the former

Pontypridd & Neighbouring Areas Jewish Community

Pontypridd, Rhondda-Cynon-Taf, South Wales




Page created: 17 January 2012
Latest revision or update: 21 October 2013

Some Thoughts on the Rhondda Valley Communities
Published in BIMAH, No. 65, June 2011, pages 32-33.
Updated: 16
January 2012

by Harold Pollins

Apart from the history of the 1930s factories established in such places as Treforest, the Jewish communities of the Rhondda have generally been neglected in writings on South Wales Jewry. Yet Pontypridd, as well as being one of the earlier communities, was to become a fairly large one; and in addition in the Rhondda, there was the nearby Tonypandy congregation.

Two Polish-born brothers, David and Charles Goodman, were the earliest Jewish settlers in Pontypridd. David, it seems, was the first as his initial child, Theresa, was born there in 1847. They were both there at the 1851 Census. They were responsible for establishing a congregation which was in existence in at least 1867 as a notice in the Jewish Chronicle, 31 May 1867, was headed ‘Hebrew Congregation Pontypridd’, and was signed by Charles Goodman, ‘Honorary Secretary‘. Further, it made a point about a proposed synagogue:

We have much pleasure in informing our friends that we have at last (after many years) succeeded in obtaining a building to convert into a Synagogue, in this Town, which we shall find a great benefit, not having any Place of Worship nearer than Cardiff or Merthyr.

In The Jews of South Wales. Historical Studies (1993), edited by Ursula R. Q. Henriques, there is a reference to this 1867 affair (p.57) but says that ‘nothing happened’ until the great influx of immigrants 20 or more years later, when the 1895 synagogue was built. Yet the Jewish Chronicle (26 July 1867) quoted extracts from a report in a local newspaper that a new synagogue had been opened in Pontypridd before a full congregation of Jews and Christians. The service was conducted by Rev N. Jacobs of Cardiff and Rev H. D. Marks. ‘The result is a cozy [sic] little synagogue, tastefully fitted up, and arranged to the best advantage of which the limited space would admit’. This clearly demonstrates that a synagogue came into existence in 1867, as was confirmed by a report in the Jewish Chronicle 10 October 1873,

Six years ago a small synagogue was built at Pont y Pridd [sic] by Messrs. Goodman and other gentlemen. The congregation is greatly increasing and it is believed that an enlarged place of worship will be required if this increase continues. On New Year and Day of Atonement Mr. Lorie read the services gratuitously assisted by Mr Vienburg of Roumania.

In 1873 a Secretary for marriages was authorised for Pontypridd and the Pontypridd Hebrew Congregation held its annual meeting (Jewish Chronicle 7 November 1873) when officers were elected. The report also stated that because of the growth of population it was intended to enlarge the present synagogue.

Now, it is true, as Henriques wrote, that within a few years, instead of an increase of population, the number of Jews had declined. In 1879 it was down to three families in Pontypridd itself but more went to other parts of the district. In the High Holyday services that year people attended from the neighbourhood, so that on New Year 11 were present and on the Day of Atonement there were 13. (Jewish Chronicle 3 October 1879.)

In the 1880s and 1890s the numbers grew and the congregation continued its existence, services were held, and some marriages took place in the synagogue. For example, the Jewish Chronicle reported on 6 December 1878 the marriage at ‘the synagogue, Pontypridd’, by Mr N. Jacobs, Newport, and Rev Meyers, Cardiff, of Sarah Goodman, youngest daughter of Charles and Amelia Goodman, of Pontypridd, and Herman Samuel, of Cardiff.

Apparently, there was, for a time, even a minister. At the first meeting in 1889 of the congregation, after its (unspecified) reconstitution, the elected Honorary Secretary was Rev. Elias Plaskonsky [sic]. (Jewish Chronicle 27 September 1889) but in the following year the Cardiff New Hebrew Congregation elected Rev. Elias Plastowsky [sic] of Pontypridd to be its minister. In the 1891 Census he appears, in Cardiff, as (possibly) Plaskowsky, his occupation being Jewish Minister.

Thus this is enough evidence to correct the statement in the Henriques book that ‘nothing happened’ about establishing a synagogue after 1867 until 1895 when certainly a new synagogue was built. This lasted until 1978 and the building still survives.

However there are still a couple of mysteries. First, as to the 1867 synagogue. Which building was converted and where was it located? Second, while the existence of the Tonypandy congregation is well known, there were apparently other, temporary, congregations in the district. The Jewish Chronicle reported (17 October 1890)

At a meeting of the members of the Porth Congregation, the following officers were elected: Mr. J. Isaacs (Porth), President, Mr. Pollick, Treasurer, Mr. J. Freedgoot Honorary Secretary. The synagogue has only been established recently and is progressing very satisfactorily.

Oddly, the first reference to Tonypandy in the Jewish Chronicle was four years later, on 5 October 1894. This refers to Mr N. Tanchan as President, who had arranged New Year ‘Holidays’ services.

Three years later apparently Treorchy was separately organised. This appeared in the Jewish Chronicle 15 October 1897:

TREORCHY. Through the exertions of Mr. Charles Tanchan, the President, and Mr. B. Love, the Secretary, the hall of the Public Library was secured and services held during the New Year and Yom Kippur.

Most curious of all was the existence of a Penygraig congregation, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle 7 December 1900, which referred to a speech by ‘Rev. S. Zacutta, of the Penygraig congregation‘.

There are no further references to the Porth, Treorchy, or Penygraig congregations and one wonders what happened to them.

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