Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jennie Rosenzweig the Belfast Rabbi's daughter, the Belfast poet and the Ulster Covenant


Brookill Avenue in north Belfast is a special place. It is where the poet Louis MacNeice (1907–1963) was born, in house number 2 - the house is still there today, with an Ulster History Circle blue plaque. The MacNeices moved to Carrickfergus not long afterwards.

Just a few doors along, at number 5 Brookhill Avenue, lived the Rabbi of Belfast Synagogue, Jacob Rozenzweig, his wife Milly, and their six children. Rabbi Rosenzweig published a sermon in 1910 entitled 'The Soul and Its Destiny' which he had preached on the day of the funeral of King Edward Vii. And in 1912 his daughter Jennie Rosenzweig, aged around 16, was one of the 177 women who queued patiently to sign the Women's Declaration (the women's equivalent of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant) at Cliftonville Church Lecture Hall in Cliftonpark Avenue.

In 1948 the Belfast News Letter published the 378 page The Jewish Conception of Immortality and the Life Hereafter which included writings by Rabbi Rosenzweig apparently under the pen name J. Ross. The Ross-Rosenzweig Collection is held at Queens University, some 355 volumes of archival material.

The story of the Old Testament contains five Covenants between God and mankind (see here). How the Rabbi would have felt about his teenage daughter signing yet another one makes for interesting speculation!

My mother's family are from near Millisle where there was a refuge for Jews during and after WW2 called the Refugee Resettlement Farm (more information here and in this Belfast Telegrapharticle here). Donald Harman Akenson has written about the links between Jews and Ulster-Scots before - but I wonder if anyone out there can tell me more about Jennie Rosensweig and the Ulster Covenant?

In a final twist, Louis MacNeice's first wife was Jewish. He died in 1963 and was buried beside his mother at Christ Church in the countryside between Carrowdore and Millisle, literally a few fields from the Resettlement Farm, and close to the graves of many of my Wilson ancestors.

• Researching Jewish Families in Belfast




PS - Today saw the removal of an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque in Belfast on the birthplace of Chaim Herzog, the 6th President of Israel who was born on Cliftonpark Avenue - just a few minutes' walk from Brookhill Avenue mentioned above. This was done because of anti-Semitic attacks - presumably by those with Irish Nationalist inclination in symbolic support for the people of Gaza - but had they consulted the oracle that is Wikipedia they would have found that Herzog's father was apparently a fluent Irish speaker and a supporter of Irish Republicanism. The series of videos above might be an eye-opener, with Herzog's Belfast accent coming through. The world is not simple.