Oxford Jewish Community





Rabbi Jacob Weinberg leaves Oxford

by Harold Pollins

Originally published in Oxford Menorah December 2005. Updated 2011

During the whole of the twentieth century there were only two ministers for the Oxford Jewish congregation. Their total ministry lasted less than 20 years. The first was Rev Moses H. Segal who arrived just after the turn of the century and ministered in Oxford until 1909. The second was Rev Jacob Weinberg who was there during the Second World War. This is not to take into account Herbert Martin James Loewe who, as Lecturer in Hebrew at Exeter College from 1914 to 1931, acted as a kind of spiritual and social leader, especially for Jewish undergraduates but also for the small resident congregation. [In fact see my article, The Last Minister of Oxford, 2011, for references to other Ministers.]

There is useful information about Weinberg in David Lewis’s The Jews of Oxford. At the beginning of the Second World War there was a great increase in the number of Jews in Oxford because of the evacuation from London, the previous resident population being a mere handful. In his report to an annual general meeting of the congregation on 2 June 1940, the senior treasurer, Walter Ettinghausen, noted the ‘transference to Oxford of schoolchildren, prisoners, blind persons, hospital patients and private individuals’, as well as of some 400-500 refugees from Europe. In total his figures for the summer of 1940 amounted to some 800-900 Jews in Oxford (including 200 evacuated children),  ‘the largest settlement of Jews in Oxford since the thirteenth century’. Later in 1940, as the London blitz got under way, the number of evacuees became even larger. There was another synagogue in Cowley and, for a time, two in Headington. Yet, as Lewis points out, during the war the membership of the synagogue was not very great; the highest of the figures he gives was in November 1944 at 85 men and 45 women.

To this new, large community Rev Jacob Weinberg was appointed to minister to its needs. He remained until 1948 and I want to concentrate on his farewell ceremony. He had been awarded his rabbinical diploma in 1947 and after his Oxford period he went to South Africa. David Lewis, then an undergraduate in 1948,  notes that ‘I was sent by the University Jewish Society to speak at his farewell party’ but he says little about that event. Nor does he refer to a publication of 1948 in the Bodleian Library by Rabbi Weinberg and published by the Oxford Jewish Congregation. It is entitled ‘Farewell Address by Rabbi  J. Weinberg, B.A., Minister’.

The pamphlet states that the farewell reception was at the Forum Restaurant, in the High Street, on February 15th 1948. In the chair was Rabbi Samuel Daiches who had lived in Oxford during the war and there were altogether speeches by ten people (one being by David Lewis). They were listed in alphabetical order, the first being Mr B.I. Beckman, Past Senior Treasurer and Warden, the last being Dr A. Woolfson, Vice-president of the Reading Hebrew Congregation. Among them was ‘Mr H. Posner, Chairman, Jewish Youth Club‘, who is still, happily, with us.

The pamphlet, as the title indicates, consists of the words of Rabbi Weinberg. A pity that there appears to be no record of the other speeches; there is nothing about the reception in the Jewish Chronicle, and indeed there were few if any reports from Oxford in that paper that year, unlike the regular ones in the war years and immediately after. Nor were there any reports in the local newspapers, the Oxford Mail and the Oxford Times.  In the pamphlet Weinberg gave an account of his time in Oxford and it is a useful supplement to what is otherwise known. He notes that he tried ‘to do justice to all the demands made upon my time and energy whether as Minister, Preacher, Reader, Officiating Chaplain to H.M. and the American Forces, Chaplain to H.M. Prison, Chaplain to the local Hospitals and Institutions, Headmaster of our Synagogue Classes, or Social Worker’. He gave thanks to the various people who shouldered the burden of the increased activities. He paid special tribute to Walter Ettinghausen who was extremely active in the community during the first months of the war before he was called up for the army. B.I. Beckman gets a particularly fulsome appreciation as does Laurie Bloom who was notably responsible for the Cowley congregation. Weinberg recalled the increase in the number of Jews in Oxford and neighbourhood during the blitz and gave the surprising figure of 7,000 in total. Can that be right? His statistics seem exaggerated - David Lewis states that the number of individuals registered for kosher meat was 800. Weinberg also mentioned the growth in the number of organisations and clubs that came into existence to meet the new demands. Hebrew Classes were started; a Communal Centre was opened; a Youth Club was formed; a Ladies’ Guild was organised; Zionist Societies founded; arrangements were made for kosher meat; and arrangements were made for marriages and burials. Although Ettinghausen in his June 1940 report stated that a marriage in December 1939 was the first for many years,  the Jewish Chronicle on 4 August 1939 reported the first wedding in Oxford of a refugee couple, Mr Fritz Weiss of Kitchener Camp, Richborough, and  Miss Therese Weisz of Oxford. In the evening a reception and dance for them was held at the home of Mr & Mrs David Leverton.

As a minister Weinberg especially noted the large congregations at religious services, including attendance by American servicemen who were stationed near Oxford. Although attendance at Friday evening services had grown before the war because of the influx of refugees during the war he said that over 250 American soldiers ‘crowded our synagogue week after week’. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 1944 ‘the Union Debating Hall, accommodating nearly one thousand people, was filled to overflowing with members of the British and American forces’. At Seder nights at the Communal Centre between 300 and 400 people would celebrate the Seder.

Of particular interest are his observations on the immediate post-war period when ‘The great period of the Oxford Jewish congregation was over‘ although, he says, there were still between 600 and 700 Jews in Oxford. He attributes the survival to Laurie Bloom whose efforts led to increased synagogue membership and there was a financial surplus instead of the previous deficit. Moreover, he instigated the formation of the Social Section which quickly became the strongest organisation of the community with over 100 attending the Sunday gatherings. The Social Section also helped other organisations such as arranging entertainments for the children of the Hebrew Classes.

He ended by thanking the friends they had made in Oxford. ‘Your respect and your affection have made my stay in Oxford a very happy one’. He went to Muizenberg, South Africa, then became the minister at Edinburgh, and he died in 1989.


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