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Mass Immigration

The decades 1880-1920 were a defining period in the history of European Jewry. During these years an estimated 2 million Jews left the Russian Empire. Of these about 150,000 to 200,000 settled in the United Kingdom.

Mass Immigration
Despite the fact that Swansea was not on the main Jewish migration routes which ran from the east coast ports of Grimsby, Hull and London, to Liverpool and then on to America, an increasing number of Jews began to arrive in south Wales by the mid-1880s. The pull factor that attracted Jews to Swansea was the growth of heavy industry. Rapid urbanisation and population growth created a demand for goods and services, and this was a niche in the local economy that provided opportunities for Jewish artisans and traders.

The arrival of the 'Russians' changed the complexion of Swansea Jewry. A small Jewish population numbering a few hundred rose to about one thousand in a matter of years. The newcomers were socially and culturally distinct from the established Jewish community. Many of the new arrivals resided in streets to the north of High Street station such as Prince of Wales Road and Burlais Terrace.

By contrast the older established families resided in the more salubrious parts of town such as Walter Road and Mansel Street. Middle class and acculturated, the established Jewish families referred to themselves as 'English men and women of the Hebrew persuasion'. The new comers saw themselves differently. They were steeped in the Yiddishkeit, the religious traditions and culture of the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia.

Given the contradictions between the world view of the established families and the newcomers, it was inevitable that there would be some dissention at the heart of the community. These tensions came to the surface in the 1890s when a group of immigrants, and some disaffected locals broke away from the Swansea Hebrew Congregation. In 1906 they set up their own synagogue, the Beth Hamedrash on Prince of Wales Road. It was not until after the Second World War that the rift between the two congregations was healed. The period in between witnessed a series of acrimonious squabbles over burial rights, kosher meat, religious education classes and membership fees.

Read more about Swansea's Jewish community

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