Lahav Jewish Heritage Project

A new project set up to collect, preserve and celebrate the rich history of the Jewish community in north east England

Lahav Jewish Heritage Project

The Lahav Jewish Heritage Project is a new project set up to collect, preserve and celebrate the rich history of the Jewish community in North East England and in Tyne & Wear in particular, from the 1700s to the present day.

The project is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Newcastle Libraries in partnership with members of the Jewish community.

It was made possible by a generous bequest from the Ron Lahav Marital Trust (from which the project takes its name) to Newcastle City Council in 2017.

How can you help?

[Photograph of the south elevation of the United Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, showing the main entrance, on Graham Park Road in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. Designed by Leonard Netts, the synagogue was in use from 1986 until 2019.]

The Jewish community in the region has never been large compared with those, for example, of Manchester or London, but the impact it has made and the legacy it leaves is enormous.

With your help we can piece together that story which as yet remains untold.

If you are Jewish or have a Jewish heritage, live in or come from North East England, then we would like to hear from you.

You may like to tell us your story and / or have items that you would like to donate to the collection which reflect an aspect of your life, your family story or provide an insight into your faith, customs and traditions. Even if you no longer practise your faith, you are still very much part of the story of the Jewish heritage in the region.

Alternatively, you might have more general information about the Jewish community in the region and know of specific individuals who have contributed to its development and history in other ways such as academic, scientific, artistic, in business, sport or in public service.

If you do, we would like to hear from you.

Please contact Alisdair Wilson at lahav@twmuseums.org.uk

A very brief history of the Jewish community in North East England

The origins of the Jewish community in the North East can be traced back to the 1780s when Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Poland first settled in the port towns of Sunderland and North Shields. Apart from in Newcastle in 1830, it was not until after the 1850s that other communities became established further inland.  

During the Depression years of the 1930s, Jews escaping the tyranny of Hitler’s Nazi regime came to live in Gateshead. The Council was actively encouraging people with specialist industrial and technical skills to set up new businesses on the Team Valley Trading Estate and create new jobs for local people.

However, the origins of the Gateshead community, perhaps the most visible community in the region today, goes back to the time when Zachariah Bernstone moved there from Newcastle in 1881. Bernstone, a glazier and part-time pedlar, concerned about the faltering standard of orthodoxy practiced in the Newcastle community, encouraged Jewish immigrants to live where they could practice their faith in accordance with the purest principles laid down in the Torah. To this day, Gateshead remains a centre with a world-class reputation for orthodox Jewish teaching of the highest quality.

While Jewish communities have existed in other parts of the region such as in South Shields, Whitley Bay, Bishop Auckland, Durham, Darlington, Stockton, these have now largely disappeared.

Even the once larger communities most notably in Sunderland and in Newcastle have either disappeared or have decreased significantly in size as the more recent generations, attracted by universities and increased job prospects and opportunities in other parts of the country, have moved away.

The Lahav Jewish Heritage Project so far...

  • Roadshows. To create greater general awareness of the Lahav Project within the local community two roadshow events have already been held with plans for more in the future
  • Photographs taken of the United Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Graham Park Road, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. Prior to the anticipated demolition of the UHC Synagogue for site redevelopment in 2019 / 2020, a photographic record of the synagogue was carried out on 30 October 2019 and will be available online shortly.
  • Documentary film on the rededication of a torah scroll at Newcastle Reform Synagogue in April 2019. At the event ten members of the community were invited to work with sofer Marc Michaels (Mordechai Pinchas) to watch over the restoration of the final ten letters in the scroll. The scroll itself which originally came from Pardubice in Czechoslovakia, was one of many thousands of items rescued by Prague’s Jewish community in 1942 and sent to the Jewish Museum. After the second world war, some 1800 scrolls were transferred in the first instance to a synagogue in Prague and later in 1964, to the synagogue in Westminster, now home to the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust in London. Overseen by Rabbi Sybil Sheridan, the ceremony was well attended by members of the community, representatives from other faiths and Jeffrey Ohrenstein from the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. For more info see memorialscrollstrust.org
  • Jewish headstones photographic survey. Today, there are over 2,000 Jewish headstones to be found in cemeteries across Tyne and Wear, each one of which has been photographed by Peter Gatoff. With the help of the bequest, these images are being transferred onto Flickr and can now be seen in albums at flickr.com/photos/twm_news/albums
  • Oral histories. Over 30 oral history interviews have been conducted, each with their own transcript. Over time they will become available to access in the archives.
  • ‘Jewish Life on Tyneside’: an exhibition at Newcastle City Library, December 2019 - 2020. The Jewish Life on Tyneside exhibition celebrated the history of the Jewish community in Newcastle upon Tyne, from its origins over 150 years ago and the many ways in which the community has contributed to life in the city in the ensuing years. For more info see newcastle.gov.uk/services/lahav-jewish-heritage-project