Small is beautiful in Berks and Cornwall


Royal Jews

By Jonathan Romain
Grenfell Publishing, £15.99

The Jews of Cornwall

By Keith Pearce
Halsgrove, £29.99

Two new books on aspects of Anglo-Jewish history cover a period from pre-Norman conquest to the present day. Both make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Anglo-Jewry outside its traditional main centres of activity.

You do not need to live in a large community to lead a full Jewish life

In Royal Jews: A Thousand Years of Jewish Life in and around the Royal County of Berkshire, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain paints a fascinating, comprehensive portrait of what is an amazing contribution by a comparatively small number of people to the life of Anglo-Jewry in general.

Romain brings his well-illustrated story - with descriptions of events such as wartime evacuation of East Enders from London and characters including Nicholas Winton and Gerald Ratner - right up to date in relation to the growth of Jewish Berkshire in general. He covers both Orthodox and Progressive communities and also the now sadly defunct Carmel College.

The story of the Maidenhead community is impossible to appreciate fully without recognising the role of Rabbi Romain himself. His statistical tables recording activity in the Maidenhead synagogue are particularly interesting. This book is a valuable record and a positive contribution to current Anglo-Jewish history.

If readers are surprised that Jewish life can survive effectively away from the traditional centres of London and Manchester, they will be even more surprised that Jewish life has been recorded in what, to many Jews, is a remote part of the country, namely Cornwall.

Keith Pearce, a noted, non-Jewish historian and custodian of the Penzance Jewish cemetery - and honorary member of the current Kehillat Kernow (Cornwall) community - has compiled a highly impressive account of Cornish Jewry from pre-Norman times to 1913. This gives remarkable details of several lively communities that were fully operational in terms of Jewish activity, especially in the 19th century.

He gives revealing community records, particularly for Penzance and Falmouth, and numerous biographies of individuals within these communities, ranging from a number of rabbis to Lemon Hart, famous for his manufacture of rum. These items, together with the many illustrations of buildings and people, make this book a very important record of Jewish life showing how Judaism can flourish in remote areas.

Both of these books emphasise something not understood in many mainstream communities, particularly in London and Manchester - that you do not need to live in a large community to have a full Jewish life. The obvious success of these communities should be an inspiration to all current small congregations throughout the United Kingdom.

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