There was a Jewish community in mediaeval Canterbury, and again in the first half of the XIX Century. Their Synagogue was purchased and demolished in 1846 to give the South Eastern Railway access across St Dunstan’s Street to the West Station and a junction with the older Canterbury and Whitstable line. The congregation, with help from other synagogues in London, and from local business people, built a new meeting place in King Street within the city walls.
This building served as a place of worship for only 50 years, for as Jewish families left the city for life in London or other big cities, there were not enough families for a recognised congregation. Before that, however, the Jewish community made significant contributions to city life.
Henry Hart in particular served on the city council being chosen three times as Mayor of Canterbury; he was also a member of the School Board that channelled government grants to elementary schools, including Saint Thomas’s Catholic School. His support extended to providing cloth and thread for the schoolgirls to make themselves cloaks for the winter.
Also on the Board were representatives of the Anglican and Methodist churches, which had their own schools. In Canterbury at least they seem to have supported each other through the grant making process. There were times when St Thomas’s needed all the help it could get. Let us celebrate our predecessors who co-operated for the good of the children and gave generously for them.
The Old Synagogue was bought by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral and now serves as a music room for the King’s School. It was designed in Egyptian style, remembering, perhaps, the captivity of God’s people in Egypt. Let us pray for peace and co-operation in the Middle East.