arriving in England with their parents in 1888, where Moses served the Wigan congregation for a few months followed by a short period in Hull. Moses stayed in Blackburn less than one year, moving in 1895 to Chester. By 1901 the family were in Manchester. In the census of that year Moses was listed as a teacher. In the 1911 census his occupation was that of a Hebrew bookseller residing at 62a Cheetham Hill Road. He died in Salford in 1924 aged fifty-nine.

Rev. Eker's successor in Blackburn was Reverend Lazarus Jacob Muscat who served from June 1895. He stayed long enough to officiate at the first two marriages held at the synagogue .He was also there to welcome the Chief Rabbi who visited Blackburn as part of his pastoral tour in May. Lazarus Muscat who was born in Dvinsk in about 1870, arrived in England with his wife and son in 1894. After leaving Blackburn in May 1896, he served the Manchester New Synagogue for three years before moving to Sunderland where he spent the rest of his life. In 1910, he published “Ancient Hebrew Melodies“, a collection of music used in synagogue services. He died in 1929.

Rev. Muscat's successor at Blackburn was Reverend Harris Cohen. He too stayed only one year, during which time he was complimented on his abilities regarding the Hebrew education of the children when they were examined by Rev. Fridberg of Liverpool in November 1896.

At the AGM of April 1897 it was announced that Reverend Simon Chassen had been appointed to the pulpit. He was born in Turetz, Russia in about 1871. His tenure at Blackburn followed a now familiar pattern - by 1898 he had left to serve the Hull Central Synagogue. He then spent some years in Birmingham before emigrating to the USA in 1913.

The appointment of Reverend Abraham Newman to Blackburn in 1898 lasted some six years .He was born in Russia in 1869. He was earning his living in Leeds as a teacher of Hebrew according to the census of 1891. He and his wife, Adele nee Ashulter, married in the town that year. One of his first duties at Blackburn was to officiate at the marriage of Sarah Golda Goldberg and Louis Gordon. In August the synagogue building at Paradise Lane underwent re-decoration which was followed by a special ceremony. Reverend Newman conducted the ceremony which was attended by many non-Jewish guests. Although two rifts occurred during his six years at Blackburn, Reverend Newman was highly respected and had a reputation for preaching thought-provoking sermons. He was an erudite letter-writer to both the Jewish Chronicle and the local Blackburn Standard.

The first schism took place in 1899. The breakaway synagogue called the Blackburn New Hebrew Congregation lasted one year. Its minister was Reverend G Saks. The second secession lasted from 1904-1907.This congregation which met at Freckleton Street was served by Reverend Light followed by Reverend Glasser.

Meanwhile Reverend Newman and the original congregation continued to meet at Paradise Lane. He founded the Society for the Study of Rabbinical Literature and was highly involved in the formation of the synagogue’s Zionist Society. His wife was instrumental in establishing a Mikvah at the Turkish baths on Richmond Terrace. The Newmans left Blackburn in November 1904 when Abraham was appointed Minister at the Leicester Hebrew congregation.

Reverend Newman was succeeded at Blackburn in early 1905 by Reverend Eli Matthews who stayed with the community for five years, during which time the Grand Order of Israel Friendly Society, known as Sir Moses Montefiore Lodge was established, as was a Bikur Cholim to help the sick and needy of the community. The untimely death of Sarah the wife of Rev. Matthews in 1909, prompted his move to South Africa.

Rev. Matthews's successor Reverend David Isaac Devons came from the York congregation. He stayed in Blackburn for less than two years, moving firstly to Bangor, then Coventry and finally Hanley where sadly he died aged forty-four.

An advert in May 1911 for his successor offering a salary of £78 per annum met with no success. A further advert offering a salary of £104 was successful and Reverend M D Hershman was appointed. He stayed long enough to conduct the High Holy Day services and a marriage in October before departing for pastures new in early 1912.

Reverend Abraham Kraut was appointed in July 1912. His previous ministries had been Pontypridd and nearby Burnley. He stayed at Blackburn for nearly seven years. Two of his children were born in the town. During his tenure the young people of the congregation formed the Young Hebrew Scholars League. Reverend Kraut had a reputation as a Talmudic scholar, a conscientious chazan and highly proficient teacher. He left for the pulpit at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1919 where he spent the rest of his life. That year the Paradise Lane premises were vacated and the congregation moved to Clayton Street.

Solomon Freedberg succeeded Reverend Kraut early in 1920. He stayed only till August 1921, moving to Manchester as Reader at the United Synagogue.

The community appointed Reverend Abraham Opolion in January 1922. He had served the Bedwelty congregation where both his children were born. He stayed in Blackburn for some ten years. His third child Miriam was born in the town in 1926. During his tenure the Ladies Benevolent Society held several events and there was a very active Social Society for the younger people. The Opolion family moved to London in about 1932.

For the next nine years Blackburn was without a permanent minister. Reverend Kahan from Bolton came over to conduct the occasional service until he left in 1937. During the early years of the War, Reverend Vilenski from Manchester and Reverend E Slotki from Barrow conducted services from time to time and helped with Hebrew education. In 1941, thirty three year old Rabbi Theodor Weisz became Blackburn’s minister. He had been Rabbi at Altona and Schleswig Holstein but in 1938 he was sent to a concentration camp. He was released when he received a permit to enter England. On arrival he was interned and spent two years as Rabbi at the camp of the Isle of Man. He stayed with the Blackburn community for two years, then became Head of the Higher Rabbinical College at Gateshead. This appointment was followed in 1947 with a post in Zurich where he headed the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft congregation. Blackburn was without a minister until 1944 when Reverend Armin Wachsmann was appointed. He left in 1946 for the Torquay and Paignton congregation.

From 1946 onwards Blackburn had no resident minister. Services were occasionally conducted by Reverend Freilich of Bolton and Eli Sussman of Preston. Weekly Hebrew classes were given during the 1950’s and sixties by Reverends Brown, Rockman and Caplan from Blackpool. The community numbered only ten or so families at this period. Sadly by the 1970’s there were so few Jews left in the town that members met in their homes. Clayton Street Shul was demolished in 1976.

July 2018


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