WEEK ENDING 3RD JUNE 2016
Last month I went to three of the oldest provincial communities in England. Each has a glorious history, and all have unusual buildings or artefacts that make them worth visiting.
I began in Exeter, a community that has the second oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in the UK. Opened in 1763, it now has an unusual cross communal community that appears to work fairly satisfactorily, with some services being traditional and some progressive, and generally the community supports whatever is going on. Apart from playing a major part in the life of the city, Exeter Hebrew Congregation has in the past boasted a number of sophisticated adult education courses, while its toddlers group, rejoicing in the name of “Dreidel Dribblers”(!) is now becoming Hebrew classes.
The shul itself is beautiful with some interesting Georgian features and the unique addition of a Bimah that is neither square nor rectangular, but actually egg shaped!
I then went to visit Kehillat Kernow (the old Cornish name for Cornwall). The community is widely scattered across the beautiful county, with services usually taking place in Truro. They do however have one of the original Sifrei Torah that belonged to the community of Falmouth which flourished between 1740 and 1879. The Sifrei Torah then slumbered in the Royal Cornwall Museum until I inspected them in 2010. This was then was repaired by the Sofer Bernard Benarroch, reconsecrated at a service in May 2014 and is now in use.
However the purpose of my visit was to be present at the ceremony marking the refurbishment of the Penzance Jewish cemetery. Established in 1740, the oldest legible stone is dated 1801 and many of the inscriptions are extremely unusual and interesting, including the young daughter of the Rabbi who, unusually, died of cholera and was buried on Shabbat 10th November 1832 “Bamagefa – because of the plague”.
I then spent a lovely Shabbat in Cheltenham, whose beautiful Regency Synagogue houses the original 1751 furniture from the New Synagogue in Leadenhall Street.
A trip to view these wonderful historical sights of Anglo-Jewish history is very worthwhile, and all of these communities have websites that will assist you.