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Pat Goodman's Reminiscences of Plymouth Synagogue’s (once) Thriving Jewish Community

Pat Goodman
When I came to Plymouth as a bride in 1953, the services on Friday nights and Shabbat mornings were very well attended and on High Holy Days there were so many ladies present, some had to sit on the windowsills and there were not enough seats for the men downstairs so extra chairs were set out behind the Bimah. On Kol Nidrei Night after the service, there was quite a crowd of us walking home to Mannamead and Hartley.

In those days there were two ministers, the Reverend Goodman (no relation), whose son Stuart is now our Honorary Solicitor and The Reverend Sussman, who left soon afterwards for Leicester. We also had a Shamas, Mr Aloof, the father of Sidney, Lionel and Percy all of whom served the Synagogue well. The Officers in the box wore top hats, then later on this changed to bowler hats.

There was a Ladies Guild and a Benevolent Society, (Orphan Aid as it was then called then) and much later a Mizrachi Society.

The Ladies Guild was very active in those days with coffee mornings every month, afternoon teas, garden parties and jumble sales. Later on we took shops in the city centre. We raised over £2000 a year for charity. All this has finished now as there are no ladies well enough to be able to continue.

There were about sixteen men on the GP (General Purposes) committee until Rose Owen advocated that ladies should be represented on the committee and although I wasn’t in favour at the time, I found myself co-opted on with Bertha Hurst and I have remained on it ever since.

The ladies did not attend the AGMs but over the years that changed too. It was only five years ago that a lady was elected Vice-President - and that was myself.

There were a lot of children attending the Hebrew Classes that were held downstairs in the vestry classroom and the hall upstairs.

Bertram Emdon devised a scheme whereby the hall and kitchen were placed downstairs and upstairs was arranged into two separate flats, one for visiting ministers and the other for a caretaker.

There is still a Hebrew class started a few years ago by Dr Nadine Mitchell, with about eight children attending.

There was also an excellent congregational magazine called the Digest, which came out every month. This lapsed quite a few years ago but we now have a Newsletter edited by Anna Kelly the Honorary Secretary, that comes out between two and three times a year, depending on her personal commitments.

After Mr Goodman died we had the Reverend Josovic, Rabbi Broder, the Rev Alec Ginsberg (who liked to be known as ‘Major’) with his twin brother Sidney, helping Rabbi Susser who came twice and the Rev Rockman.

We cannot afford a minister now but we have lay members to take services.

For the past few years we’ve had Aharon Fadida, who came from Israel with his family, to live in Plymouth. He had someone assist him on high holy days and several times we were fortunate to have Martin, son of Lionel Aloof.

We used to be able to get kosher meat at the Co-op on Mutley Plain, but we had to wait outside in the back lane before we were served. Also, some kosher products were available at Cullifords in Frankfort Gate and also at Robin’s Nest in the Pannier Market.

Two couples, Gussie and David Maxwell and Peggy and Joe Joseph, donated money to establish the Holcenberg Collection in the Plymouth Library. This was in memory of Gussie and Peggys’ parents. It has grown enormously and is administered by three trustees, The Chief Librarian, Jill Hill (who is the granddaughter of Eva and Frank Holcenberg) and myself.

In 1961 (no I haven’t got the year wrong - that is when it happened) we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the Synagogue. There was a Civic Dinner at the Guildhall in the Presence of the then Chief Rabbi Dr. Israel Brodie and Mrs Brodie. It so happened that year, Arthur Goldberg was Lord Mayor and his wife Biddy was consort. On that occasion the Congregation presented the City with silver goblets which are now on display in the Council House. In 2012 we hope to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Synagogue.

Our Synagogue is the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue still in regular use in the English speaking world. We still keep going with the help of donations.

Finally, I would like to add this. My husband Jack and I, with our children Stephen and Richard, used to walk home from Shul with Doris and Bertie Black and their children, Isabelle and Harry. When we got to Seymour Road, we would shake hands and say “Good Shabbos.”

Someone once said to me, “You Jewish People are so polite. You are always shaking hands!”