Prince of Wales says sorry to Belfast Jews for 150-year wait for royal visit

Prince meets community members at installation ceremony for synagogue stained-glass windows


The Prince of Wales met a Kindertransport refugee and leaders of the small Belfast community at the city’s synagogue on Wednesday.

His visit was for the installation of stained-glass windows commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. They were created and designed through the Torn From Home project, involving local faith communities and promoting peace and reconciliation.

The prince unveiled a plaque before talking to Ruth Kohner, 82, about how she fled the Nazis and started a new life, growing up on a farm near Belfast. She went on to run a family clothing business.

Also in attendance were around half the Jewish community’s 70 members and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who spoke about the need to celebrate diversity at a time when religious communities around the world have been the target of terror attacks.

“We are proud of the Belfast Jewish community, who throughout the troubles in the city reached out to promote understanding and harmony. We are proud of all those associated with the installation and creation of the meaningful windows in this synagogue.”

Rabbi Mirvis also praised the prince for his commitment to projects supporting peace and reconciliation, applauding his “compassion and tolerance”.

Jewish community deputy chair Gerald Steinberg told the JC afterwards: “It was a most special day.”

He had asked the prince why it had taken more than 150 years for the first royal visit to the shul. “He replied: ‘I am really sorry we have kept you waiting so long.’ He was charming.”

Mr Steinberg said that in its heyday, the Belfast Jewish community numbered 1,500.

Despite its diminished size, it maintained weekly Thursday and Shabbat services conducted by Rev David Kale and members played a prominent part in Belfast’s interfaith, educational and commercial life. Mr Steinberg had not given up on the prospect of young families being attracted to the city through job opportunities. “Belfast is enjoying a renaissance,” he pointed out. “It has become quite a vibrant city.”

Another community member who met the royal guest was Steven Jaffe, co-chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel. He felt the prince’s visit to the synagogue “indicates the important role of small regional communities in the UK because of their tremendous civic engagement and outreach to the wider community”.

David Esler, the stained-glass window designer who made the windows in consultation with the local communities, said: “It is a wonderful opportunity to listen to others, to step outside your comfort zone. Someone said you are enriched rather than diminished by cultural identity and I think that is exactly what the windows are trying to do.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive