The second part of a four-part series exploring the history of the Jewish community in Leeds. See our dedicated page for all entries in this series, plus other articles on related subjects. This week, we’re looking at the importance of religion and welfare in Jewish Leeds society…
Places of worship held a central role in the social life of Leeds’ Jews even before the opening of the town’s first purpose-built Synagogue in 1861 – the Great Synagogue of Belgrave Street. Prior to that opening, from around 1846, the Jews of Leeds worshipped in a converted house on Back Rockingham Street, the site of today’s Merrion Centre. The story of both that initial meeting place and the formation of the Great Synagogue can be traced in Murray Freedman’s Leeds Jewry: A History of its Synagogues (1995).
Many more Synagogues were to follow after 1861, including the New Briggate Synagogue, which joined with the Great Synagogue in 1931 to form the United Hebrew Congregation (UHC). Bulletins for the UHC from 1946 – 1951 can be found at the Central Library.
An office for the Leeds Jewish Board of Guardians opened adjoining the Great Synagogue in 1878, tasked with alleviating the suffering of those Jews living in poverty. Annual reports for the Board can be found in the Central Library for 1893, 1919 and 1922, while Louis Saipe’s A Century of Care: The History of the Jewish Welfare Board 1878-1978 (1978) is a comprehensive history.
Education was also of great importance to the Jewish community, providing a pathway to socio-economic development. So it was that many Jewish families took advantage of the new opportunities offered by the 1870 Education Act, which provided universal compulsory education and initiated the forming of the Leeds School Board.
Four Board schools were opened in the predominately Jewish Leylands area and attendance at these schools was amongst the highest in the country, with a remarkable number of high school scholarships offered to pupils. One such school, on Gower Street, is the subject of Douglas Charing’s article ‘A Jewish School in Victorian Leeds,’ (1995) while a broader look at the subject can be found in Murray Freedman’s The ‘Jewish’ Schools of Leeds: 1880 – 1930 (2001).