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The Synagogue

Merthyr Tydfil




The Merthyr Tydfil synagogue still stands as a beautiful gothic building above Church Street. The first pre 1880s synagogue was a smaller building in John Street but sadly there are no illustrations of it known to exist.  Merthyr Tydfil had the biggest Jewish community in Wales and at its height there were 400 Jews in the town. This became a very influential and prosperous Jewish population. They were mainly jewellers, watchmakers, pawnbrokers, clothiers and so on. The first Jews came from Eastern Europe as economic migrants and not because of persecution. The Merthyr Express of the 16th August 1862 recorded an extensive robbery of jewellery by Barnett Samuel, a 21 year old hawker. ‘The prisoner stated that he was a German, and expressed a desire to be tried by a jury consisting of half foreigners. This occasioned some delay, but eventually a number of foreigners were found and a jury empanelled. He had been charged with robbing Samuel Isaac, a Jewish jeweller at Merthyr of 6 gold watches, 52 silver watches, 40 gold chains with a total value of £400. This surely indicates the wealth of the Jewish traders. The Merthyr Express of the 18th October 1884 records a ‘Jewish Wedding at Merthyr’. The marriage of Jennie Levinson of Merthyr and Julius Gittlesohn of Dowlais was a very grand affair and the bride purchased her wedding dress from Oxford Street.  There were a number of Christians invited to attend the wedding which took place in the Synagogue. However, the dinner which followed was in the Temperance Hall.  Mr Siedle’s Band played until four in the morning.

The Annual Jewish Ball was a big event in the Merthyr Tydfil Calendar. The local writer, Charles Horace Jones tried to gatecrash this expensive social event during the depression of the 1930s, simply because he was hungry. Climbing through a window he fell right into the arms of the Rabbi, who, instead of throwing him out took him to find something to eat. The Welsh Button Factory and OP Chocolates were both founded by Jews escaping from Nazi control in the late 1930s. In 1950 the Kendall family of the Pandy farm, Merthyr Tydfil produced specially bottled kosher milk for its Jewish customers. The Shermans ran betting shops in Victoria Street and were a wealthy Merthyr Tydfil Jewish family as they were also football pools promoters and  built up a large group of property companies throughout the UK. Despite the wide scope of his interests, Mr Sherman always lived in Merthyr and was extremely fond of his home. Eventually the family business was taken over by William Hill. In his lifetime Abe Sherman personally or through the Sherman Foundation, gave hundreds of thousands to charity.

There is a long established Jewish Cemetery in Cefn Coed.  A new extension to the Hebrew Cemetery was formally declared open in November 1935 at a ceremony conducted by the Rev E. Bloom, the minister of the local Hebrew Congregation. He paid tribute to the generosity of Mrs Raina Grwsener, formerly of Treharris, who gave generously to the project for the sake of the whole community. Mr Sol Freeman presented her with a silver trowel suitably inscribed on behalf of the members of the Merthyr Hebrew Congregation. They mentioned the work of Hermann Gittlesohn, one of the founder members whose recent demise they all deeply regretted. 

Unfortunately the Jewish Community has now vanished from the town. Religious services ceased in the town when it had a male Jewish population of under 10 men, the quorum needed before the synagogue could be used, which meant that religious prayers could not be taken in the synagogue. The 120 year old Synagogue was put up for sale and strange to say in became a Christian Centre. The Glamorgan Family History Society has produced a comprehensive index to the Jewish burials in the town.




These photographs were taken after the synagogue closed and before

the fittings and fixtures were removed.

We don't have the photographers name.



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