VINE STREET HISTORY
The latter part of the 19th century saw a large immigration of Jews into the United Kingdom, most of them fleeing from persecution or economic hardships. Unlike most other provincial centres, Manchester seemed to have attracted Jews from very wide areas, in contrast with say, Leeds, which only attracted Jews from the Baltic States. Jews came to Manchester from all over Eastern Europe and even from the Levant.
Among them were immigrants from Romania, from towns such as Jassy, Vaslui, Roman and Negresti, mainly in the north east of the country. On their arrival here, they found a well established community dominated by middle-class German Jews following the German or Ashkenazi rituals.
The Romanian Jews, in common with many from Eastern Europe, used the Chassidic ritual known as Nusach Sephard, not to be confused with the Sephardic ritual used by the Jews from Arab speaking countries. Although no doubt many Romanian Jews joined the established Synagogues, others must have felt somewhat alienated, and they founded their own Romanian Shtiebel in Bridden Street, Strangeways (200 yards from Victoria Station) on 1 November 1888.
Bridden Street would appear to have been the centre for Romanian immigrants in Manchester as a photograph in “Manchester Jewry” by Bill Williams shows a Romanian kosher restaurant in Bridden Street. The New Rumanian Synagogue (Kenesses Beis Yaakov) was consecrated in 1889 and the Reverend H Vallentine of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue delivered the address.
In 1902 the Synagogue appointed a Secretary for Marriages showing just how integrated into English life they had become. It was not an uncommon practice in those days, for a couple to get married under Jewish law but not to bother with registering the wedding with the Civil authorities. In 1905 the Synagogue split, with disaffected members founding the Beis Yisroel Synagogue in Great Ducie Street, the remaining members establishing the Roumanian Synagogue at 68a Waterloo Road. The synagogue was known as the Hay Shop after its location.
In 1914, the two Synagogues amalgamated and moved further up Bury New Road to Ramsgate Street in Lower Broughton. The founders’ stone, restored and erected in the present Synagogue entrance, records those members responsible for what was now called the New Roumanian Synagogue (Beis Hakenesses Beis Yisroel).
On 17th September 1919 the Synagogue was consecrated by the Haham Moses Gaster (himself a Rumanian) with the service conducted by Rev J Sirota and choir. In 1920, the Synagogue which by now was well established and with a growing membership, appointed its first paid Rabbi-Jacob Shachter (1886-1971). Rabbi Shachter was born and grew up in Frumusica in Rumania and served as Rabbi in Galati before moving to Manchester. Despite his relative youth, Rabbi Shachter was obviously an extremely learned and influential person. He established a daily Chabura learning Mishna and Ein Yaakov which had over 30 members and was instrumental in driving forward the building of the Beis Hamedresh and classrooms. He also served on the Manchester Beis Din. His tenure was brief and in 1926 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Northern Ireland and in the 1950s- moved to Israel.
During the early 1920s, the Synagogue was substantially altered and extended; the architect was Peter Cummings (Caminsky) who would achieve greater frame as a specialist in cinema design (Cornerhouse, Apollo Theatre). According to Sharman Kadish in her recent “The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland” it was a substantial Synagogue and its decorative exterior brickwork was deemed worthy of a brief description and illustration in The Builder. The Synagogue seated over 350 people and was one of the major Synagogues in the area. The 1920s also saw the appointment of Rev Aaron Gross as Chazan and he served with great distinction for over 40 years.
The 30s, 40s and 50s saw a marked emigration of the community away from Lower Broughton towards Higher Broughton, Broughton Park and Prestwich and the Synagogue suffered an almost catastrophic decline in membership and when it finally moved, its membership had dwindled to around 60. These remaining members represented the more Orthodox elements in the community.
Perhaps what saved the Synagogue from the fate of other Shteibels founded in the late 19th century was that it made its move so late. Most of the others moved further to the north at the end of the 1920s or the beginning of the 1930s at what was a low ebb in the religious life of the city, and they built Synagogues that emulated the very same Anglo-Jewish ones that their own Shteibels had been originally founded to avoid. There is some evidence that the Synagogue was tempted during this period to become like the others. An executive resolution was put to the AGM in 1926 that an executive box should be built: it was defeated!
Following Rabbi Shachter’s departure, the Synagogue remained without a Rabbi for some 14 years. Its unofficial self-styled unpaid Rabbi was Reb Zyshi Golditch reputed to be the first man in Manchester to wear Chassidishe garb in the streets. In 1940, Rabbi David Ochs (1905-1985) was appointed. Rabbi Ochs was born in Poland and moved to Vienna in his youth receiving Semicha at 17. He also attended Vienna University receiving a Doctorate in History. He was recognised as an outstanding scholar and great orator. In 1939 he left his pulpit in Vienna and escaped to England with his family.
Rabbi Ochs served as Rabbi until 1946 when attending an Agudah conference in New York, he paid a brief visit to Toronto. He was invited to speak at the Torah Emeth Congregation where the pulpit had become vacant following Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky’s move to New York. He so impressed the Congregation that he was appointed on the spot and it is said that the travel agent was paid not to find transportation back to England!
The Synagogue was again without a Rabbi and Reb Zyshi’s son, Dayan Isaac Golditch acted as unofficial Rabbi throughout the 1950s.
In 1953, the Synagogue moved to its current site on Vine Street thanks to the generosity of one of its members-Sydney Beenstock; the building was previously the former banqueting hall of a kosher caterer.
By this time the Synagogue had undergone a change of name in 1941 to North Salford Synagogue (despite being in East Salford) when Rumania joined the Axis Powers. All the original furniture from Ramsgate Street was transferred to the new building (described by Sharman Kadish ...the interior fittings, disappointingly traditional compared with the architecture...).
In 1961, Rabbi Lippa Rabinowitz was appointed Rabbi, in conjunction with taking on the position as Principal of Manchester Jewish Grammar School. Rabbi Rabinowitz was born and raised in Manchester and was from an illustrious Rabbinic family. In his 45 years as Rabbi, his leadership oversaw the membership of the Synagogue develop into one of “Baalei Batim” combining a love for learning, earning a living and deep involvement in local communal affairs. At the same time, the school became recognised as the foremost Jewish Secondary school in the country.
Chazan Gross retired in the 1960s, briefly replaced by Shimon Halpern and then the much loved Shimon Cutler from 1972 to 1997, and Shlomo Chrysler until 2008.
Rabbi Rabinowitz retired to Israel in 2006, and in 2008 Rabbi Elozor Stefansky was appointed as his successor. Rabbi Stefansky, originally from Canada via London and Israel, was the Rosh Chabura of Whitefield Kollel and was well known through his Shiurim to many members. At the same time, Zevi Kraushar was appointed as Chazan. The last few years, under the guidance of Rabbi Stefansky, has seen an influx of young members and despite the ageing building, the future of the Kehilla seems well secured.
The last few years has seen the Synagogue adopt the unofficial sobriquet of “Vine Street” and few of the recent members are aware of its proud Roumainian roots. Its adherence to Nusach Sefard and maintenance of its unusual and often obscure Minhagim and refusal to be labelled in any particular camp, gives the Synagogue its unique position in the community.
(With thanks to Rodney Myers- March 2016)