In 1916 Rabbi Isaac Herzog was appointed spiritual leader of the Belfast Jewish community. Born in Lomza, Poland, he came from a distinguished family of rabbis and scholars. Belfast was Isaac’s first appointment as a rabbi.
Rabbi Herzog came to Belfast as a bachelor. The Belfast Jewish community soon got to work and found him a wife! In 1917, Sarah Hillman arrived in Belfast and proved to be a strong personality in her own right. You can learn about Sarah’s time in Belfast as a young Jewish woman by clicking here:
Sarah Herzog – a Jewish woman in North Belfast
In September 1918 the Herzog’s first child was born – Chaim, which means Life in Hebrew. The Herzog family lived on Cliftonpark Avenue in North Belfast. Just a short walk to the synagogue in Annesley Street, off Carlisle Circus. Our photo shows the family home.
The Belfast Jewish community at the time numbered about 800 people. Most were refugees from poverty and persecution in Czarist Russia. They settled in the north of the city and many of them were tailors, glaziers and cabinet makers. Cliftonpark Avenue – where the Herzogs lived – became the hub of the community. For a short history of the Belfast Jewish community click here: Belfast Jewish Community
At the time of Chaim Herzog’s birth in Belfast there was another young child living in the city. His name was Aubrey Solomon. He became more famous as Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister. Aubrey was brought to Belfast as a toddler during the First World War and lived at Kinnaird street off the Antrim Road. You can read more about Abba Eban and his remarkable connection to Chaim Herzog by reading this Belfast Telegraph article:http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/…/belfasts-legacy-to-the-…
In 1919 the Herzog family left Belfast when Isaac Herzog was appointed rabbi of the Dublin Jewish community. Isaac became chief rabbi of the Irish Free State, a fluent Irish speaker and a friend of Eamon De Valera. Meanwhile Chaim became an intelligence officer in the British Army during the Second World War and served in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, before taking part in the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
Our photo shows Rabbi Isaac Herzog (centre) arriving in Belfast shortly after his appointment as Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel (in 1936). This was perhaps the senior-most religious position in the Jewish world. The Belfast community was incredibly proud that its former rabbi had achieved such a high rank (photo from Belfast Telegraph). You can read this tribute to Chief Rabbi Herzog published shortly after his death: http://www.jta.org/…/all-israel-mourns-death-of-chief-rabbi…
The former neighbours in Belfast, Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog, went on to become senior Israeli diplomats, journalists and politicians. Both served the state of Israel as ambassadors to the United Nations. Here you can watch a video of an impassioned Chaim Herzog addressing the UN in 1975:
Here is a famous quote from Abba Eban – the boy from Kinnaird Street – during his term as ambassador of Israel at the United Nations.
In 1983 Chaim Herzog was elected Israel’s sixth president. He is one of two Belfast citizens to be elected head of state (the other being Mary McAleese, president of the Irish Republic). Chaim never forgot his birth place – here you can watch president Herzog being interviewed by Northern Ireland actor, Harry Towb, on his memories of growing up in Ireland.
Chaim’s son Isaac (named after his grandfather, the rabbi) is a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and the leader of Israel’s opposition. Our photograph shows Isaac receiving a Belfast coat of arms from Terry McCorran, then co chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.
Despite the remarkable career of Chaim Herzog, rising to be head of state, a distinguished orator, broadcaster, writer, and a successful lawyer, there is sadly no public commemoration to him – or to his remarkable family – in his native city. In 2014, the plaque marking his birthplace on Cliftonpark Avenue was taken down following attacks on the building, which both the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland deplored as a hate crime. However, attempts by the Belfast Jewish community to restore the plaque or have a memorial displayed publicly elsewhere have so far proven unsuccessful. You can see a TV report about this here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-29151334
We are determined that the unique history of the Jewish community in Belfast should be cherished and properly commemorated in the city – including the story of the community’s pre-eminent family, the Herzogs. Please like our Facebook page and invite your friends to visit this online exhibition! Look out for our educational programmes, lectures and events to highlight the Herzog centenary! Thank you for taking a look at our exhibition.
Chaim Herzog in Belfast © 2016. All rights reserved.