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Description

The short film, Jews in the Cynon Valley 1857-1957, is based on a PowerPoint presentation created by Geoffrey Evans, a JHASW volunteer, for the Open Day at Cynon Valley Museum on 29 February 2020.

The film starts with a blue plaque that was installed on the exterior of a house on Seymour Street in 2015 to commemorate the former Aberdare Synagogue. It then presents the best-known Jewish businesses in the Cynon Valley.

M. Sugarman & Son’s wallpaper business in Abercynon; B. Britz’s dental practice in Penrhiwceiber; M. L. Curitz, the Mountain Ash money lender; Victor Freed’s Aberdare shops selling furniture, pianos, and gramophone records; pawnbroker Jacob Fine of Aberaman; Samuel Freedman & Son, pawnbroker and outfitter based in Aberdare; Morris Jacobs’s Aberdare clothing business; the Silverman family, glaziers and picture frame makers; Reuben Silverman became a sports reporter for ‘The Aberdare Leader’, and Ruth Goldberg’s Jane Cooper wedding dresses business.

The Jewish community in Aberdare dates back to the 1860s. Slater’s Directory of South Wales for 1858/59 lists the name of Harris Freedman, and Lyons and Hyman are listed as trading in Aberdare as pawnbrokers and general dealers. There is mention of Abraham Freedman of Aberdare as a contributor to many Jewish causes between 1865 and 1874, Lazarus Caselberg between 1869 and 1874, and Solomon Abrahams in 1874.

At first, the Aberdare Hebrew Congregation rented a place to worship: The Jewish Chronicle of 11 October 1889 reported that Mr David Hart of Seymour Street lent his house and had rooms fitted up as a synagogue. The house in Seymour Street was eventually bought in 1902 and was used as a synagogue for many decades. The Jewish Chronicle reported the purchase in its 27 July 1902 edition and on 4 October 1919 the Aberdare Leader reported that the synagogue was “beautifully renovated and fitted with electric light”.

The community continued to grow. There was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and a Reverend was employed to lead the services and teach the children. For many years the Synagogue was run by Victor Freed, well-known Aberdare businessman and Chairman of Aberdare Rotary Club.

Particularly active was the Aberdare and District Jewish Literary and Social Society and on 15 December 1905 the Jewish Chronicle reported a meeting at which a paper entitled “The causes of antisemitism” was read by B. R. Silverman after which members took part in a discussion.

The heyday of the Aberdare community was in the early years of the 20th century with 202 being the number of Jewish residences reported in the Jewish Yearbook of 1906.

During the 1920s and 30s there was depression and many Jewish shopkeepers left the area and moved to Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. By 1946, the Aberdare Jewish congregation numbered 63 members. The decline continued and the last service at the Aberdare Synagogue took place in 1957, conducted by the Reverend S. Schlachter. Following this historic service, the Scrolls of the Law, which were housed in the Synagogue, were returned to Israel.

The building in Seymour Street still stands and is again a private residence.

You can pause the video if you'd like to linger over a particular slide!

Sources:
'The History of the Jewish Diaspora in Wales' by Cai Parry-Jones (http://e.bangor.ac.uk/4987).
The Jewish Chronicle.

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