Jewish New Year and Darlington’s Congregation
By R Scarr
(From a newspaper article possibly in the Darlington and Stockton Times in September 1967)
On Monday, September 27, the Jews will celebrate the festival of “Rosh Hashanah” the “Head of the Year,” which will mark the beginning, according to the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar, of the year 5726 A.M, or “Year of the World.” The festival falls on the first and second days of the seventh month Tishri, and appropriate cards and best wishes are being circulated for a Happy New Year, in the Jewish magazines and among the Anglo-Jewish fraternity.
Some time previous to the festival a special Silichot Meeting is held, when penitential prayers are offered, and appropriate passages are read, The New Year Festival begins with the blowing of the “Rams Horn” or Shofar by the Reader, and a recital of the 27th Psalm “The Lord is my light and my Salvation, of whom shall I be afraid,” and it continues with readings in the poriginal tongue from the Old Testament.
The early history of the Jews in this country is one of oppression and persecution. Many Jews came to this country from the Continent after the Norman conquest, but in the late 13th century, during the time of Edward I some 15,000 Jews were expelled and took refuge in France. In the middle of the 17th century during the time of the Commonwealth Jews were again allowed to live and trade in this country. The “Jew Bill” of 1753 granting greater freedom and improved trading facilities for Jewish citizens, proved unpopular and it was repealed the next year. Lord Macaulay’s great speech during Parliament’s discussion of the “Jewish Disabilities Bill” in April, 1833, created a climate of national tolerance, which led to better conditions for British subjects professing the Jewish religion.
In 1847, Lionel de Rothschild, later Baron, a Jew, was elected to Parliament by the City of London, but being unable to take the oath of office upon the faith of a Christian, he was not allowed to sit in the House. After some 11 years of legal wrangling the oath was modified and Rothschild was allowed to enter the Parliament as the first Jewish MP. To celebrate his triumph he very generously endowed a scholarship at the City of London School but it was not until 1890 that complete political equality was granted to Jews in this country.
A small number of Orthodox Jews lived in Darlington from early times but they probably worshipped in other towns where a Synagogue was provided. The first Darlington “Jewish Congregation”- consisting of atleast ten adult males over 13 years of age- was establishedin the Livingstone Buildings, Northgate, now a Bingo rendezvous, in 1884. It was instituted by Mr Solomon Abrahams, and his descendants still form part of the congregation.
An announcement in the “Darlington and Stockton Times” of June 29, 1889, informs us that “Mr S. Abrahams, who established the Hebrew Congregation five years ago, has received a handsome (word not decipherable possibly a yod) to be used in the Synagogue (3 words undecipherable) passages in the Scrolls of the Law.” This interesting piece of Synagogue furniture, made of olive wood 12 inches long, and beautifully carved was made by Haim Jacob, a carpenter of Jerusalem, and was given by Mr A. Marcus of Boston, who had recently returned from the Holy Land.
One of the problems for local Jews several generations ago was the difficulty of finding a repulchre (sic) for their dead. They possessed no land or right of burial in the town cemeteries, and when Rabbi Moses Richman, of Hargreave Terrace, died in September 1888, his body was taken to Middlesbrough for burial among former members of his faith.
Mr S. Abrahams, founder of the Darlington Congregation, died in February 1890, and he was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Stockton. Mr. Samson Abrahams, his youngest son, had been secretary to the local congregation for 18 for 16 years, and for a time had acted as president and treasurer, and was the Official Registrar from 1933 until April this year. A scheme was considered in 1909 to allocate some 300 square yards in the West Cemetery for members of the Jewish faith, but this was not proceeded with. In 1922 a small private burial ground was provided by the town authority. This was enclosed by an iron palisading, and contains a number of tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions, which can be translated. “May his dear Soul be bound up in the Garden of Eden.” In some cases this is abbreviated to MHDSRIP or “In God’s keeping.” Another plot of land has been set apart for Jewish burials and the metal gates to this area-given by Mrs Kletz in 1957, in memory of her husband, who had been the treasurer to the congregation-are adorned with the “Shield of David.”
Some legal difficulty arose in our local court in January 1889, when the Rabbi, Mr Richardson, applied to Judge Templer for him to allow Jews to use the same oath as Christians, viz, “So help me God” instead of “So help me Jehovah.” After some demur this was granted, the same to be administered with head covered and holding a copy of the Old Testament in the hand.
In spite of difficulties in finding suitable rented accommodation for a Synagogue, the local community continued to observe their centuries old customs and festivals, which date from a time long anterior to the Christian era.
On Friday, September 10, 1904, a new synagogue was established at “West End Buildings” in Skinnergate. This was opened by Rabbi the Rev. D. Oshorowitz assisted by Mr. Solomon Cohen. The congregation at that time numbered 12, and for the next 26 years various buildings were used temporally (sic) for Jewish worship.
In 1911, services were held at 74 Northgate, in the Russell Street chambers above Burtons the tailors, and three years later services were held in more suitable premises at Prospect Chambers in 7 Prospect Place above Stantons shoe shop.
In September, 1928, the “Yom Kippur” or “Day of Atonement” Festival was observed in the Albion Hall, Northgate, formerly the headquarters of the local Liberal Party. The Rev. B. Hyams, the Reader, officiated, robed in white and some 15 families formed the congregation, the men wearing their Taliths or Prayer Mantles and the women sitting apart chanting prayers.
When putting on his Talith the devout Jew uses the prayer, “As I cover myself with this Talith, so may my soul be clothed with a beauteous Spiritual robe in the world to come, the “Garden of Eden.” By the observance of these ancient rites and ceremonies, which have been a prominent feature of Jewish religious life for thousands of years, the smallnumber of Orthodox Jews have (sic) preserved their ancient faith in the Quaker town of Darlington.
The Synagogue migrations end in 1930 when “Studley House,” No. 9 Victoria Road, was purchased and adapted for a Synagogue, and for the other religious, social and educational work of the local community. Alterations to the building provided accommodation for some 70 worshippers, a school for children and classes for adults. The “Shield of David” is blazoned in gold over the entrance as the symbol of world Jewry.
To raise funds for the necessary alterations and furnishings of the new Synagogue the first Jewish Dance was held in the Queens Hall on February 4, 1931. Among the 200 guests on that occasion was (sic) the President, Mr. M. M. Musgrave, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Darlington, Coun. And Mrs J.Hinks, who were leading Methodists in the town. In a short speech the Mayor congratulated the Congregation on the acquisition of their own new premises and Coun. B. Jackson expressed the thanks of the Congregation to the Mayor and Mayoress fro their pleasing and welcome assistance and for their good wishes.
In addition to the regular Sabbath Day worship and the observance of the Hebrew festivals, the Synagogue is the meeting place for the Bernard Hyams Lodge of the “B’nai B’rith” or “Sons of the Covenant.” This is a Jewish fraternal organisation originating in America, which seeks to further all philanthropic, social and educational work among all sections of the Hebrew Community. Its motto is “Benevolence, Brotherly Love and Harmony.”
A Ladies Guild does a great deal of social welfare work in the district assisting the activities of the WVS and undertaking voluntary service in the hospitals and other kindred institutions.
Among the gifts to the Synagogue is a “Scroll of the Law” given in 1933 by Mrs. Abrahams and her son in memory of Mr. S. Abrahams of Maude Street, son of the founder of 1884-who was associated with the local Congregation for 40 years and who died in January 1932. The Service of Consecration on that occasion was conducted by the Rev. J.Friedburgh of Hull who had family connections with the donors and the Revs. I. Susman and M. Isaacs and a choir from Hull took part in the Service. Among the treasures is a parchment scroll of the Book of Esther in Hebrew Script, and contained in a cylindrical mahogany case, which was made in Poland.
It was a (5 words illegible) Jewish history when, on November 10 1941, at a time when the black clouds of war were shedding an ominous gloom over this country-at the Darlington Council meeting, Ald. W.G. Chandler (Anglican) proposed and Coun. J. Waters (Freechurchman) seconded a resolution that Coun. Barnett Jackson a Jew, who had represented the Northgate Ward for 11 years be elected the Mayor of the County Borough of Darlington for the coming year.
Mr. Jackson who had been in business in the town for 20 years had served in the 1914-18 War and had received the Military Medal. In 1942 he was elected for a second term and he and his wife served the town during those difficult years with honour and distinction.
Taking a great interest in the welfare of the Force, the Mayor’s War Fund rose from £60 to £1,770 during his period of office. On relinquishing the Mayoralty it was recorded that Coun. Jackson had shown untiring energy and business ability, and his interest in the welfare of the services was beyond all praise, and “the thanks” of the Council were tendered to him and Mrs. Jackson for the exemplary manner in which they discharged the high office of Mayor and Mayoress during the two years 1941-43.
During the last war many Jewish refugees arrived in Darlington. They were billeted in several large halls, and some of the men joined the Pioneer Corps. Splendid arrangements were made by thelocal community to ensure for the victims of militaryaggression suitable lodgings and agreeable social recognition.
Angle-Jewry is somewhat akin to most sections of Christendom with its disjointed allegiance finding expression in Orthodox, Liberal or Reformed areas of Jewry. The withdrawal of Dr. Jacob Herzog from the office of Chief Rabbi of Britain has thrown Anglo-Jewry into dismay for a time for he was considered the right person to improve relations between the Orthodox and Progressive sections of Jewry. The result of the Vatican Council’s deliberations is awaited with some degree of optimism, and the present visit of Mrs. Meir, the Foreign Secretary for the State of Israel, to this country for talks with the Prime Minister augers well for improved relations with the young state.
And now on the threshold of the Jewish Year 5726 A.M. we can join with the “Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues” in extending to our Jewish citizens “warmest wishes for God’s blessing on their personal lives, and in their lives as members of the House of Israel, and of all humanity” during the coming year.