This month “From the Bimah” recalls the recent visit of a large number of Chassidic Jews to Norwich.
A Most Unusual Visit – Clive Roffe
On Wednesday 21st February 2018 Norwich received a visit, at very short notice, from a large group of Chassids from Stamford Hill. They had been studying the history of the Medieval Jews in Norwich and wanted to celebrate the long historic links of Judaism in Norwich. This went back to the historic poems by Meir of Norwich written in the 11th or 12th century as well as mention of Norwich Rabbis in the Talmud. Two coachloads, about 90 men in their traditional dress led by Rabbi Amer Marmorstein, descended on Norwich on a particularly wet afternoon.
This day was chosen as it was close to Rosh Chodesh Adar, a new moon of particular importance. They really were discovering to their surprise, and amazement to me, the Jewish involvement that the Jews had all those ancient years ago. They had organised their visit so that they could visit our Jewish cemetery; the site of the Medieval Synagogue behind the present day Lamb Inn and Jurnet’s House, the present day Wensum Lodge. Our minister Daniel, Israeli student Jonathan Magen and myself were able to meet them. They first visited the cemetery where they said the memorial prayer for the 17 souls found in the medieval well who were buried in our cemetery, they also visited the grave of Rabbi Caro a former Rabbi in 1840 as well as the grave of Jack Halpert, a member of Norwich community who had died at the age of 53 in 2009. One of the group had known of him when Jack was a member of a Chassid sect in Manchester before coming to Norwich. The Chassids all gathered together to pray for his soul and Daniel recited the Memorial Prayer, and I said Kaddish as a personal friend of Jack. They visited the Lamb Inn and were made welcome by the staff. They, of course, had never seen a sight like it in Norwich. Neither had I!
In the 11th century the first Synagogue was on a site in Dove Street and then a much grander one was built on the site of the Lamb Inn and the adjacent Primark shop. They also visited Chapelfield shopping centre where our community had erected a plaque in memory of the 17 who met brutal deaths together 850 years ago. Daniel, Israeli Jonathan and I met up at Jurnet’s Bar in Wensum Lodge. Jurnet was a rich medieval money lender and banker who lent money towards the building of Norwich Cathedral. This was his house and it was an amazing sight as they had been given access to a large part of this huge premises.
They had brought enough food to feed an army as well as their own throw away table clothes, plates, cutlery and serviettes. To add to all of the above they had amongst their number a Klezmer band. Before that they davened zemirot prayers celebrating after eating. The dancing then commenced and I found myself being forced to participate which is something I shall not forget. All in all this visit was of great importance to them and I found being part of the day for me to be one of amazement.