The Medway Jewish Community, which serves a large part of Kent, is centred on the Chatham Memorial Synagogue, situated in Rochester High Street, whose beautiful baroque interior is becoming known to the wider Jewish community, with the growing popularity of group outings, visiting historic Kent centres, such as the Ramsgate home of Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore, Canterbury, Chatham Dockyard and Chatham Memorial Synagogue
It seems likely that the community assumed some importance during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when some members were listed as Naval or Admiralty Agents, deriving profit from the purchase of prize money shares from Royal Naval ships' crews, when captured enemy vessels were sold off, as recorded in Geoffrey L. Green's book, "The Royal Navy and Anglo-Jewry, 1740 - 1820". Amongst those listed for Chatham, Lazarus Magnus and his son, Simon Magnus (builder of the present synagogue) both appear. When the practice ceased, these people tended to become ships' chandlers, or military tailors, some of their companies still being in existence today, in naval dockyard ports
Magnus had the present Byzantine Synagogue built as a memorial
to his son, Captain Lazarus Simon Magnus. It was formally opened and
consecrated in 1869. The site was in an unadopted area on the High
Street between the two towns Chatham and
Captain Lazarus Simon Magnus
was a highly respected man, active in local and communal affairs. He was a
captain in the 4th. Kent Artillary Volunteers, a
member of the Board of Management of the Synagogue, a director of the Chatham
Railway and a Mayor of Queenborough, a town on the
Isle of Sheppey in 1858 , 1859 and 1862 (apparently
as a mark of gratitude for his having been instrumental in bringing the railway
to Sheerness and Queenborough). He died accidentally at the early age of
thirty nine years of age
and his death was
reported in the local paper of
His grave memorial dominates the cemetery and it is conditional in the Deed of Trust that it shall always be visible from the road. A beautiful Memorial Book, handwritten in classical Hebrew, dated 5595 (c.1835) includes a list of earlier benefactors to be prayed for when Yizkor is recited. Amongst others, it is possible to read the Hebrew names of Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore, who were (and, indeed, their descendants still are) inter-related by marriage with the Magnus family.
When it became necessary, around 1972, to incorporate a classroom and social hall into the building, the Trust Deed condition concerning visibility of the Magnus Memorial caused some difficulty. However, the Charity Commissioners were good enough to arrange for a Parliamentary Bill to vary the Deed, by allowing the new social hall to be built across the sight line of the Memorial, whilst maintaining the spirit of the Deed. By this time the Minister's house had been condemned and had to be demolished and, since a benefactor provided large quantities of glass, the architect was able to incorporate large windows in the new building, leaving the Memorial stilI visible from the High Street.
community has no resident minister at present but is fortunate in having
capable lay readers, who officiate at services, together with occasional visits
from the Minister for SmaII Communities, the Rev.
Malcolm Weisman, O.B.E. Since the former Orthodox communities of
During the 1939/45 war years and later, during the time of National Service, hospitality was extended to the many Jewish forces personnel passing through the Medway Towns. In our own day, the ladies designed the Centenary Hall kitchen, to meet the criteria of the Beth Din and they ensure that the rules of Kashrut are strictly adhered to, in its use.
Members of this independent, Orthodox Jewish community continue to play an active part in local life, being District Judges, J.P's, school governors,
Local councillors, chairing the local Racial
Equality Council and Advisory Councils for Religious Education, amongst other
The writer and others, address local schools and
accept many school groups at the Synagogue, covering the whole county,
including the outskirts of
And has been reported many times in many forms the cemetery in Hope Street is the last visible , but yet hidden sign of the once large Jewish population of Sheppey and it was in use until 1855 but from 1859 onwards the dead were buried in the Jewish plot at Halfway Cemetery.
Jewish Chronicle reports that the Sheerness congregation was established about
the year 1790 Isaac
and Samuel Abrahams being the principal founders . And a new
synagogue was built in 1811 and in Bluetown between
The Sheerness community began to decline with the Napoleonic Wars and it was noted that 10 out of the 47 Jews residing in Glascow in 1831 were natives of Sheerness and when the synagogue was restored in 1841 only 5 Jewish families were left they included pawnbrokers watchmakers silversmiths and those who sold clothing and equipment to sailors. And in 1853 there were only 15 seat holders. In 1887 the synagogue was in such a bad state the Chief Rabbi ordered it to be dismantled but it remained a skeleton of a building for years and was finally pulled down in 1935 .
interesting to note that
Solomon Moses -another “
Son of Sheppey “!!
the founder of the Jewish community in Goulburn in
A tale was told to me as follows ;- You may know that the Jews of York were expelled and massacred in the 12th Century Apparently at this time a ship was bound from York to Europe full of Jewish people and had moored off Queenborough .The Captain ,presumably to avoid what he may have considered to be a wasteful journey put the folk off the ship at low tide on the mud from Deadmans Island .As the sea rose he refused them back aboard and they all drowned .
Solomon left 10 children and a pregnant wife in
The bothers prospered Judah built himself a large mansion ,found a mistress and fathered a child but then his wife arrived from Sheerness with several of his children and took very unkindly to here husbands unfaithfulness and after failing to live under one roof – kicked him out.
See www.chathamshul.fsnet.co.uk for more data and a complete history.