Murray Freedman


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The first proper synagogue in Leeds was a converted house in Back Rockingham Street. Opened in 1846, we know from a religious census taken in 1851 that it had 70 seats and that its average Sabbath morning attendance was 35. The first purpose-built synagogue was erected in 1860 in Belgrave Street on a site which was to serve the community's religious and welfare needs for the next 123 years. All these locations are in what is now the centre of the city, where few if any Jews currently reside.

As time went on the flow of immigrants increased, but more and more of them were coming from Russian controlled territories, and, in particular, from the area that is now Lithuania and north east Poland. They were fleeing from poverty and persecution, and for the vast majority of them the destination was America. However, the route to the New World for most of them lay through England, passing from Hull or Grimsby, where they would land from Hamburg and the Baltic ports, to Liverpool, there to embark on ship to New York. Leeds was on this route from Hull to Liverpool, and many of these U.S.A. - bound Jews would stop there temporarily - often because they had run out of money to continue their journey. But Leeds also specifically attracted Jews because of its growing clothing industry. This was started in 1856 by John Barran, a non-Jew, and he was assisted by an immigrant Jew named Herman Friend. Friend started as an outworker for Barran, developing the divisional system of working in tailoring which allowed unskilled people to learn quickly just one aspect of making a garment - like pressing, buttonhole sewing or machining - which greatly speeded up production. He encouraged his fellow Jews in Russia to come to Leeds where there was plenty of work.

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