the former

Sunderland Jewish Community

Sunderland, Tyne & Wear





From Kretinga to Sunderland


Chapter 6

Progress, Harmony, and the Press


From well before 1850 until the present time, the attitude of the local newspapers on the whole proved surprisingly friendly. They consistently took a great interest in Jewish affairs and have gone out of their way to explain at length Jewish customs and communal events of importance to their readership. The following extracts from local journals will give some idea both of the generous attitude of the press, and the warm relationship between the Sunderland community and civic and local dignitaries.

In this chapter, there is no undue emphasis on the Kretingan influence, but one always bears in mind the comments of Arnold Levy, at the conclusion of his History, p.227, in a Chapter headed ‘Completing a Labour of Love’, - that looking back at the early settlers and those who established the Congregation about 1860, ‘not a single one of their descendants appear today as leader or even member of either of the Congregations.’ On the other hand, he said, writing in 1954 shortly before his death, both synagogues were presided over by grandsons of the famous Reb Chatze Cohen.

This lack of influence of non-Kretingan members, he cites, is a remarkable claim to make, and it cannot be proved or disproved today, but from discussions with older ex-Sunderland members, and without researching the matter further, Levy could well be correct in what he said.  Certainly, at the very least, the influence of the Litvak descendants is of prime importance, as can be gauged by the known surnames of the migrants and comparing them with the most eminent members of the Community.

To revert to the newspaper articles and other items of interest concerning relationship with the general community:-

On 14th February 1851, the Sunderland Times reported on the wedding of the ‘fair and accomplished daughter’ of a local coal owner of Usworth Hall, David Jonassohn, Esq. The ceremony, ‘that of the Jewish Church,’ was most impressive, ‘the happy couple then received the mingled smiles of Hymen and of friendship at a splendid dejeuner a-la fourchette, with enthusiastic ‘hurrah greetings’ by ‘the surrounding tenantry and colliery workmen…..that must have been heard for miles around,’ due to a great degree to Mr Johannsohn, at his own expense ‘having erected a commodious chapel for the religious use of the workmen of Usworth Colliery, which ‘liberality was truly praiseworthy,’ -- ‘especially remembering his ‘own religious persuasion.’

The Jewish Chronicle of 21st February 1851 was not slow to stress this generosity to opponents of Jewish Emancipation, and pointed out that Mr. Johannsohn had not only provided a church at his expense for members of the Church of England’, but had also provided a chapel for Dissenters in his employ, and their families, so that they should not feel disadvantaged.

The Gateshead Observer of 14th February 1851, reporting likewise on ‘The Usworth Wedding ’, quoted Solomon, in his wisdom, as saying ‘a Virtuous woman is a crown to her husband’. The Usworth bride ‘was also half-a-crown to every poor widow and aged person in the village and colliery, - thus consecrating her new state by one of those acts of benevolence which had so honourably distinguished her maidenhood.’

On 6th April 1882, the Sunderland Herald and Post, reported on ‘A presentation by the Hebrew Congregation of Sunderland’ of Addresses ‘in the Hebrew language, with an English translation, beautifully illuminated on vellum,’ to the Mayor W. Wilson J.P. and Mr. J.W. Wayman J.P. in recognition of their services in connection with raising a fund for the relief of distressed Jews in Russia, Mr. Wayman being one of the first in the country to arrange a public meeting to protest against the Russian persecution of Jews.

In October 1884 to mark the hundredth birthday of the great philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, after informing him of their intention to relieve ‘the great distress now prevailing in this town, irrespective of creed ’ by providing a dinner in his honour, ‘for one thousand poor and necessitous children of this town,’146. the congregation actually fed 1,200 non-Jewish Children on 26th October 1884. Two members of the congregation further provided meals for 200 and 250 destitute non-Jewish adults respectively.147.

In May 1897, the Presbyterian Synod met at Sunderland, and at a meeting debated the feasibility of spreading the Gospel among the Jews. The following day, Rev. Mr. Phillips, the Minister of the Congregation, by coincidence delivered a speech before the Synod members at the Town Hall. The Sunderland Daily Post of 3rd May 1897 did not miss the opportunity.  Under the heading ‘Turning the Tables’ it wrote that while the Synod were all for propagating the Gospel one evening, ‘so the Rev. Mr. Phillips the next morning went to propagate the Gospel among the Christians. Mr. Phillips displayed a truly religious and wisely tolerant spirit.’

On 14th March 1894, the Rev Mr. Phillips married Miss Edith Davis.  On the following day, the Sunderland Daily Echo, reported at great length on an interview with him, on his ability, while not looking a strong man, to get through a great volume of pastoral work; on the appearance of the Synagogue; on the reporter’s embarrassment on having to wear a head covering; on the advantages of a choir; and he even described the sermon at length!

On 17th April 1896, Weekly Echo and Times, wrote ‘Religious services and organisations of this unique people, who have (I say it advisedly) but to be known to be appreciated, are so little heard of by the general public that the following description must assuredly prove interesting reading…..’

Newman Richardson


Newman Richardson,148. a member of the Council of the Congregation, was elected as a Conservative Town Councillor in May 1894. On Christmas Day 1894 he entertained a thousand children of his ward to a ‘sumptuous dinner.’ On 9th January 1895 he entertained to tea ‘all the aged occupants of the houses in Trafalgar Square and Assembly149. Garth. He became an Alderman and ‘were it not for his slight foreign accent, of which he was very sensitive, he would have accepted the mayoralty which was offered to him’.150.

It would be possible to give many more examples of the mutual respect enjoyed between the Jewish Community of Sunderland and the Town Authorities, on such occasions as retirement of Ministers and the opening of new premises for example, but reference will be made only to two further occasions, to avoid labouring the point.

The Sunderland Echo of 17th August 1914 reported a largely attended meeting of the Hebrew Congregation and their ladies to devise the best possible way of ‘rendering help at this crisis. Full support was pledged to the Mayor’s appeal in aid of the National Relief Fund; it was moved and agreed that the schoolrooms, used as religious classrooms, should be handed over in time of need as a hospital for the wounded; and eleven Jewish furniture dealers - including Newman Richardson - agreed to supply beds and equipment for the beds. ‘Sixteen young Jews from Sunderland have joined the colours and more are expected to join.’

Tragically, the Sunderland Echo of 1st November 1916 reported that a memorial service had been held the day before at the Moor Street Synagogue, in the presence of military and civic dignitaries, in memory of the four Jewish soldiers killed at the front. During the course of his sermon, the Minister of that time, Rabbi Dr. Salis Daiches, said that ‘with their blood they had paid the debt of gratitude which the Jewish race owed to this country and which had provided a haven of refuge. Jews and Gentiles were beginning to understand and respect one another….’

This sentiment seems to sum up the inter-relationship of both parties in Sunderland.

Charity and help to those in need

Some extracts from the Minutes of the Sunderland Jewish Board of Guardians (18th July 1886--2nd October 1892) give a flavour of its work at that time (On some occasions names of applicants are mentioned, at other times not. For the sake of uniformity the latter practice has been adopted):-

Wednesday August 4th 1886: 20 shillings given to a lady to join her husband in Liverpool, There were several cases of ‘stock’ granted; that is money loaned to credit drapers to build up their stocks. They were particularly and directly affected by any downturn in the economy, since this resulted in a slowing down or actual stoppage of repayments to them, and they needed fresh injections of capital from time to time. Their repayment record must have been exemplary, as the Minutes do not record any defaults; although occasionally there was an extension of time by agreement.

22nd August 1886: A request for assistance to emigrate to America by a single gentleman was declined.

Special Meeting: 15th September 1886: A lady in distressed circumstances sought aid to go to London. Disagreement as to whether she be given 2 guineas or £4.  On a vote she was granted the lesser amount.

31st October 1886: A lady and her children had been abandoned by her husband who did not support them financially. He lived in London. One member moved that he be brought back to Sunderland, but failed to find a Seconder. Her suggestion was that she approached the workhouse which would bring him back and force him to maintain her and the children. Mr. Olswang supported her suggestion, but Mr. Gallewski objected as this would result in the Society being forced to support him as well as the lady and her children. The Chairman said he never approved of going to a non-Jewish workhouse, the Society should look after its own, but in this tragic case no disgrace was involved if this was the preferred course of action. A motion to grant her the sum of £5 was not implemented because of the Society’s shortage of funds. An immediate payment of £1 was authorised.  The question of the workhouse involvement was deferred pending enquiries

Subsequently at the Meeting held 26th December 1886, the lady having enquired directly of the Workhouse, the motion to approach them was withdrawn because it would take them ‘12 to 14 days’ to contact him, not 2 or 3 as first thought. The reason given in the Minutes seems illogical as an extra 10 days or so would not appear to be critical. It appears that the view of Mr. Gallewski prevailed, but this was not minuted.

It is interesting to note that only on one occasion was a Jew admitted to the Sunderland Workhouse, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle issue of 13th September 1907. The following issue of 20th September reported that the executive of the Sunderland Hebrew Board of Guardians (by which name the Benevolent Society became known since 1892)151. had ‘immediately taken charge of the inmate and sent him, according to his desire, to his relations in Liverpool.’152.

21st November 1886: it was reported that a Mr. Gerald Simons of London who had been approached for a donation to the Society could not find time to visit the Society, and was unable to assist with a donation.

The Minutes of this period are full of reports of insufficient funds to meet the demands made on the Society. A typical monthly financial summary (30th April 1892) shows the amount distributed as being £22. 8s. 6d.which was swallowed up in donations varying between £1 and 10s. plus loans for ‘stock’ as before mentioned.

Footnotes    (returns to main text)

  1. Committee Minutes of Congregation dated 19th October 1884.

  2. The Jewish Chronicle 7th November 1884.

  3. See portrait, with acknowledgement to Levy, History.

  4. Levy, History, pp.109-110 and p.216.

  5. Levy, ibid., p.216.

  6. Levy, ibid., p.81.

  7. Levy, ibid., p.126.


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