The South Terrace synagogue, the only remaining synagogue in Cork, Ireland — has closed and been deconsecrated, due to the dwindling number of Jews in the city.
The Cork Hebrew Congregation held its final Shabbat service there Saturday.The Evening Echo news site said that because of demographic decline and emigration, only three Jewish men were now left in town, and a rabbi and 14 men traveled to Cork from Dublin for the final service.
A small, two-storey building with a flat front marked by a triple-arched, ground-floor portal and narrow upper windows flanking a half-moon central window over the entrance, the synagogue was consecrated in 1905 when the Jewish community had as many as 400 or more members.
The building is listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage — it is believed that it was sold for possible use as a church.
The Jewish community was founded mainly in the late 19th century by immigrants from Lithuania who may or may not have actually been heading for New York. Gerald Goldberg, the son of immigrants, was born in Cork in 1912 and served as the city’s Lord Mayor in 1977-78. (He was also a president of the synagogue.)
The synagogue stands in what was historically Cork’s Jewish neighborhood, known in the city as “Jewtown.” A collection of poems called “Jewtown” by the Irish poet Simon Lewis evokes the history of the district and will be published in May.
The collection “charts the early story of the Jewish Community in Cork,” Lewis told JHE. “However, it is not a work of non-fiction – I have used a huge amount of poetic licence! My aim was to create my interpretation of the sense of feeling a group of immigrants might have felt coming to a country with no money, no possessions, and none of the language. Yes – they survived and thrived.”
In recent decades, however, most members of the Jewish community had left the city for many parts of the world.
“We are down in numbers. We couldn’t support a rabbi, a Hebrew school, a synagogue,” Fred Rosehill, chairman of the trustees of the Cork Hebrew Congregation told the Evening Echo. “We tried everything. It has come to the stage that there is no money left. If someone gave us money in the morning it wouldn’t matter — we don’t have the members to sustain it,”
The decline had been going on for decades. The Irish poet Thomas McCarthy already wrote about the demise of the synagogue and its community in his 1987 poem, The Dying Synagogue at South Terrace.
…more than time has abandoned this,
God’s abandonment, God’s synagogue,
that rose out of the ocean
one hundred years from here
…To have been through everything,
to have suffered everything and left
a peeling door.
(In the poem, McCarthy also references a pro-Palestinian fire-bombing of the synagogue in 1982.)
Dr. Paul Colton, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, issued a statement saying that he learned of the closure of the synagogue “with immense sadness and a heavy heart.”
“Growing up in Cork, I remember well Jewish neighbors and school friends in Cork Grammar School, and how living and learning alongside them taught and enriched me and my contemporaries,” he said.
“The change in circumstances – demographics and practical realities – which bring about the closure of the Synagogue are sad not least because the closure represents a diminution of the religious pluralism in Cork at a very time when, in Ireland as a whole, greater religious diversity than ever before is a mark of our nation.”