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Portsmouth Jewry - 1730's to 1980's
Other Forms of Civic Involvement
Dr Aubrey Weinberg (1985)

Throughout the nineteenth century the local Jewish community affirmed its thoroughgoing Anglo-Jewishness by sustaining interest in the affairs of the town without any weakening of identification with Jewry’s wider concerns. The Portsmouth congregation was keenly aware of its significant, if declining, position within British Jewry, and the Board of Management was at pains to recognise events and personages significant to Jewish interests. A congratulatory address, written on vellum, was sent to David Solomons, elected Lord Mayor of London in 1855, the first Jew to be admitted to mayoral office after the granting of civil and religious freedom. In 1859, Sir Moses Montefiore merited a special address for his safe mission to Rome, and he was later sent a letter of congratulation on his ninety-ninth birthday. In 1871, George Jessel was congratulated on being appointed Solicitor General, and in 1876 a letter of condolence was sent to Lady Anthony de Rothschild on the death of her husband. These and other similar communications indicate the close communal identity felt among British Jews during the last century, entwining Jewish local history with its wider involoements. Some of the Jews who became national political and social figures were benefactors of the Portsmouth congregation. In the twentieth century these linkages have become more tenuous and the policy of the contemporary leaders of the congregation is to pursue a strictly apolitical course.

The community was active in other areas. A series of meetings, accompanied by special services and collections of monies, was held to express concern over Russian persecution of Jews at the end of the last century. A town meeting, called by the mayor, also made public protest and established a public fund for the relief of refugees fleeing from Tsarist persecution. Another public meeting, presided over by Sir George Couzens, sent resolutions to the government protesting over continuing atrocities against Russian Jews. During the tscrmt leIn century meetings mere held to approve aid to the Belgium Jewish Refugees Fund, established in 1914, to hear Sir Phillip Hartog K.B.E and Janus Cohen B.A talk, in 1934, on the German Refugee Fund, and to respond to an appeal for the Jewish fund for Soviet Russia which was affiliated to Mrs Churchill’s Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund.

Support for distant Jewish brethren was matched by regular expressions of concern br local needy. In 1876, a congregational service was held, and collection made, on behalf of those she suffered as a result of an explosion on board the ship ‘Thunderer’.[94] In 1877 Mr and Mrs J 0 Barnard gave a free dinner to five hundred children, and a ‘benefit’ in aid of families of discharged dockyard workers [95] The Barnard’s efforts on behalf of the port’s workers led to the revival of the Regatta at Portsmouth Point in 1888, this being regarded as a direct encouragement for the poor watermen of the port. Ihe Barnards repeated the free dinner in subsequent years. On the occasion of Queen Victoria’s jubilee, a special service in the synagogue was attended by the mayor, generals, admirals and members of other religious denominations. Then, years later, for the diamond jubilee, all the civic dignitaries were again in attendance at the synagogue.

Over the years, the Jews of Portsmouth developed an intimate relationship with the city of their adoption. This relationship was apparent when the first permanent synagogue was established in 1700 and was symbolised by the installation of the Hanoverian coat of arms set up in the synagogue around that time. Royal arms had been introduced into English churches when the monarch became head of the church in 1536. Most of these were destroyed during Queen Mary’s reign and the reintroduction of coats of arms came after the establishment of the Commonwealth. The practice was made compulsory in 1660 although falling into disuse during the nineteenth century[96]. Unlike the coats of arms erected in churches which were mostly of wood, the Portsmouth arms in the synagogue were in cast metal and have been dated as around 1780. No association can be found with any royal visitors to the synagogue at that time or any other time and it can only be speculated that the arms were installed, as Roth surmised, without any recorded ceremonials, either in keeping with the local practice of Anglican churches or as a demonstration of loyalty by local Jewish subjects.[97]

It has been observed that other Jewish congregations were similarly involved in loyalist demonstrations. Ipswich synagogue installed a tablet in 1793 declaring attachment to the sovereign and their anxiety ‘to be considered as peaceable and loyal subjects of the realm.[98] It is also of interest to note that a marriage certificate of 1804, on display in thin Jewish Museum, London, carries a royal coat of arms.

Much has been written about the integration of minority groups in Britain. The hallmark of- what appears, on all evidence, to be the successful social integration of Portsmouth Jewry, has been the capacity to openly pursue the dualistic goals of Judaic and civic fulfilment. Capable members of the Jewish congregation have found few obstacles preventing them from extending their organisational and philanthropic inclinations beyond the confines of synagogue politics. The welding together of civic and religious energies produced a highly Anglicised Jewish community with a strong sense of social fulfilment and pride in its leading members.