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Massive turnout for Merthyr Synagogue Open Day

Around 500 people attended a special Open Day in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, 18 February, to engage people from Merthyr and beyond in the planned Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre being developed at the former Merthyr synagogue with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund Wales, the Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Visitors flocked in from across Wales and beyond throughout the day to see inside the synagogue for the first time since the building was closed in 2006. They were also able to visit the nearby Soar community centre where they could meet the professional team driving the synagogue project, view the architect’s plans, and examine artefacts associated with the former Jewish community.

Many of those who attended brought their own memories and memorabilia associated with Jewish life in Wales, and these were recorded by members of the team, as were general comments and feedback on the project itself.

Local historian Chris Clifford gave two talks on the history of the synagogue. Welsh klezmer band the Klezmanouts brought a lively, fun tone to the day, and their closing performance during the end-of-event reception led to dancing!

London-based Cantor Yudi Cohen, whose grandfather had been a Cantor in the Merthyr synagogue in the 1950s, gave an impromptu, moving rendition of ‘Hashivenu’ in the synagogue.

Special visitors included local MP Gerald Jones, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Leader Geraint Thomas, National Lottery Heritage Fund Wales Director Andrew White, Rabbi Rose from the Cardiff Orthodox community, and various representatives of local Merthyr organisations. A number of guests represented families who had once been members of Merthyr synagogue, others had various associations with the site including the gentleman who had owned the gym that was the building’s final use before it closed.

What was most notable in the hubbub of the day was the huge level of interest and support for the initiative. The project now has many more contacts, many more friends, and many more offers of help.

Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue was built in the 1870s and is the oldest purpose-built synagogue surviving in Wales. The community came to an end in 1983. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage purchased the building in 2019 with the vision to turn the site into a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre. In 2022, the Foundation secured funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council to develop the plans.

Dame Helen Hyde DBE, Chair of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, commented, ‘It was a very special occasion that demonstrated the huge level of interest in the project. We received lots of good information and feedback that will help to shape the future of the project. The excitement in the room was palpable!’

Michael Mail, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, added, ‘The numbers coming through the door surprised us all. And the stories that people brought with them of being Jewish in Wales, or their experience of the Jewish community, were fascinating and moving. We felt very encouraged that the project was truly widely welcomed and would be widely supported.’


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