The Somerton Road orthodox synagogue is an architectural vision. Unusually it is circular, not rectangular. Unusually there isn’t a balcony for women, but a raised platform on either side, only three steps up. The roof is held up by concrete-covered beams, apparently coincidentally in the shape of the Star of David. The shape is visible from above (thanks to Google Maps).
- The inscriptions to the left says “Know before whom you stand” in Hebrew.
- The middle inscription points to the 10 Commandments (given to Moses on two tablets).
- The blue lamp reminds the congregation of the eternity of God (until they have to replace the bulb).
- The gates slide back to reveal the Holy Arc, holding the Torah scrolls.
As well as being the oldest minority faith in NI, Judaism is now probably the smallest minority faith too. Having peaked at around 1600, numbers have now fallen to around 150, mainly due to the brain drain as young people go to university in England and don’t return.
The original Jewish community was involved in local business. A number of Belfast Lord Mayors worshipped at the Belfast synagogue. And Chaim Hertzog, son of a former Belfast Rabbi, became President of Israel. Not bad for a Belfast boy! (His father had moved from NI to become the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.)
Somerton Road isn’t the original Belfast synagogue site. 1870 saw the first NI synagogue on Great Victoria Street. As the incoming refugee population settled around Carlisle Circus and New Lodge. The next synagogue was based nearby in Annesley Street and opened in 1904. This building was taken over by the Mater Hospital who only recently moved out.
A big thank you to Mr Rosenberg for hosting our group ... and for his insight into his faith's heritage and workings.