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Blue Plaque For Synagogue

A Blue Plaque has been unveiled in Aberdare by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council to mark the site of the town’s Synagogue and to recognise the once-thriving Jewish community in the area. 

Cllr John Watts, Mayor of Rhondda Cynon Taf, unveiled the commemorative Blue Plaque at Aberdare Library in the same week that the country and the world marked Holocaust Memorial Day. 

The Blue Plaque will later be fitted onto the family home of Mr Ralph Jones, of Seymour Street, the site of the former Synagogue in Aberdare. 

Among the distinguished guests at the unveiling ceremony, along with the Mayor, were Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Cabinet Members, Superintendant Dorian Lloyd, of South Wales Police and Rabbi Michoel Rose, of the Cardiff United Synagogue. 

There were readings and performances during the ceremony by the South Wales Police Band, St John the Baptist Church in Wales School and Craig Y Hesg Primary School. 

Rhondda Cynon Taf Mayor, Cllr John Watts, said: “It has been a week of reflection for us all around Holocaust Memorial Day as we encourage the next generation to remember the victims and celebrate the lives of each and every individual who was persecuted. 

“The involvement of students from Craig Yr Hesg Primary School and St John Baptist Church in Wales School is a great example of how the next generation are keeping their memories alive. 

“This Blue Plaque, marking the site of the Synagogue in Aberdare, is a wonderful initiative which highlights what the public think is important about their past.” 

Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Equalities, said: “It is vital that we use this day to show our recognition of the valuable contribution that the Jewish community has made, and is continuing to make, to our society. 

“It has also been a time for reflection of the darkest period in world history as the nation, indeed the globe, stands together, shoulder to shoulder, in unity.” 

Historically, Jews came to the South Wales Valleys in large numbers between the 1880s and 1914. But the first registered Jewish person to live in Wales was David Michael, who moved to Haverfordwest in 1749. 

With the increasing number of Jews moving to the area over the years, Synagogues opened up across Wales, the three largest in the valley towns being at Tredegar, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. 

There were also Synagogues at Aberavon, Abertillery, Bridgend, Ebbw Vale, Brynmawr and Pontypridd. 

On October 11, 1889, specialist publication The Jewish Chronicle reported that David Hart, of Seymour Street, had kindly loaned his home to be “fitted for the purpose of a Synagogue in Aberdare.” 

The terraced property went on to be used at a Synagogue for many decades, attracting large congregations at every meeting and service. 

In 1892, Lewis Lazarus was the Secretary of the Aberdare Congregation, and he welcomed the Chief Rabbi to the town for a special ceremony involving hundreds of people. 

Mr Hart sadly died at his home on July 12, 1894, but his residence continued to be used as Synagogue.

A thriving community, the Aberdare and District Jewish Literary and Social Society was formed in 1910. Chairman of the group was Henry Cohen, with Rose Hann as Vice-Chair and Maurice Levett as Treasurer. 

At its peak, there were up to 100 Jewish families living in and around the Aberdare area. 

During the Second World War, a large number of Jewish refugees and their families fled to safety in Aberdare and became staunch supporters and loyal members of the Aberdare Synagogue. 

But following two World Wars and the nationalisation of the coal industry, many of these people moved to Cardiff and its surrounding suburbs in later years. 

For many years the premises was run by well-known Aberdare businessman Victor Freed, who had a large retail store in the town centre and was also Chairman of Aberdare Rotary Club. 

His son Aubrey Freed became the last-ever Secretary of the Aberdare Synagogue, while his other son Reginald was the last Aberdare representative at the Board of Deputies. 

The last service took place at the Aberdare Synagogue in 1957, conducted by the Reverend S Schlachter. Following this historic service, the Scrolls of the Law, which were housed in the Synagogue, were returned to Israel. 

In 1959, The Jewish Chronicle reported that “the Jewish community of Aberdare, which has survived 100 years, was now drawing to a quiet and reverent close as there are now but a handful of Jewish people left in the Aberdare Valley.” 

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council is marking the importance of their place in history by unveiling a Blue Plaque in Aberdare. A Yahrzeit candle (Jewish memorial candle) was also lit during the ceremony, and will continue to burn for seven days, in memory of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. 

‘Remembering The Past, Honouring The Memory, Shaping The Future’