Murray Freedman


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Although there are records of individual Jews and Jewish families from mid 1700's onwards, a community as such in Leeds can only be dated to the 1830's. It was in 1840 that a Jewish cemetery was opened (which is still in use), and it is known that about that time religious services were being held in a small loft in a house in Bridge Street. It was a very tiny community however, and the 1841 census reveals that it comprised only nine identifiably Jewish families together with a number of single male lodgers - a total of 56 persons.

Numbers increased only very slowly so that even twenty years later, in 1861, there were still only 200 Jews present in the town. Most of this early community was made up of German born immigrants, mostly woollen merchants, as in nearby Bradford. However, as the latter city gradually overtook Leeds in importance in the industry, many of them subsequently moved there to be closer to the woollen mills.

One of the notable landmarks of the early years of the Leeds Jewish community was the very first Jewish marriage in 1842, between James Cohen Pirani and Abigail Davis, daughter of Gabriel Davis, optician and optical instrument maker of Boar Lane, and 'father' of the Leeds Jewish community. We know quite a lot about this marriage, and the bridegroom worked as manager of the Leeds branch of a Jewish owned chain of tailors and outfitters, Samuel Hyam & Co., a Jewish firm that incidentally anticipated much of Marks and Spencer's sales practice in that it regularly advertised its policy of exchanging unsatisfactory goods.

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