the former

Wigan Synagogue

Wigan, Greater Manchester




Page created: 3 December 2014
Latest amendment of revision: 3 December 2014

Ministers of the Wigan Hebrew Congregation
and their Journeys

by Hilary Thomas

My recent book "FROM WOLKOWISK TO WALLGATE AND OTHER JOURNEYS; A HISTORY OF THE WIGAN JEWISH COMMUNITY" pieces together the many strands that make up the story of this diverse group of people, including its religious leaders. Wigan seemed to be a mere stepping stone in the careers of its ministers, some of whom went on to great things

The Wigan Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1886 and its first Minister was Rev Myer Berkowitz from Russia. He had served the community for less than two years before being killed in a tragic accident involving a horse and cart on Wallgate, the main street of the town. He was 46. He left a wife and five children. His death was widely reported not only in the Jewish press, but in the local Wigan papers. For the next ten or so years the synagogue had various visiting Ministers and lay people conducting its services including Rev Moses Eker, Rev L  Mendlesohn  and Rev Pepperman. In 1900 Rev Jacob Lazarus Goldstone became the minister. He and his wife Esther were both born in 1879 in Suwalki. All of their four children were born in England, the three youngest in Wigan. By 1905 the family were in Ireland, living in Cork where their next three children were born. In 1916 the family emigrated to the USA. They settled in Sullivan, New York.

Jacob Goldstone's successor was a Russian-born student Woolfe Hirshowitz, who served the community from 1903 to 1905. He was part of the welcoming committee for the visit of the Chief Rabbi to Wigan in 1903. Woolfe, born 1883, was an outstanding scholar. After leaving Wigan, he attended Jews College in 1907, where he won many prizes including the Hester Rothschild Scholarship for proficiency in Semitic languages. He gained a 1st class honours degree in Aramaic and Hebrew from London University. He was appointed minister to Middlesbrough Hebrew Congregation in 1913 where he became known as Rev Hirsch. He stayed in that post for seven years. Woolfe gained his Rabbinical diploma in 1920 and took the post as Rabbi of the newly-formed Ohel Rachel Sephardi Congregation in Shanghai. By 1924 he was on his travels again, this time to the Pretoria Hebrew Congregation where he stayed for twenty two years, serving also as principal Jewish chaplain to the Union Defence Forces. Woolfe left the Congregation in 1946. He went back to studying. He took a degree in psychology at London University. It is believed he went to live in Israel in the 1950's and worked as a child psychologist.

Quite a journey from Wigan !!

December 2014

Wigan Jewish Community and Congregation home page



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