The Manchester Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews

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Our History and Heritage

In the mid-19th century Sephardi merchants were attracted to the North West by the burgeoning Manchester textile trade stimulated by the opening of rail and shipping routes between Britain and the Mediterranean, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

These were merchants from the Levant and Mediterranean: Daniel Piccioto (Aleppo), Samuel Hadida (Gibraltar); Moses Messulam (Constantinople); Isaac Pariente (Tetuan); Abraham Btesh (Killiz, Syria). Others soon followed and from the 1850s the community started to take shape and names like Besso and Levi from Corfu; the Aleppans, Sharim, Sciama, Setton, Laniado, and Dwek; Cazes, Azulay and Pariente from Morocco; Pinto from London, start to appear in the records. Manchester was such an important connection for these merchants that when a trader had a son born in Aleppo, the words “may he live in Manchester” was added to the traditional blessing for the newborn.

The Sephardi community opened its first synagogue in 1874, Sha’are Tephillah (‘the Gates of Prayer’), as the Synagogue of Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Manchester on Cheetham Hill Road under the spiritual authority of the Hakham of Bevis Marks.

The prime mover in the construction of the synagogue was David Belisha, grandfather of the Cabinet minister Leslie Hore-Belisha (of Belisha beacon fame) and the first minister was Rabbi Henry Pereira-Mendes who was later called to the pulpit of Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York, in 1877. The building was designed by the Jewish architect Edward Salomons in the ‘Saracenic’ Moorish style to harken back to the Iberian roots of the Sephardim. This was the first Sephardi synagogue in the UK built outside of London.

As the North Manchester community moved, so did the Synagogue. The Cheetham Hill building had its last wedding being held there in 1971 under the auspices of Rabbi Martin Van Der Bergh, himself a son of the venerable Amsterdam community. The building itself was preserved through the determined efforts of a local group of enthusiasts led by Welsh Catholic-born historian Bill Williams. In 1984, it reopened as the Manchester Jewish Museum.

At that time, the community moved into a converted school-house at Moor Lane, Higher Broughton. It has grown and diversified and continues to flourish there with its unique traditions and services.