Merseyside Jewish Community archives

Liverpool Record Office holds the archives of the Merseyside Jewish Community from the 18th century to the present day. The records are of tremendous significance as the Liverpool community was the first organised Jewish community in the north of England, and until the mid-19th century it was the largest provincial Jewish community. The archive holdings reflect the vibrancy and activity of the community which has contributed to Merseyside life and national life with national and international organisations.

Jewish wedding

This extensive collection was made accessible by a year long project generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the J. P. Jacobs Charitable Trust, Liverpool Libraries and Information Service and the Jewish Historical Society of England Liverpool Branch.  The project was strongly supported by the local Jewish community.

Catalogues are currently available electronically at Liverpool Record Office and all Liverpool libraries.  Paper catalogues are also held at Liverpool Record Office. 

Owing to the sensitive nature of some of the records, periods of closure have been applied in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 and at the request of the depositor.  These restrictions are noted in the catalogues.

To view the archives you'll need to book an appointment in the Search Room

References include: 296 HES, 296 BOG, 296 OHC, 296 ZCC, 296 NHC, 296 BEN, 296 MRC and many more.

Research potential

Jewish souvenir brochure 1951

The variety and wealth of material in the archive collection ensures that there is an abundance of potential research topics.  There are five main themes dominating the collection: welfare, Zionism, education, synagogues and personal papers.  The archive shows the Jewish population becoming part of the wider Merseyside community and their contributions to the city. 

Liverpool Record Office currently holds over 250 collections relating to the Jewish community.  This leaflet is designed to highlight some of the collections and areas of interest. 

Synagogues

One of the most extensive collections in the Merseyside Jewish Community Archives is the records of the Old Hebrew Congregation (296 OHC).  The earliest archive of a Jewish organisation in Liverpool is found in this collection, namely the ‘Register Book of the Jews in  Liverpool’ which records births, deaths and marriages from 1804 to 1816 (296 OHC/29/1).  The register also includes retrospective information on members of the community from as early as 1722.  The records of the Old Hebrew Congregation capture the development of the community from the 18th century and give an insight into the life of many of the early members of the Liverpool Jewish Community.

With an expanding population there was inevitably diversification and dispute, which in turn led to the establishment of the New Hebrew Congregation (296 NHC) in the mid-19th century.  The history of the New Hebrew Congregation mirrors changes in the Liverpool community, as the population gradually moved away from the city centre.  Greenbank Drive Synagogue, in the south of the city, was consecrated in 1937 to house the Congregation.  Fountains Road Synagogue (296 FOU) which was established in 1888 in the north of the city was responding to the growing influx of people outside the city centre, and was the third major place of worship acquired by the Jews of Liverpool. 

As well as the Old and New Hebrew Congregations the archive also hold records of other Synagogues in the city, including the Progressive Synagogue (296 PRO) at Church Road North, Wavertree.  The Progressive Synagogue was formed in 1928 and was the first Liberal Synagogue in any provincial city.

Other Synagogue records in the Jewish Archive Collection are:

  • Allerton Synagogue: 296 ALL
  • Central Synagogue, Islington: 296 CEN
  • Childwall Synagogue: 296 CHI
  • Crosby and Waterloo Hebrew Congregation: 296 CRO
  • Fairfield Synagogue: 296 FAI
  • Great Synagogue, Grove Street: 296 GRE
  • Nusach Ari Synagogue: 296 NUS
  • Pride of Israel Congregation-Ullet Road Synagogue: 296 PRI
  • Wallasey Synagogue: 296 WAL

Education

The King David Primary School (296 KDP) had its origins in 1841 when the Liverpool Hebrews’ Educational Institution and Endowed Schools was established. The primary objective of the School committee was to ‘afford a good plain English education as well as Hebrew and religious instruction’ to its pupils.  The School opened to pupils on 21 June 1841.  In February 1844 a Girls’ Department was established and in 1857 an Infants’ Department was founded.  A lack of space at the original home of the School, Hope Place, and the movement of the Community out of the city centre led to the establishment of the King David High School (296 KDH) in Childwall in 1957.  In 1964 the Primary School moved to the Childwall site.  The admission and discharge registers of the School are of particular interest (1866-1960) for genealogical research. 

Many organisations were established in associated with the Schools.  In November 1854 permission was granted to the Ladies Soup Committee to provide food to the poorer children of the Schools in the winter months and from this the Liverpool Hebrew Schools Children’s Soup Fund (296 CSF) was founded.  July 1867 saw the establishment of the Jewish Boys Clothing Society (296 BCS) for clothing poor boys of the Schools.  In 1903 the Association of Old Boys (296 AOB) was founded as an alma mater society.  The Association of Old Girls (296 AOG) and the Junior Association of Old Boys (296 JAO) followed.

Liverpool Talmudical College (Yeshiva Torat Chaim) ( 296 LTC) was established in 1910 to provide advanced Jewish learning, mainly study of the Talmud, for male students.  In 1938 it accepted refugees from Nazi Germany and residential accommodation for the refugees was organised. As Liverpool was a restricted area excluding 'enemy aliens', the College temporarily moved to St Asaph in North Wales.  The minutes in the collection cover this period, 1935-1964. With the decline of the Jewish community in Liverpool fewer children enrolled and in the early 1990s the classes moved to Childwall Synagogue.

A selection of records of some other educational institutes or associated organisations:

  • Conference on Hebrew and Religious Education: 296 HRE
  • King David Foundation: 296 KDF
  • Liverpool Hebrew Higher Grade School: 296 HGS
  • Liverpool Hebrew Schools Jewish History Circle:  296 JHC
  • Merseyside Amalgamated Talmud Torah:  296 ATT
  • Provisional Committee for Hebrew Education in Liverpool: 296 PCE

Welfare

The relief of the Jewish poor was originally carried out by the principal synagogues, the Old and New Hebrew Congregations.  Charitable organisation outside of the synagogues began with the Liverpool Hebrew Philanthropic Society (296 PHI) which was established in 1811.  The Society aimed to ‘afford relief to poor inhabitants … of the Jewish persuasion during the inclement season of weather’.  After this time the role of the synagogues as distributors of charity declined; however, they continued to collect money at special services. In place of this decline in synagogal aid independent Jewish charities developed.  One of these was the Jewish Ladies Benevolent Fund, founded in 1849, ‘for the relief of poor married women during sickness and confinement’.  After amalgamation with the Ladies Bikur Cholim Society it changed its name to the Merseyside Jewish Women’s Aid Society (296 MJW).

In 1875 the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor (296 BOG) was founded.  The role of the Board was to co-ordinate the charitable activities of individual members of the community especially when these fell outside the scope of the existing organisations.  The Board had many roles in the community beyond the granting of relief, including the apprenticeship of boys to suitable trades.  The Board also set up the Visitation Committee and the Passover Relief Sub-Committee.  Increasing attention was also given to the granting of loans in conjunction with the Jewish Loan Society and to providing pensions.  The Board also visited hospitals and lunatic asylums and kosher food was supplied to Jewish inmates.  The Board’s work became especially difficult when immigrants, seeking refuge from the Russian pogroms, flooded into Liverpool.  A Liverpool branch of the Mansion House Fund was established to provide care for the immigrants and aid their emigration and resettlement.   

A selection of records of other welfare organisations:

  • Jewish Children’s Holiday Fund: 296 CHF
  • Liverpool Hebrew Bread and Flour Distributing Society: 296 BFS
  • Liverpool Hebrew Aid Society (Gemilut Chasodim): 296 HAS
  • Liverpool Hebrew Provident Society: 296 HPS
  • Society for Temporarily Sheltering and Assisting Poor Strangers of the Jewish Faith: 296 APS
  • The Liverpool and District Rabbi Sustentation Fund: 296 RSF

Personal papers

The personal papers in the Merseyside Jewish Community Archives provide insight into the process of emigration, as well as individuals’ relationships with the wider community.

The largest collection of personal papers is the papers of Bertram B. B. Benas (296 BEN) who was one of the most highly esteemed members of the Liverpool Jewish Community, rendering outstanding and continued service for over seventy years. 

The Benas Collection is a most valuable research tool into his life and because of the number of roles he played in the Jewish and wider community the collection also documents Jewish life in Liverpool in the 20th century. The organisations which are recorded in this collection include the Literary and Philosophical Society, the Athenaeum and the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire.  Mr Benas was also involved in musical societies in Merseyside and devised a composition of ‘Hatikvah’ (A Song of Hope) which was performed at St. George’s Hall in 1919.  As well as his own personal interests in literature and music, Benas was involved in the integration of Jews in Britain and in The Board of Deputies of British Jews and organisations dealing with German Jewry.

Mr Benas was also a pioneer Zionist, and therefore the collection provides a useful insight into Zionist organisations and the development of Zionism.  In particular, the collection contains a number of articles by Mr Benas and others on the Zionist cause.

The collection of Benas papers is incomplete. The records held at Liverpool Record Office were salvaged from destruction and mainly relate to two time periods, the 1930s and the 1960s with major gaps pre-1930 and 1940-1960.

Other papers in the archives document the life stories of individuals fleeing Nazi persecution as well as the life of emigrants and travellers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Letters of Hugo and Gretel Klein (296 KLE) were written from Bad Neustadt, Germany, between March and July 1942.  They are a moving example of the separation of parents’ from their children during the Nazi persecution.  They detail the parents experience in Germany, and also the hopes they have for their children whom they had sent to Britain and America.

Papers relating to George Behrend (296 BEH). Behrend was born in 1826 and was a Liverpool merchant and ship owner.  The collection contains photocopied letters from the mid 1850s of Behrend’s voyage to New York and the Deep South and how these places appeared to an English traveller’s eyes. 

Zionism

One of the earliest Zionist societies in Liverpool was the provincial ‘tent’ (branch) of Chovevi Zion (Lovers of Zion) established in July 1891.  The Liverpool Chovevi Zion (296 CHO) received the support of prominent members of the community including Samuel Friedberg (later Frampton), minister 1891-1932 of the Old Hebrew Congregation. It was essentially a philanthropic organisation whose aim was to support financially Eastern European pioneers who settled in Palestine.  Liverpool Record Office holds the first minute book of the Society covering 1891-1898.

The aims of the Zionist movement changed as support for gradual colonisation was replaced with the commitment to the idea of a Jewish State.  Following the first Zionist Congress in 1897 there was intense Zionist activity in Liverpool. The younger generation formed the Liverpool Young Men's Zionist Association in 1898, better known as Shivat Zion with members calling themselves 'Shivvies'. Shivat Zion amalgamated with the Agudat Zion to form the Liverpool Zionist Society (296 LZS) in 1935.  In 1900 the Liverpool Ladies Zionist & Welfare Association (296 LZA), originally the Ladies Zionist Association, was formed.  The initial aim of the society was to support and uphold the views of the Vienna Central Action Committee by forming a library of Jewish literature and assisting with its finances. 

Following the first Zionist Congress in 1897 a meeting of Liverpool Zionists agreed to form an association where representatives of different Zionist organisations could meet. This was called the Liverpool Zionist Association which, within a few years of its formation, changed its name to the Liverpool Zionist Central Council (296 ZCC).

Selection of other Zionist records held:

  • Jewish National Fund: 296 JNF
  • Liverpool Daughters of Zion: 296 DOZ
  • Liverpool Habonim Youth Movement: 296 HYM
  • Poale Zion – Jewish Labour Party: 296 JLP
  • United Jewish Israel Appeal: 296 UJI
  • Young Israel Society: 296 YIS

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