Somerset Jewish Social & Cultural Group

The Somerset Jewish Social & Cultural Group meet every six to eight weeks in and around Taunton.

Founded by Jane Warner and Leonard Daniels

More details to come…

For some historical perspective on Jews in Somerset, below is an extract from a thesis by Rabbi Bernard Susser

In the latter part of the nineteenth century professing Jews began to stand for Parliamentary constituencies in the West Country as well as in Devon and Cornwall. Frederick Goldsmid, son of Isaac Lyon Goldsmid who had long campaigned for Jewish emancipation, was elected as a Liberal MP for Honiton in 1865, served only one year before his death, and was succeeded by his son Julian who eventually became Deputy Speaker of the House. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 31.] A London Jew, Israel Abrahams, tried to gain a seat in Devizes in 1863. The Western Morning News, which adopted a consistently anti-Semitic stance, [Letter from A. Alexander to JC, 9 March 1860. Overt anti-Semitism in England never seems to have played any part in the development or decline of the Congregations of the South-West.] opposed Abrahams, primarily because he was a Jew. [JC, 20 February 1863.] Abrahams lost, though not necessarily because of his religion. When a Jew, one Myer Jacobs became Mayor of Taunton in 1877, the local vicar wrote to him suggesting that if he were not a Christian he ought to resign. [JC, 13 July 1877.] By the turn of the century, the citizens of Plymouth, however, were prepared to vote for a candidate on his own merits and for the political views he represented. The religious faith of Sir S. F. Mendl, of London, whose grain ships Nina and Rosina Mendle called regularly at Plymouth, did not prejudice his chances when he contested Plymouth in the Liberal interest unsuccessfully in 1895, won it in 1898, and lost it again in 1900. [Jewish Year Book, 1901, p. 321. His name is variously spelled as Mendel, Mendl and Mendle. He campaigned for a swimming pool in Plymouth, ‘an urgent need’. The pool was built in 1965!] When Mendl stood in 1898, Marcus Adler, Actuary of the Alliance Assurance Company and a staunch Conservative, wrote to Myer Fredman, the most prominent Jew in Plymouth, saying that he had been asked by leading members of the London community to enlist the support of Plymouth Jews for Mr Guest, the Conservative candidate. Marcus Adler’s father had been Chief Rabbi and his brother Herman was then the Chief Rabbi. So his appeal was interpreted as a ‘quasi-pastoral letter’ and caused a local sensation. Not only did it seem that the Chief Rabbi was favouring the Conservatives but it also seemed that the Adler’s preferred a Gentile to a Jew. Herman Adler wrote to the Times protesting that he had always kept aloof from party politics – which was not true – and telegraphed the Plymouth Liberals that ‘My brother wrote without my authority’. As this was a purely secular matter Marcus needed no permission. ‘In any case, Herman was exceedingly careful not to repudiate the letter, and Marcus never issued a disclaimer or a withdrawal.’ [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 43.] Sir Julias Vogel, later to be Prime Minister of New Zealand, unsuccessfully fought the seat at Penryn and Falmouth in the 1880’s, spending some £5,000 in the campaign. [L. M. Goldman, The History of the Jews in New Zealand, (Wellington, 1858), p. 176.] In the general election of 1900 some Jewish Conservative candidates were viciously abused by the local Liberal press. The Cornish Echo, for example, attacked Nathaniel L. Cohen, a candidate for Penryn and Falmouth, as ‘a stock exchange operator and a Jew’. He lost the election by twenty votes. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 69.] Arthur Strauss, the son of a Mayence Jew who had Cornish mining interests, was elected M.P. for Camborne in 1895, though he lost his seat in the general election of 1900. [Jewish Year Book, 1901.] Generally speaking, the Jews of the South-West voted for Liberal candidates and Jews stood in the Liberal cause. This was understandable as the Liberal party was seen, rightly or wrongly, as the party which supported Jewish aspirations for enfranchisement, and had sponsored the first six Jewish M.P.’s. [For a corrective of this view, see Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, pp. 16-30.] For example, Mr Morrison, Liberal M.P., in 1861 thanked the Jews of Plymouth, who, except for two, had voted for him en masse. He made the point explicitly, ‘none have worked harder than our brethren of the Jewish persuasion (loud cheers) who, with the Roman Catholics, have voted for me and have shown their appreciation of what has been done in favour of them to promote the cause of religious freedom’. [Quoted from Daily Western Mercury in JC, 15 November 1861.] There were, however, three nineteenth-century councilors in Plymouth, William Woolf, Lionel Jacobs, and Eliezer Emdon, who represented the Conservative cause.