A chance meeting with my first cousin Robin at a wedding nearly 2 years ago led to my attending the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the site of North London Synagogue in Lofting Road, Islington last Thursday, 4th June.
I had not seen Robin for 33 years when he came up to me at a wedding in August 2013. I hardly recognised him but was very excited to meet him after so many years. The day before our meeting, Robin was sorting memorabilia at his late Mother’s home and came across a large professional photograph taken at my late Father’s Barmitzvah in October 1932. He wanted to give the photograph to me but had no idea where I lived and had no way of tracing me until fate led him to me.
Soon after this most memorable wedding, I was also reunited with Robin’s brother Derek and another brother Michael who lives in Israel. Since then we have all been in constant touch with each other, talking about our growing up years and family history.
On a recent look at events and stories on the You & US pages, I was intrigued to see an announcement that Islington Council, together with Islington Chabad were organising a commemorative plaque to be fixed to Barnes Court, Lofting Road, N.1 - the original site of North London Synagogue. The foundation stone of the building was laid in 1864 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and the building consecrated on Sunday 29th March 1868 by Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler with his Sephardi counterpart Haham Benjamin Artom. It was a vibrant community but sadly it closed in 1958 and the building demolished.
After contacting my cousins, a family trip was organised which included their Aunt and Uncle Elsie and Arthur Baker on their Mum’s side. The Bakers married at North London in 1952 and Arthur became an Honorary Officer.
Returning to my treasured photograph taken in 1932, it shows my Father in formal dress, my Grandparents, the local MP, Mayor of Islington, and other local dignitaries from both the Shul and Islington Council. My Grandfather (Isaac Bloom) was a cabinet maker and had shops in Caledonian Road. In the same year as my Father Hymie’s Barmitzvah, he was honoured by the Shul as Chatan Torah and also served on its Board of Management. At the time, a report together with this photograph appeared in the local newspaper because of my Grandfather’s involvement with the local Chamber of Commerce and while I was growing up both my Father and Grandfather constantly reminded me of the family presence in the area.
Cousins Derek and Robin attended the cheder at North London until it closed in 1957 and the Shul finally closed its doors for good in 1958.
Nothing remains of the façade of the North London Synagogue but a specially prepared display at the plaque unveiling showed pictures of both the outside and inside during the Shul’s heyday.
In his introduction to the event, Councillor James Murray spoke very warmly about the history of the Islington Jewish Community while North London Synagogue was in existence.
Judith Hassan, great niece of the Shul’s first Rabbi, Morris Joseph, shared memories of her well known relative and more historical facts concerning her family’s connections to the area.
Rabbi Mendy Korer, who helped to organise the event, followed with telling the audience of his involvement from inviting the local MP Jeremy Corbyn to Shabbat dinner when the MP suggested applying for the plaque to the procedure for residents in the locality voting for its installation.
Also in attendance was United Synagogue’s President Stephen Pack.
The plaque being unveiled
After the plaque unveiling, official group photos were taken and those attending had the opportunity to share memories of the North London Synagogue Community with Rabbi Korer, the current Mayor of Islington Councillor Richard Greening, Councillor James Murray, and other representatives from Islington Council. All had an interesting story to tell and were invited to post their contact details into a specially created box for the occasion so that future gatherings can be arranged.