The Jewish community has had a presence in Northern Ireland since the mid-18th Century.

At its peak, there were about 1,500 members but the population has been in sharp decline.

The last remaining Northern Ireland synagogue, in north Belfast, has seen its numbers drop to just 76 - most of whom are elderly.

Michael Walker, 16, is one of a handful of young Jewish people left in this tiny community.

"There aren't that many roughly my age - there are only about four or five of us," he said.

"We don't really see each other that often."

Michael has lived in Northern Ireland all his life and his ancestors are from Jewish communities in Great Britain.

His grandmother is originally from London and his grandfather from Glasgow.

Having had his Bar Mitzvah three years ago, he is beginning to feel the demands of early adulthood.

For Michael now counts as part of the minyan - a quorum of 10 Jewish men needed for traditional public Jewish worship.

What is Judaism?

Judaism is the religion or culture of Jewish people and the profession, practice, or doctrines of the Jewish religion.

Alongside Islam and Christianity, it is one of the three Abrahamic religions.

Judaism originated in the Middle East more than 3,500 years ago.

According to non-profit organization the Jewish Agency for Israel, as of 2018 there are 14.7m Jewish people worldwide.

The Bar Mitzvah is a coming-of-age ritual which Jewish boys go through when they reach the age of 13 (Jewish girls go through it at 12), at which point they are seen as becoming responsible for their own actions.

According to Jewish law, he or she is also now eligible to own property and to get married.

'Bit of pressure'

He is often needed to complete the minyan as the community struggles to meet the quota.

"There's a bit of pressure to kind of turn up," he said.

"It's important that we get the minyan - sometimes they only get nine and they're kind of annoyed that they're missing one person.

"When the 10th person sometimes is me, they say, 'Hey, Michael's here, we can start'."

Michael admits he does not wear a traditional skullcap most of the time, to avoid getting "funny looks" from those not accustomed to Jewish customs.

"Being in Northern Ireland, everyone thinks about the Protestants and Catholics but no-one thinks about us," he said.

"As there's not that many people left in the Jewish community in Northern Ireland, it will probably stay like that unless people are educated more about other religions."
'Jewish exodus'

Belfast-born Steven Jaffe, 54, a consultant to the Jewish Leadership Council, said youthful celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs and weddings were now rare.

In fact, he believes Michael's Bar Mitzvah may have been the last one held in Northern Ireland.

Cont'd at Column 2

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A Scot who gave her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during World War Two has been honoured in Hungary.

Jane Haining, from Dunscore, worked at the Scottish Mission school in Budapest in the 1930s and 1940s.

She refused to take advice to return to her homeland, saying the children needed her in "days of darkness", and ended up dying at Auschwitz.

Ms Haining was remembered at the March of the Living in Budapest to mark Hungary's Holocaust Memorial Day.
'Unwavering devotion'

The torchlight procession - expected to be attended by more than 10,000 people - is an annual event.

This year it commemorated the life and work of Ms Haining.

It followed the publication of a book which showed she had helped to save "many" Jews during World War Two.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell led the march and spoke at the event.

He said it was a "huge honor and a great privilege" to take on the role.

"An extraordinary, brave and selfless woman, Jane Haining sacrificed herself to protect Jewish schoolgirls in Budapest during the Second World War," he said.

"Her unwavering devotion saw her lose her life in Auschwitz 75 years ago, aged just 47.

"She is a hero of which all of Scotland, Hungary and the world can be proud."
'Service and sacrifice'

Rev Aaron Stevens, minister of St Columba's Church of Scotland in Budapest, said Ms Haining's story remained an important one to tell.

"Jane Haining's service and sacrifice shows that caring for people from different backgrounds in no way compromises our faith," he said.

"In fact, it just might be the fullest expression of it.

"Since I've had a chance to hear women share their childhood memories of the Scottish Mission, I treasure every opportunity to pass on those stories." --BBCi


Cont'd from Column 1

Mr Jaffe said he, too, was part of the Jewish exodus from Northern Ireland and chose to raise his family in London partly because of the availability of Jewish schools and kosher restaurants.

Recalling his own childhood, he said there was a sizeable young Jewish community in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I was lucky when I was growing up, as there was about 30 of us although by the time I was 18 that had fallen to around 10," he said.

"Having the absence of a cohort of Jewish friends his age must be very difficult for Michael.

"The ageing community is a result of young people graduating to the larger communities in London and Manchester, or assimilating.

"Many have drifted away from the Jewish community and some have gone to live in Israel."

Mr Jaffe said the community, distinctive because of its relative geographic isolation, had so far defied predictions that it would disappear.

"Twenty years ago, people were saying it did not have a future, yet in 2019 they have a minister, they have services every Sabbath," he added.

"It is amazing it is continuing." -BBCi


                                        Photo credit:Mark Neiman, GPO

A Scot who died at Auschwitz saved "many" Jews from certain death by helping them emigrate to Britain, according to new research.  

Jane Haining assisted Hungarian women in getting jobs as domestic servants five years before she was taken to the camp where she died in 1944.

The details of her efforts are contained in a new book about her life.

It outlines how Ms Haining, from Dunscore, helped with efforts to assist Jewish emigration.

She worked at the Scottish Mission School in Budapest during the 1930s and 1940s.

When war broke out she refused to return home saying the children needed her in the "days of darkness".

A new book, Jane Haining - A Life of Love and Courage, written by Mary Miller, from Glasgow, casts fresh light on the role she played in helping people to avoid ending up in camps like the one where she would die.

It recounts how, in early 1939, the mission where she worked stepped up its efforts to increase emigration which was seen as the "only way to save the Jews".

"Jane Haining taught domestic management and gave lectures on social life in Britain," the books states.

"George Knight (mission leader) commented that Jane Haining was an able teacher, many a housewife in Britain can testify who received into her home a refugee domestic servant from Hungary.

"The mission started a servants registry to assist with emigration."

Ms Miller said she had felt both "privileged and immediately excited" when offered the opportunity to write the biography.

"Jane was an ordinary person who became extraordinary through her love and courage and eventually laid down her life for her commitment," she said.

"She did not compromise, and in our own difficult times there is a challenge there for all ordinary people tempted to look away from evil and find reasons to say: 'There is nothing we can do.


                            10-16 Nissan, 5779                                             April 15-21, 2019 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES --  622nd Web Ed.




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