The Jews of Northern Ireland have lived primarily in Belfast, where the Belfast Hebrew Congregation an Ashkenazi Orthodox community was established in 1870.[1] In addition, former communities were located in Derry and Lurgan.[2]

Belfast Rabbinic Lineage

The first minister of the congregation was Reverend Joseph Chotzner, who served at the synagogue which was located at Great Victoria Street from 1870-1880 and 1892-1897. Among later spiritual leaders at the synagogue may be counted Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog (1916-1919), who later become Chief Rabbi of Israel. His son Chaim Herzog, who became the sixth President of Israel, was born in Belfast. Rabbi John Ross, Rabbi Jacob Schachter and Rabbi Alexander Carlebach followed in this esteemed rabbinic lineage. Hymie Ross, a New York magnate, was Rabbi Ross' son. Beryl Levine, a Lubovitz teacher and schochet, influenced many of the Jewish boys to whom he taught Gemorah, his son Yosef Levine is Rabbi in Palo Alto California.

The Belfast Hebrew Congregation

In the 17th century, Jews reportedly lived in Ulster, the northern province of Ireland that is now known as Northern Ireland. A few records also note a Jewish presence during the 18th and early 19th century. In the 19th century as the pogroms in Russia and Poland increased, the Belfast Jewish population increased from 52 in the 1861 census, to 78 in 1881, to 273 in 1891.[1][2] There was very little religious conversion, an interesting noble exception was the Countess of Charlemont. The Hon. Elizabeth Jane Somerville, born on 21 June 1834, was the daughter of William Meredyth Somerville, 1st Baron Meredyth and first Lord Athlumney and Lady Maria Harriet Conyngham. She married James Molyneux Caulfeild, 3rd Earl of Charlemont, son of Hon. Henry Caulfeild and Elizabeth Margaret Browne, on 18 December 1856. Her Mother-in-law was a favorite in Queen Victoria's court. As a result of her marriage, Hon. Elizabeth Jane Somerville was styled as Countess of Charlemont on 26 December 1863. Soon thereafter she attended synagogue services in Belfast and became a convert to Judaism. She died on 31 May 1882 at age 47 at Roxborough Castle, Moy, County Tyrone, Ireland, without issue. There were no Jews in Moy, so her initial exposure to Judaism is worthy of research. Due to the influx of Russian and Polish Jews near the turn of the century, the Jewish community set up "a board of guardians (1893), a Hebrew ladies' foreign benevolent society (1896), and a "Hebrew national school" (1898), which taught the arts of sausage making and meat cutting.[1] For a short time, there was a second Jewish synagogue, the Regent Street Congregation.[3]

Sir otto jaffe

Sir Otto Jaffe and Lady Jaffe

Otto Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast, was life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation and he helped build the city's second synagogue in 1904, paying most of the £4,000 cost. He was a German linen importer who visited Belfast several times a year to buy linen, he prospered and decided to live in Belfast. The synagogue he founded was located at Annesley Street, off Carlisle Circus in the north of the city where most Jews then lived.[4]subsequently Barney Hurwitz, a prominent businessman in Belfast, was the president of the congregatiuon for at least two decades, he and his executives sat in a box in front of the Bimah regaled in top hats every Shabbos. Otto Jaffe set up a Cheder where all the Jewish children of Belfast attended every afternoon after their secular schooling. It was named appropriately, The Jaffe School, Mr Fundiminsky ruled the Cheder with a firm hand. When the congragation moved to the suburbs the Cheder moved to Northleigh, a Manor house next to the Shool, complete with converted stables for the 86th Boy Scout Troop and Cub Scouts headed by Aubrey and Ivan Selig, Michael Coppel and Arthur Levi.

In 1916 the search committee focused on a young Rabbi studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Although he was the son of a London Rabbi, he had no experience as a practicing congregational Rabbbi. He had a reputation as a Talmudic scholar. He was hired sight unseen, and a ticket to Belfast was dispatched. The President of the Synagogue and a retinue of executives lined up at the LMS station waiting for the young rabbi's arrival. The train arrived, the passengers emptied and there was no sign of the Rabbi. An alert community member jumped on the train and found the Rabbi Herzog immersed in a Gemmorah unaware of his arrival in Belfast. He was a little eccentric, it was noticed on many occasions that even in summer he wore two pairs of socks, when asked he explained that he could not darn holes and the likelyhood of holes to appear in exactly the same spot was small so the second pair would cover. It was then obvious he needed a wife. A secret shidduch (pre marriage) meeting was organised in a Rabbi's house in London. The guise being a rabbinic shiur(learning session). At the shiur the daughter of the London Rabbi sat quietly for two hours without any notice, she stood up dramatically and said there was little derekh eretz (good manners) in not greeting her and strode out. Rabbi Herzog immediately picked up his head from the Gemmorrah (Talmud), saw this beautiful daughter and the rest is history. Returning to Belfast, he made a great impact on the community and was within a couple of years asked to be Chief Rabbi of Ireland, he accepted and moved to Dublin. A decade later he was offered the position as Chief rabbi of Israel.

The 1915/16 'flu epidemic was devastating the British Isles, a doctor in London was inundated with patients. His secretary, a young South African widow with an infant son, suggested that he contact Dr Eban, a young doctor in Belfast. He came to London to help. They fell in love and got married. Dr Eban and his new wife and her infant son returned to Belfast. The doctor adopted the son who was called Abba. Yes, Abba Eban, the Israeli diplomat, speaker extrodinaire, spent his formative years in Belfast next door to the Herzogs in Cliftonpark Avenue. Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog were lifelong friends, and later married sisters in Israel. They obviously inherited the Gift of the Gab.

During World War II, a number of Jewish children escaping from the Nazis, via the Kindertransport, reached and were housed in Millisle. The Millisle Refugee Farm (Magill’s farm, on the Woburn Road) and was founded by teenage pioneers from the Bachad movement. It took refugees from May 1938 until its closure in 1948.[5]

In 1901, the Jewish population was reported to be 763 people.[2] In 1929, records show that 519 Jews had emigrated from Northern Ireland to the U.S.[6] In 1967, the population was estimated at 1,350; by 2004 this number had fallen to 130. It is now estimated to be around 500, but could be as low as 100. The current membership of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation is believed to be as low as between 20-50.[7]

Well known Belfast Jews include Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, a partner in Harland and Wolff (H&W). Harland and Wolff was the largest single shipyard in the British Isles. Edward Harland bought the shipyard for $5,000 from Hickson and Co in 1860/61 with funds from a Liverpool Jewish investor, G.C. Schwabe. Schwabe sent his nephew Gustave Wilhelm Wolff to Belfast to oversee the investment, the company assumed the name Harland and Wolff the following year, 1862. H&W built many large ships including the Titanic and the Queen Mary. Ronald Appleton Q.C., is a well known barrister who prosecuted I.R.A. terrorists as the Crown Prosecutor during the 'troubles" in the 1976-1996 era. He was elected President of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation until he retired in 2008. Ronald Coppel emigrated to Australia to become head of the Perth Stock Exchange. Leonard Kaitcer, a well known Belfast antique dealer was kidnapped for one million pounds by the IRA in 1991, his cousin Derek Enlander a prominent research physician in the United States was summoned by the family to negotiate the ransom. Unfortunately Lenny was found dead the following morning before Derek could start the negotiation. Benny Enlander Derek's father was president of the Chevra Kadisha and also of the Cheder, he was the founder of Bennets Stores, Ireland's equivalent of Woolworths chain stores, with branches in Belfast, Bangor, Derry, Enniskillin, Straban and Omagh. Woolworths bought the chain on Benny Enlander's death in February 1956. Leonard Steinberg (1936-2009) a prominent businessman and philanthrophist left Belfast shortly after Lenny Kaitcer's kidnapping to live in Manchester, he was knighted by the Queen as Lord Steinberg. Belfast Actors include Harold Goldblatt and Harry Towb, pioneer of modern dance in Northern Ireland Helen Lewis and jazz commentator Solly Lipschitz.


  • Louis Hyman, Jews of Ireland: From Earliest Times to the Year 1910 (Hardcover - Dec. 1972
  • Shalom Ireland: A Social History of Jews in Modern Ireland by Ray Rivlin (Hardcover - Jan. 2003)
  • Aubrey Newman. Belfast from "Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain" Conference papers, University College, London. Jewish Historical Society of Great Britain. Documents prepared July 6, 1975.[8]
  • Funke, Phyllis Ellen. "The Jewish Traveller: Belfast." Hadassah Magazine, November 2003.
  • Nelson, James and Norman Richardson Local People Global Faiths: Sikhs, Jews and Hindus in Northern Ireland. Newtownards: Colourpoint Books, 2005.
  • Warm, David D. "The Jews of Northern Ireland" in P. Hainsworth, ed., Divided Society: Ethnic Minorities and Racism in Northern Ireland. London: Pluto Press, 1998. ISBN 0-7171-3634-5
  • Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Socioeconomic History by Cormac Ó Gráda (Hardcover - Oct. 16, 2006)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Belfast article, Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Belfast Jewish Community on the JewishGen website
  3. Belfast's Regent St. Congregation from the JewishGen website
  4. EJ etc.
  5. Lynagh, Catherine (2005-11-25). "Kindertransport to Millisle". Culture Northern Ireland. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  6. Linfield, H.S. "Statistics of Jews -- 1929" in American Jewish Yearbook"[1]
  8. Belfast Hebrew Congregation hosted on the website.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at History of the Jews in Northern Ireland. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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