The Jewish Community in Cardiff can trace its roots back to the first half of the nineteeth century. The first formal Jewish institution to be established in East Terrace 1858-1897, it served a small but established Jewish population, and was followed in the 188’s by the Edward Place Synagogue.
In 1897, the Cathedral Road synagogue was opened, followed by the Clare Road synagogue in 1900 and the Windsor Place synagogue in 1918.
In 1955 the Penylan synagogue was opened in Cyncoed, this was superceded by the Cyncoed Gardens synagogue in 2003.
Formed by the merger of two (or possibly three) congregations, including the “Englisher Shul” (then in Cathedral Road) and the “Foreigners’ Shul” (then in Merches Place). Following the merger, it continued, until recently, to comprise more than one congregation at different locations, but forming one united (or, at times disunited) organization.
The first synagogue in Cardiff opened at East Terrace, Bute Street in 1858. In 1841 the Marquis of Bute had given land at Highfield for the Jewish Cemetery. Bute Street was the focus for several Jewish businesses, engaged in occupations such as shop keeping and pawn broking.
As the population rose steadily the synagogue at East Terrace was redeveloped and reopened in 1888. The following year Cardiff’s New Synagogue was formed at Edwards Place. Known as ‘Furriners Shul’ it seems that this was the focus for the more recent, poorer immigrants, in contrast to the ‘Englishe Shul’ in East Terrace.
The New Synagogue also secured a site from Bute and in 1900 the synagogue in Clare Road opened.
Synagogue and School Rooms, Clare Road, Grangetown, 1898.
However there was still a need for larger premises and the Marquess of Bute gave a site in Cathedral Road. This synagogue opened in 1897 following a closure service held in East Terrace. The Cathedral Rd Synagogue closed in 1989.
CARDIFF UNITED SYNAGOGUE 1897 -1989
WINDSOR PLACE SYNAGOGUE 1918-1955
The two communities soon merged, and the Cardiff United Synagogue was formed. With the ever increasing expansion of the city and the movement of the Jewish population away from the centre of Cardiff a need arose for synagogues nearer the residential districts .
Penylan Synagogue was opened in 1955, it closed in 2003, when a new and present day Synagogue had been built in Cyncoed Gardens in 2003
A Broader History
The developing industrial areas situated in the Western Valleys of Monmouthshire formed a particular area of Jewish settlement. A synagogue was not opened at Newport till 1869, but the community there was then already ten years old. Similarly, the synagogue at Tredegar was founded in 1870 to serve a community which had been established several years before. Russian refugees who went to South Wales at first attached themselves to these already-established communities, but soon spread outwards to Abertillery, Bargoed, Ebbw Vale, Rhmney, and the surrounding localities as fa north as Brynmawr in Breconshire.
For these Jews of Monmouthshire and east Glamorgan, Cardiff fulfilled a role similar to that of Swansea in relation to their coreligionists in the west. Although there are instances of Jews having lived in Cardiff in the eighteenth century, a community was not established there until the 1840s: the land for the Jewish cemetery in Cardiff was presented by the Marquis of Bute in 1841. A permanent synagogue was soon established in a room in Trinity Street, near the market; then it was moved to larger premises in Bute Street. In 1858 a synagogue was opened in East Terrace to serve a community then numbering perhaps 150 persons. At the same time the community acquired its first Minister, Nathan Jacobs.
The Cardiff Jewish community, as it developed during the Victorian period, was a business one par excellence: watchmakers, jewellers, slop-sellers, tailors, pawnbrokers, and general dealers.” It was prosperous, tightly knit, and exclusive. Discipline of members, as revealed in the congregation minute books, was rigorous. In August 1880 it was decided that a policeman should be present at East Terrace during the forthcoming High Holydays ‘to prevent non-subscribers entering the Synagogue’. Discontent with the high-handed, overbearing attitude of the anglicised communal leaders eventually led to open revolt. One source of trouble was arrears of payments of subscriptions and scat-rentals; another was criticism of the spiritual leadership. In 1878 the Minister, the Rev. I. Lewis, had been given six months’ notice to quit ‘unless he conducts the service with more devotion'; in 1885 Mr. M. Lewis was appointed shochet and mohel at, £70 per annum, and two years later the Rev. J. H. Landau was appointed Minister and teacher. These appointments did not, however, meet with universal approval. A group of ‘seceders’ had established their own chevra in Edward Place some time between 1889 and 1890, and had enticed to their side a shochet, the Rev. J. B. Rittenberg.
The Delegate Chief Rabbi, Dr. Hermann Adler, was prevailed upon to withdraw his endorsement of Rittenberg’s shechita and to tell the seceders that animals
slaughtered by him were trefa. But, reinforced by the adherence of recently arrived immigrants, the seceders were not to be put off so lightly. In March 1889 they made a formal approach to Adler to appoint for them a chazan and and shochet. The Delegate Chief Rabbi interviewed representatives from both sides, but was unwilling to press the seceders to withdraw. ‘Your decision’, Mr. I. Samuel, of East Terrace, wrote to him, ‘can have but this effect, that instead of Cardiff having as now one good Congregation with an English minister and teacher, a school open and free to all poor children, it must revert to its former state of affairs, when a foreign Shochet will be the jewish representative and the rising generation will be deprived of Jewish education.’ But Adler would not apply further pressure. The Edward Place synagogue came into being, and in 1897 acquired its own marriage secretary.
Although the breach between the two Cardiff communities was now complete, the East Terrace synagogue remained the more prestigious of the two; it was the synagogue of Cardiff s Jewish establishment. When Colonel A. E. W. Goldsmid came to Cardiff in 1894 as Colonel-in-Command, 41st Regimental District, he naturally joined East Terrace, and was the prime mover in the project to build a new synagogue in Cathedral Road, opened by F. Mocatta and consecrated by the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Hermann Adler, on 11 May 1897. Goldsmid’s presence in the Welsh capital gave Cardiff Jewry some national prominence.
The founder of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, he had become a devoted Zionist, was a founder of the English Zionist Federation, and took part in the El Arish expedition of 1903. When Herzl visited Cardiff, it was primarily to interview Colonel Goldsmid. He died, like Herzl, in 1904. By the turn of the century, Cardiff was the undisputed capital of South Wales Jewry. It had a Jewish population of around 1,500, two synagogues (and for a time, between 1901 and 1904, an immigrant-inspired Beth Hamedrash as well), a Board of Shechita, and, in 1905, a Jewish Naturalisation and Political Association. It also boasted a Board of Guardians, founded in 1900, which in that year alone relieved 230 cases, one-third of whom were alleged to be ‘professional beggars’. The Board soon ran into financial difficulties and by 1904 had been wound up. At the other end of the social scale, well-to-do Cardiff Jews were making the familiar moves west and east to newer residential areas, to Grangetown, Riverside, City Road, and Newport Road. Louis Samuel, who died in 1906, provided the city with its first Jewish J.P., and Lionel Fine, born in Rhymney in 1865, was appointed a J.P. in 1904. The community, at least as far as its leadership was concerned, appears to have been as integrated as any section of Anglo-Jewry at that time.