by Basil Jeuda
Initially, a room for Jewish prayer was established in a cottage in Elizabeth Street, but, following a public meeting on 27th January 1941 attended by nearly 80 people, it was decided to form the Macclesfield Hebrew Congregation and to open a Synagogue on the first floor of a vacant commercial building at 62 Chestergate.
It was one large room, and apart from Prayer, the centre of the room was used for other activities and meetings of the Congregation, such as the Jewish Study Group, the Hebrew Classes, musical soirees, and the WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) Group.
The initial Executive was Jack Cohen, President, Philip Osband as Vice-President, Eric Osband, Honorary Secretary, and Harold Franklin as Honorary Treasurer. The first Service was held on 26th March 1941 under the auspices of the Manchester Jewish Ecclesiastical Authorities. A Manchester Rabbi, Dr Rudolf Weis, organised and held the religious services for the first year, and established Hebrew and Religious Classes (Talmud Torah) for young people. A few weeks later, in June 1941, the Synagogue affiliated to the London-based United Synagogue, and, in September 1941, it became part of the United Synagogue Membership Group, a group of 22 small congregations, mainly in Southern England and whose membership consisted largely of Jews evacuated from London. The Macclesfield Congregation was the only such affiliated congregation north of the Home Counties. The numbers of Jews living in Macclesfield/Bollington built up to at least 150 over the next couple of years.
The Congregation held services in the middle floor of 62 Chestergate on Friday evenings and on Saturday mornings and the High Holy Days; the other floors were not used by the Congregation. On the right as you climbed the stairs and entered the room, was the Reading Desk (Bimah) on the right, and beyond this and up against the wall, facing east, was the Ark (Echal) in which was housed the Torah Scroll, or Sepher Torah. At the side of the Ark on the right, was the Machers’ Bench on which sat the Synagogue’s Wardens.
Rabbi Weis was succeeded in the spring of 1942 by Rev Irving Chazen who led the Congregation and was supported by lay readers, Jack Cohen, and Harry and Richard Franklin. He developed the Talmud Torah which had 15/20 youngsters and which met for two hours on a Sunday morning; for a while he organised a Jewish Study Circle and carried out an outreach programme to local Church groups. He also acted as a Chaplain to Jewish members of the British and American Armed Forces.
Jack Cohen was determined to provide a Jewish Way of Life for the Jewish evacuees and refugees. Typical of his enthusiasm and commitment was how he organised special (Kosher) food for the Festival of Passover, by taking a van to Manchester and bringing back supplies for the Community. Similarly, he established arrangements for a Manchester Rabbi to come every Friday to Macclesfield butchers, Dobson & Thornhill, where meat was slaughtered according to the Jewish ritual.
The Jewish Community had a busy social life – a Jewish Club and a Weekly Study Group was established in June 1942 and Bnei Akiva (Youth Group) was started in June 1943; in May 1944, the Macclesfield Branch of WIZO was established. Following the end of the War, nearly all of the Community returned to London during the following 12 months. Rev Chazen resigned in the summer of 1946, and October 1946 saw the last services at 62 Chestergate. Those Jews who remained in Macclesfield joined Synagogues in Stockport or in South Manchester, but Harold Franklin continued to organise High Holyday Services at his home at 133 Chester Road until 1953 (when he returned to London), and provided facilities at home for chickens to be Koshered. A visiting teacher came for a few years from Manchester to provide individual religious instruction to the small number of youngsters who remained, and a Macclesfield-Wilmslow Jewish Social Club was established. High Holyday Services continued, at the home of Harold Franklin at 133 Oxford Road, and these lasted until 1953 when he and his family returned to London.
Page created: 29 January 2016
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