The small cul-de-sac off East and West Adam Street leading to the back of St Leonard’s Nursery is all that is left of North Richmond Street. However, before the area was developed after the Second World War, this road continued southwards.
The first synagogue in Scotland was established here in 1817. The Jewish community rented a room in a tenement in Richmond Court, at the corner of 22 North Richmond Street. It consisted of about 20 Jewish families, most of whom had come to Edinburgh from Amsterdam and other European cities. It grew slowly at first but, in 1868, it moved to larger premises in Park Place, about half a mile away and near the Edinburgh Students’ Union on Teviot Place. The synagogue in Park Place was considerably larger and could accommodate 95 men and 50 women.
In 1879, another synagogue serving approximately 35 families was opened in the west of Edinburgh on Caledonian Crescent to serve Jews from Manchester who came to work in the Caledonian Rubber Works.
In 1890, a third synagogue, known as the Edinburgh New Hebrew Congregation to distinguish it from the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, was established in Richmond Court, in the building that had been vacated in 1867. The old-established, English-speaking Jews, most of whom were shopkeepers or merchants, joined the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation (the Englisher shul) which worshipped in Park Place and, from 1898 in Graham Street. The newly arrived, Yiddish-speaking immigrants from the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe, most of whom were peddlers or travelling salesmen, joined the Edinburgh New Hebrew Congregation (the Russisher or Griner shul). This division reflected a split in the small Jewish community based on class, language and education.
By 1907, a total of four synagogues existed and, during a visit from London, the Chief Rabbi called on the divided community to unite. However, this didn’t happen overnight and, in 1916 a larger synagogue for the New Hebrew Congregation, which could accommodate 800 people, opened in Roxburgh Place. The Roxburgh Place Synagogue closed in 1927 although the Richmond Street Synagogue, serving mainly Chasidic worshippers, remained open.
Under Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches, who came to Edinburgh in 1919, the different communities eventually united and a purpose-built synagogue for all the Jews in Edinburgh was opened in 1932 in Salisbury Road, near the Commonwealth Pool. You will visit it later because the walking tour ends up there. Today, there are, once again, several Jewish communities in Edinburgh: the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation in Salisbury Road is nominally ‘orthodox’, the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Congregation is what its name suggests, and there is a branch of Chabad, an outpost of the Chasidic Lubavitch Community. However, most of the 900 Jews recorded in the most recent Census are secular and unaffiliated.
For more information on the history of Jewish places of worship in Edinburgh see: https://jewishstudies.div.ed.ac.uk/exhibition/edinburgh-synagogues/
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