The Beginnings of the Newcastle Jewish Community

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The Newcastle upon Tyne Jewish community is the largest of a number situated close to each other in the area comprising the counties of Northumberland and Durham and a strip of north Yorkshire, which forms the southern bank of the River Tees.

Within this group one also finds examples of erstwhile communities like Durham and North Shields, with only odd synagogue build? ings and, in the case of the latter, also a ceme? tery to indicate that Jews ever lived there. In Stockton, West Hartlepool, and South Shields there are now mere shells of what a century or so ago were flourishing communities. Middles? brough and Darlington reached a certain stage of development, at which they have remained static, while in Whitley Bay there is a com? munity formed in recent years.

The mainstream of dynamic Jewish life in north-east England, however, is to be found in three centres, Newcastle, Gateshead, and Sunderland, each distinctive from the others. Newcastle, generally speaking, is formed of what used to be called the United Synagogue (London) type. Sunderland, with two congre? gations and a strong Beth Hamedrash influence, provides a synthesis of modern living and such institutions as a Chevra Shass, a Yeshiva, and a fine primary school. Gateshead, a small com? munity of some forty to fifty families, has within its framework a unique complex of religious educational institutions with a transient population of students, male and female, from all quarters of the globe, which, with instruc? tional and administrative personnel, effects a constant bulge numbering several hundreds.

* Paper delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England, 7 April 1965.

1 Arnold Levy, History of the Sunderland Jewish Community 1755-1955 (Macdonald, 1956), p. 34.

2 Some historians ascribe the stone wall known as Hadrian's Wall to Severus, 207 c.e., and describe Hadrian's Wall as an earthwork on the same site.

3 The Venerable Bede refers to it later as Ad Murum (At the Wall). Numerous Mithraitic temples have been excavated. There occur occa? sional tombstones of individual Christians. This led me to inquire whether there were traces of Jews, who might have come from any of the scattered communities in the Roman empire, either as soldiers or as traders to the trading posts which abounded along the wall. I am informed by Profes? sor Ian A. Richmond, All Souls College, Oxford, the eminent authority on Roman Britain, as follows: 'I have no knowledge whatever of any Jews serving in the Roman army of Britain, and as you, yourself, realise better than I, it would have to be a highly unorthodox Jew that did so. Like you again, I do not think this wholly impossible, human nature being what it is, but possibility is one thing and proof another, and I would emphasise that we have absolutely no proof.'

Newcastle is the largest city in the area, recognised as the 'metropolis' of the North East. Although Sunderland's Jewish commun? ity claims to have the longest record of continuous existence in the area,1 New-castle's Jewish associations reach back much further.


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