South Manchester will soon be home to the first Sephardic synagogue constructed in England in decades. I received a sneak peek at its construction when I went to Manchester before Pesah to speak for the organization Shema. Rabbi Amir Ellituv was kind enough to pick me up from the train station and show me around Jewish South Manchester prior to my speaking engagement. He then gave me a behind the scenes look at the soon to be completed synagogue. It is going to be a beautiful synagogue that will only help to further build a vibrant and young Sephardic community.
South Manchester has been home to Sephardic Jews and a Western Sephardic community since the earlier twentieth century (It is independent from the North Manchester Sephardic community). The community, Shaare Rahamim, was established in Didsbury in 1904, before moving to their impressive synagogue in Withington on Queenstown Rd in 1927. At that time the area also saw the establishment of an Eastern Sephardic community, Shaare Zedek. The two communities merged under the name Shaare Hayim at the end of the century, and alternate between and combine the various Sephardic traditions and melodies. They’ve been led since the 1970s by Rabbi Shlomo Ellituv.
Since the 1970s more people moved out of didsbury and into outlying suburbs of south Manchester such as Hale Barns.They adopted the name Shaare Zedek, and also maintain both Sephardic rites. Their growth finally prompted the community to embark on the construction of a new synagogue. It is a light filled space, with beautiful symbolism. According to their Rabbi, Amir Ellituv, the community maintains an open atmosphere which welcomes Jews of all types to come together. The environment is one of openness, Torah, and inclusivity, and that is very much reflected in the synagogue architecture. I found that the space itself makes one feel as if they are taking in a breath of fresh air.
The synagogue includes spaces for youth activities, expandable synagogue seating, a hall for celebrations, and a park for outdoor activities, as well as a kitchen. It was exciting to see their growth and the future of Sephardic South Manchester. They are in good hands with their warm, easy going, and upbeat Rabbi Amir Ellituv.
The name shaare Hayim only appeared with the merger of Shaare Rahamim and Shaare Zedek about 20 years ago. You completely ignore the role that Rabbi Dr Maurice Guagine played in the.lufe of the community for over 40 years. I was his last assistant for 3 years and then in 1983 I succeeded him and served Shaare Rahamim as its Rabbi until 1994.
Dear Rabbi Van Den Bergh,
Thank you for your substantive comment. I will update the congregation names accordingly (it gets confusing!). I appreciate your supplementing the post with additional historical detail that was unknown to me. The congregation certainly has an illustrious rabbinic history! I regularly study and consult Keter Shem Tob, so it is thrilling to know I visited his son’s former kahal.
My grandfather and his brother ran Withington builders J&J Parish and I know they built at least one synagogue. Is it known who built Sha’are Rahamim on Queenston Road?
Hi, thank you for your comment. Good question, but I don’t know! Perhaps contact their synagogue office or the Jewish Museum of Manchester. Someone should have the records!
There is a splendid ledger of invoices from 1905 to 1920 and there are several Parrish invoices in it. Basil Jeuda
Thank you. I’m sure our family historians will be interested in that.
Wow. I’m afraid all we have is an non-working Ferranti electric clock which was given my grandfather by the employees of J&J Parish. It’s says 1887-1937 – presumably for the golden jubilee of the founding of the firm. I’ve not yet arranged to see the ledger.
I remember attending an anniversary celebration for the synagogue (I think it was probably in 1997). We were told that the official name of the congregation was the “Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews” even though it was not in Withington, had no Spanish members, and nobody from Portugal had ever been associated with it. We were also told that the building had always been too large and most of it belonged to the bank. These witty remarks have remained in my memory and indeed I have very fond memories of both communities from the 1990s.
Michael, Thank you for sharing this reflection. Best, Shalom
I’m the grandson of Laura Altaras (nee Tabah, and later Sanig) and Joseph O Altaras. He was the youngest child of the large Altaras clan that included my cousin Leonard and his father, and my two great aunts Sarah (Shalom), and Clementine Altaras.
Before my barmitzvah (1960) I used to go to both the Shaare Sedek and the “Queens Road” synogogues — the former with my grandpa Jo, and the latter with my parents. My father was (Ashkenazi) from Broughton Park. When my parents moved to Didsbury from Prestwich (about 1949) they joined the Shaare Sedek synagogue, but my father found the singing too “oriental” (as he put it) for his taste — I recall that it was led by my Grandmother’s brother-in-law Michel. So my parents moved themselves to Queen’s Rd (maybe 400yards away) where (as my father put it) the services were conducted with more “decorum”.
I have a photocopy of the text of a history of the South Manchester Congregation written in about 1925 that I can make available to anybody who might find it interesting. Many Iberian names can be found in this history of the Queens Rd. Congregation, which preceeded the Shaare Sedek. What may also surprise people (from today’s perspective) is the very warm description of pre-reconquista relations between Jews and Moors in Iberia. My father and mother are both in their ’90s (though separated 55 years ago) and still have interesting memories of that time, as do I.
Maurice Gaguine found my youthful not-quite-rebellion at the apparent valuing of ritual more than theology quite diffiult to cope with, and I think it was only when Jo Shabetai said that /he/ would instruct me for my barmitzvah if Gaguine didn’t that Gaguine agreed to teach me. In fact we had a very enjoyable time, and I learned more from him than just ritual (I seem to recall that his house was in Sandileigh Avenue, off Palatine Road). My recollection is that Gaguine found the social chatter of (most of) the congregation during the service immensely irritating, and he would frequenty have to make a very loud “shushing” noise to refocus the attention of the chatterboxes on the service and its purpose.
I am at present scanning 24 diaries that my great uncle David Isaacs wrote. He lived in Cheetham Hill 1872-1924. His very descriptive diary is a wonderful glimpse of Jewish life in those times, and full of interesting information. He very frequently mentions Clementine Altaras (he calls her Clem) and I wondered if this is the person you mention as your great aunt. They saw each other at various meetings of sufferagettes, play readings, discussions, etc., and seem to have been in the same groups of friends who met frequently on these occasions.
What is confusing is that on the http://www.jffww.uk website, there is a Clementine Altaras who is referred to as a male, being the brother of Maurice Altaras. Is this a different Clementine?
If you see this, I would be happy to hear your comments.
Kathryn Berman, Jerusalem
Your note of 16th August was just forwarded by this site. I found it very interesting and would like to respond more fully (and to see the transcriptions of the diaries in due course).
Clem is undoubtedly the Clementine from my note: she was a noted suffragist (from the “left” of the movement), and a quietly intense intellectual.
She taught me mathematics and English when I was a child: I’m still — at 75 — a working mathematician. She left me her poetry books in her will.
Clem and Jo (my grandfather) were somewhat younger than Maurice and Sarah — whom I also knew well as a child. There was no /brother/ Clementine: the website is wrong (I haven’t looked).
Feel free to write to me at Bernard.Sufrin@cs.ox.ac.uk. I’ll certainly be able to tell you more about Clem and about that branch of our family, and I have a few photographs that include Clem.
Dear Shalom Morris,
I am trying to obtain a record of mine and my father’s attendance at Old Lansdowne Rd synagogue during the 1950s for my daughter who is researching her Jewish origins. However I am finding difficulty in knowing who to contact & wonder if you have any advice to help me in this? Many thanks & best wishes. Peter Turkie
Hi, I’m not sure. Perhaps contact the Jewish Museum?