This is one of those classic books that any Anglo-Jewish library has to have. The Great Synagogue was the cathedral synagogue – the mother synagogue of British Ashkenazi Jewry. It was known as “Duke’s Place” after the street where it was situated. It had 250 years of history. It was the place where my great-grandparents, David Bloom and Fanny Harris were married. It was the place where my grandparents were married. It was the place where my great-grandfather was a member, after previously having been a member of the New Synagogue in Great St. Helens until it was vacated and destroyed. It was the place where there would have been many more marriages, had the building not been destroyed in the German bombing of London. It was the place that could have and should have been rebuilt and restored after the war, had the Jewish community been interested in its historical treasures. The compensation money was diverted by an official of the United Synagogue to build his own synagogue.
This book is large and beautifully produced and illustrated. First there is Cecil Roth’s preface. Cecil Roth (1899-1970) was the great Anglo-Jewish historian of his day, author of key standard Jewish historical works and editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia.
The table of contents illustrates the breadth of this book, covering not just the history of the building, but of the leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community. Only the modern period (in the timeframe of 1940 when the book was written) is covered briefly, in the style of a historian who did not consider history to be history until time had passed.
Finally, here are a selection of illustrations. I have chosen ones directly related to the Synagogues, rather than illustrations of paintings and artifacts which are in the Jewish Museum in London.