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Description

This newspaper clipping contains a profile of George Black who was the last Jewish resident in Merthyr Tydfil before his move to Manchester in 1997 at the age of 80. The article recounts the rise and fall of the Jewish communities in Wales. Most of these were founded in the second half of the 19th century when some of the masses of Jews fleeing from Russia to avoid religious persecution ended up in Britain.

The coal and iron industries brought wealth and people into the thriving South Wales Valleys. At best, the population of Merthyr Tydfil was six times bigger than Cardiff. As the demand for coal and iron diminished, the communities suffered heavily. The article also notes that in Jewish culture education has always been valued highly and of the third generation immigrants up to 40 per cent went to university, significantly more than the 5 per cent of British families. The educated young soon moved elsewhere to work and marry, causing the communities to dwindle.

According to the article, the Welsh were generally very welcoming towards the Jewish immigrants as neither of the groups spoke English, the language used in the mines.

Merthyr Tydfil was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities of the South Wales Valleys. The first Jews are believed to have arrived there in the 1820s and the first purpose-built synagogue was erected either in the late 1840s or the early 1850s. The thriving community soon outgrew the premises and a new synagogue opened on Church Street in 1877. From the 1920s to the mid-1930s, the Merthyr Tydfil Hebrew Congregation had up to 400 members, but with rapid changes in the economic conditions and the exodus that followed, the membership dropped to 175 by 1937. Services were held in Merthyr until the late 1970s.

Sources:
'The History of the Jewish Diaspora in Wales' by Cai Parry-Jones (http://e.bangor.ac.uk/4987);
JCR-UK/JewishGen (https://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/Community/merth/index.htm).

Depository: Glamorgan Archives.

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