Oldest Synagogue in English-Speaking World Celebrates 250 Years

May 16, 2012  

The Plymouth Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the English-speaking world celebrated its 250th anniversary this week, a local newspaper reported.

The synagogue, which opened in 1762 and hold the European record of nearly 250 uninterrupted years of use, escaped unscathed during the Second World War Blitz even as most of the city was left in ruins.

Dignitaries from around the world came to join Plymouth’s Jewish community in celebrating the anniversary of the ancient synagogue.

The Lord Lieutenant of Devon and the Devon High Sheriff, representing the Queen, joined the Chief Rabbi and the president of United Synagogues and the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The synagogue’s honorary secretary, Anna Kelly, said that at its peak Plymouth’s Jewish community had hundreds of members, but has since dwindled to approximately 50 families.

The Jewish community settled in Plymouth in the mid-18th Century. Its members came from Central Europe, mainly Holland and Germany.

By 1745 they were holding regular prayer services in their homes and then in rented rooms.

In 1762, the Jews of Plymouth rejoiced at being granted a lease on the land where the synagogue now stands, making it the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue still in use in the English-speaking world.

Jewish Plymothians served in the Volunteer Companies recruited in 1798 to ward off a Napoleonic invasion and also served with distinction in the two World Wars.

They have served in local government and supplied Mayors of Devonport, Torquay and a Lord Mayor of Plymouth.

The synagogue no longer has its own rabbi and the regular services are conducted by visiting clergy.

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