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Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation

Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 1PW, England


75th Anniversary 1905 - 1980


A Brief History of the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation

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. Since then the community has doubled, trebled and doubled again in numbers, as have the facilities to match that growth.

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, 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 Lades 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.

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 banquet 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 Congregations' former Trustee and Honorary Solicitor.

For his personal contributions in securing the site and handling all legal aspects of this development, current Senior Trustee, Life President and many times President, Harry Ellis, who is now the Congregation's Honorary Solicitor, was honoured by the Plaque and Key now fixed adjacent to the main entrance of the new Centre.

On the occasion of the Opening Ceremony, an Illuminated Address was presented to Mr. John Kasmir, the Trustee, who was President during the rebuilding and the moving spirit behind the fund-raising drive to pay for the centre.

The Congregations' Third Trustee, Mr. Sam Marks, became Treasurer in 1971 and subsequently President. In his three years in that office, he supervised improvements to, and maintained close liason with the Architect, Surveyor and Builders, engaged on the Project, over the entire period of the contract.

Four Years ago the Congregation, supported by the Social Services Department, opened a Day Nursery.  This accepts some 17 children five mornings a week in the Gertrude Preston Hall.  The "Yavneh Kindergarten" is staffed by qualified nursery teachers and is exceptionally well equipped.  From the next age group upwards, children between 5 and 13 are encouraged to attend the Hebrew Classes where they have the benefit and skills of 8 experienced and well trained teachers.

Since 1976 through the zeal and effort of Rabbi Silberg the Congregation has been able to offer the facility of a most modern 'on-the-site' Mikveh - Ritual Bath - built in just a year, integral to the Synagogue complex.  This year, 1980, it became possible to at last completely refurbish the Beth Hamedrash in which the Synagogue holds its weekday morning and evening Services, and where a library is gradually being formed.  Within the Synagogue proper, a Bookshop staffed by volunteers opens on Sunday mornings.  The Congregation also has a Licensed Kosher Butcher and Poulterer.

No aspect of the growing community was overlooked by the founders of the Congregation, and as early as 1906 they took over an area for use as a Cemetery, from the Bournemouth Corporation.  In 1950 additional space had to be obtained at Kinson.  There, and at Boscombe, Prayer Houses where last rites and Funeral Services take place, were built and consecrated.  Victims of both the First and Second World Wars have been interred at Boscombe and, among them, somewhat surprisingly, Jewish prisoners-of-war captured during 1915, from German and Austrian forces engaged in France and Belgium.

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 hand carved Plaque was presented by American Jewish personnel; this is now displayed in a prominent position in the main Synagogue foyer.

Since 1945 the Association of Jewish Ex-Service Men and Women holds an Annual Reunion Dinner and Dance when it presents a cheque to the incumbent Mayor for his own major Appeal.

In charitable work a number of Welfare Committees co-operate with the Synagogue.  Bournemouth Hebrew Ladies Guild has given 62 years of voluntary service backing up WVS and the Red Cross sending volunteer visitors into local hospitals and nursing homes comforting the bereaved and assisting the homebound invalids of the Community.

Bournemouth branch of the League of Jewish Women is solely concerned with welfare and social work and, for the past 12 years, has assisted in schools, Kindergarten, 'meals-on-wheels', 'mobile library' services and assisting local disabled in their limited range of activities.

Branches of W.I.Z.O., M.D.A., J.N.F. and Mizrachi, B'nai B'rith Lodges too, maintain year round fund raising and social activities.  The main J.I.A. appeal has never found the Jewish Community dragging its heels.  Aid Societies, for the homes for the aged and blind, provide continuing practical support.

As to the youth, groups have quite naturally been founded only to founder in later years as the youth matured into adults.  In the Twenties, Bournemouth boasted a Jewish Scout Troop and a Girl Guide Brigade and, later, an active cricket eleven; later still, there were numerous top class table tennis teams.  Recently the 5705 Cricket Club achieved fame, touring Israel and having success in the local area League.  In 1980 there seems to be a revival of fortune for the 5705 Club, the B'nai B'rith Youth and the B'nei Akivah movement under new leaders.  Functions and social events of their own choice contribute widely to diverse and deserving causes.

At the other extreme, our Friendship Club celebrated its 21st Anniversary; its activities are similar to better-known 'Darby and Joan' clubs; its weekly afternoon meetings, in the Murray Muscat Centre attract a large attendance into a friendly and sociable atmosphere.

Bournemouth has an unusual group that exists only until its main aim has been achieved.  They are the "35's" - Ladies who combine ingenuity and imagination to bring the problems of the Russian Jewish 'refuseniks' to public notice and concern.

The groups are represented on the Bournemouth Jewish Representative Council which embraces the local Congregation and the Council for Christians and Jews.

A high level and keen spirit of co-operation exists between the Congregation and the Bournemouth Corporation whose Mayor, three years ago, was Councillor G. V. Jaffe who has been a member of the Jewish Community for many years.

And what of the future?  Todays thriving Congregation is made up of Jewish people from many walks of life and from diverse areas of the United Kingdom and overseas.  Many first visited Bournemouth on their honeymoon, or on a holiday, and, taken with the mild climate and friendly community, were moved to adopt the Town as their new home. This process continues. Throughout the summer, the Synagogue Services attract a large number of 'future immigrants', and why not; for the Congregation is served by an extremely likeable and competent Clergy and Officials.

Based on the past record, the Congregation will continue to develop its facilities; perhaps through a Day Centre to alleviate the plight of the elderly lonely, perhaps with improvements in accommodation for the youth to allow a wider participation in sport, undoubtedly in methods to widen the experience of Jewish education for the children.  Ideas are not lacking though the crucial problem will remain the one of the priorities of development and funding for the work.

Moving into the 1980's with Honorary Officers of high calibre and proven energy, President Frank Harris and Treasurer Harry Wayne have at their disposal the skills of the long-serving Secretary Administrator Monty Weinberg, the multiple talents and experience of the three serving Trustees and a Board of Management combining youth and service.

Ready to face the challenges of our times, there would seem to be some extremely interesting possibilities ahead for the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation.


From the 75th Anniversary Souvenir Brochure
Posted: March 13, 2003


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Last Update: 04/28/2009


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