Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation (BHC) is over a hundred years old, having celebrated its centenary in 2005.
A detailed coverage of the history of our community from its inception in 1905 to the present day would result in an opus rambling enough to challenge War & Peace, in size if not in terms of literary merit. Instead, we have taken more of a bird’s eye view, skimming over the landscape and occasionally swooping low to examine some interesting details.
But for now, are you sitting comfortably …?
In The Beginning
At the turn of the Twentieth Century there were already Jewish families living in Bournemouth and, in 1905, a Hebrew Congregation was established. There followed six years of meeting for weekly Services in temporary accommodation before in 1911 a Synagogue was built, in Wootton Gardens, a cul-de-sac off the main Christchurch Road. The Congregation consisted of fewer than 50 families.
The foundation stone of the first Synagogue building was laid by Albert Samuel, whose brother Herbert later became a Cabinet Minister and subsequently the British High Commissioner for Palestine under the Mandate. The Synagogue is of barrel-vault design, with the Ladies Gallery separated in the Ashkenazi tradition.
To accommodate up to 900 worshippers became a prime need fifty years later, when the Synagogue, under the guiding control of Henry Solomon, then Senior Trustee and many times President, was completely rebuilt. At the same time the social hall that had been erected in 1923 was improved and named to honour Gertrude Preston, a former Chairman of the Ladies GuiId. An additional classroom was also constructed.
The ornamental keys provided to open the Synagogue in 1911 and the vastly improved premises, reopened in 1964, are both mounted and fixed in prominent positions in the main foyer.
A Dip into the Archives
A somewhat oblique but entertaining slant on our background and history may be gleaned from the following excerpts from BHC Board of Management minutes. We gratefully acknowledge the efforts of our Trustee, Stephen H White, for the original research from which these nuggets have been extracted.
It is especially noteworthy that our Honorary Life President Mr Harry Ellis, who was first elected President in 1949, remained actively involved in community affairs, both as Senior Trustee and de facto custodian of BHC folk memories – Harry’s recollections encompassed the history that other researchers could not reach. If there were skeletons in the cupboard, then Harry certainly had the key! Some of his personal comments, bearing the annotation HE and first published in our Centenary Book, are also to be found below.
HE told us of a meeting on Sunday July 23rd 1905 when 22 men met “with a view to ascertaining whether it would be practicable to form a congregation in this town…”. It was agreed that “…a president, a treasurer and a working committee of 3 were to govern. Such persons were then and there duly elected”. However, he went on to tell us that the newly-elected president resigned a week later, evidently due to marital difficulties.
“The President Proposed and Mr A Samuel seconded that a letter of thanks be sent to the Trustees of the Penzance Hebrew Congregation for the loan of a Sefer, Mantle and Pointer to this Congregation.” [Minutes 29/6/1906]
“It was resolved that a record of the Visit of the Chief Rabbi (Adler) to Bournemouth and his presence to worship in the Synagogue on Sabbath 26th December be entered in the minutes of the Congregation…” [Minutes 10/1/1909]
“It was resolved that a hearty vote of thanks be sent to the Portsmouth Hebrew Congregation for their generous gift of the Almemar (reading desk) ….(and Warden’s Box)” [Minutes 7/3/1909]
“It was proposed by Mr L P Lipman and seconded by Mr M B Goodman that Mr S M Silverman be appointed as delegate to represent this Congregation on the Executive Committee of the United Synagogue with reference to the appointment of a Chief Rabbi.” [AGM 26/11/1911]
“It was resolved to accept the offer of Rabbi Dr Samuel Daiches of London to preach on Sabbath December 30th…..” [Minutes 13/12/1911]
“Shortly before the High Festivals the President received a communication from the Very Rev. The Chief Rabbi enclosing a letter from the Commandant of Dorchester Camp where about thirty Jewish Prisoners of War were interned. The Executive immediately went to Dorchester and made arrangements for the Jewish prisoners to hold Divine Services during the High Festivals and the feast of Tabernacles. The Rev D L Halpern visited the camp on several occasions and took over the necessary books and Sefer Torah for their use, and also visited the Wareham camp with the result that the Commandant allowed the Jewish soldiers to attend Divine Services on Yom Kippur at Bournemouth.” [AGM Report November 1914]
“Proposed by Mr Silverman and seconded by Mr Hayman that an appeal be made on the Day of Atonement for the Russo-Polish sufferers of our faith passed unanimously.” [Minutes 1/10/1919]
“The President brought forward a letter which had been sent to Rev Halpern from the Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Girls and Women and asking that a meeting might be arranged for Whit Sunday June 4th 1922 when Mr Claude Montefiore would address same.. It was left to the President to reply that this Congregation would be pleased to do their best in getting a successful meeting for such a worthy cause if they could possibly postpone it for another Sunday.” [Minutes 21/5/1922]
“We, the undersigned, being Trustees for the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation, hereby declare and promise that the new Building we are going to erect on the ground annexed to the Synagogue should only be used for religious and benevolent work, or any other social gatherings which are of a decorous and dignified nature, so as not to be antagonistic to the ideas and spirits of our Ecclesiastical Authorities, and not to permit any debates or lectures of an anti-religious nature, or anything disloyal to His Majesty the King, or his heirs.” [Letter dated 22/11/1922]
“Mr Hayman proposed that a sign ‘To The Synagogue’ be affixed to the tram standard at the entrance to Wootton Gardens. This was agreed.” [Minutes 23/7/1925]
“Mr H Newman moved seconded Mr P Fay that a letter be sent to the Board of Deputies expressing the indignation of the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation against the prosecution (sic) of Jews in Germany by the Hitler regime and calling upon them to adopt measures to check such persecution. Carried unanimously.” [Minutes 5/3/1933]
HE notes that in 1934 BHC’s shochet had single-handedly accounted for ‘about 30,000 poultry’ and maintained a weekly throughput of two ‘beasts’ (species unrevealed), 4 or 5 calves, not to mention 25 lambs and sheep.
“A letter from the Chief Rabbi’s Office was read in which they requested the Congregation to pay certain dues which are in arrears as well as consider the imposition of a levy of 1/- per member as a basis for future contributions to the upkeep of the office. The matter was discussed and Mr H Kasmir proposed seconded Mr D Kay that the Congregation pay £4=4=0 to the Chief Rabbi’s office as this year’s contribution.” [Minutes 26/11/1936]
“The County Borough had appealed for scrap metal, and had written to places of worship in Bournemouth. Mr M Fay proposed and Mr Jackson seconded that the railings be offered to the Borough. Amended by Mr Lever and agreed that the Borough be asked to remove the railings only when they were required.” [Minutes 15/9/1940]
“Mr Hayman said they would all wish to convey their sympathy with the Mayor of Bournemouth in the loss of his wife. Mr Hayman also referred to the recent raid on the Borough, and as an expression of regret and sympathy for those who had lost their lives in the raid, including three of our co-religionists, the members stood in silence.” [Minutes 6/6/1943]
Also in 1943, HE recalled ‘…a chaotic Annual General Meeting. Grossly unconstitutional and unacceptable elections took place, causing regrettable unpleasantness and culminating in litigation, but ultimately in the appointment of an Executive sub-committee’.
“An inscribed wristlet watch, presented by the Congregation for bravery in saving a girl from drowning, was presented to Lionel van Praagh by the President.” [AGM 20/1/1952]
“Mr M Muscat: That the Board of Management consider the advisability and desirability of the Congregation becoming associated with the United Synagogue and report back to the General Body at the next Quarterly General Meeting. Seconded by Mr M Fay and CARRIED”[Motion proposed at the AGM 14/3/1954]
“Re: Alleged Speeding by Funeral Hearse. On a complaint by Mr E Cohen it was agreed to advise the Funeral Contractor this should not recur – also to ensure that only cars of appropriate dark colour should be employed at funerals” [Minutes 30/4/1961]
“This service was well attended, some 250 Members and their wives, also some 140 Non-Jewish people……..Decorum during the service was excellent and the dignity of the service was impressive to the non-Jewish visitors. The weather however was cold and rainy” [Typed Office Note on printed Order of Service to Recognise the election of Maurice Guild as President, Bournemouth Hotels and Boarding House Association. 27/2/ 1962]
“The Chairman read a letter from the President Mr Harry Ellis who was visiting Israel, and then submitted the recommendation of the Board of Management THAT in view of the urgent and pressing position in Israel the sum of £2000 shall be donated by BHC to the JPA on the basis that this is recouped by means of an Emergency Israel Temporary Levy of 10% on all Members Subscriptions, such Levy to expire not later than October 31st 1972. There was a short discussion before the Proposition was PUT by Mr M Angel, SECONDED by Mr B Kasmir, and CARRIED with one abstention. [Special General Meeting 13/7/1967]
“Mr Wayne and AJEX were congratulated on the orderly effective demonstrations (on behalf of Soviet Refusniks at visit of the Red Army Choir to Bournemouth)” [Minutes 10/5/1971]
One further development took place in 1973: an adjacent Hotel was acquired, demolished and in its place the Murray Muscat Centre was built, abutting the Synagogue. This was officially opened by the Chief Rabbi, the Very Rev. Immanuel Jakobovits, in July 1974 and comprises a large banqueting hall, the Menorah Suite, which can seat 200 guests, and has both meat and milk kitchens. On the floor above are five fully equipped classrooms, named after individual donors. The second floor has two self-contained flats, occupied by Synagogue staff. The entire Centre is named to honour Murray Muscat, the Congregation’s former Trustee and Honorary Solicitor.
Since 1976 through the zeal and effort of Rabbi Silberg the Congregation has been able to offer the facility of a most modern on-site Mikveh – Ritual Bath – integral to the Synagogue complex.
Members of the Jewish Community in Bournemouth acquitted themselves creditably in both Wars in the Armed Services and in Civil Defence. Those who gave their lives are recorded on a memorial plaque in the Synagogue. Jewish men and women of Bournemouth were volunteers in the Nursing and Fire Services, the ARP and the Home Guard. In the build-up to the landings in Normandy, large numbers of co-religionists in the allied forces stationed in Bournemouth had unlimited hospitality from the Synagogue and Ladies Guild Forces Committee. At the end of hostilities a plaque was presented by American Jewish personnel; this is now displayed in a prominent position in the main Synagogue foyer.
(Many thanks to Dr Stuart Kingsley for much of the foregoing text).