Cardiff is a Welsh seaport. In 1537, a sea captain who had contracted to convey a number of New Christians from Lisbon to London made them disembark instead in Cardiff and exacted blackmail for taking them on to Flanders. South Wales’ first Jewish community was established in Swansea in the 18th Century when land was set aside for a Jewish cemetery in 1768.
A small Jewish community was established in Cardiff in 1840 and Lord Bute presented a plot of ground for use as a cemetery the following year. The reputed founder of the community, which in 1852 had 13 members, was Mark Marks, an auctioneer, father of the painter B.S. Marks (1827–1916). After the influx of Jews from Russia at the end of the 19th century, the Jewish population rapidly increased and communities could be found in Merthyr Tydfil, Brynmawr, Aberdare and Pontypridd. There were roughly 6,000 Jews in Wales around the time of World War I.
More Jews moved to Welsh towns during World War II to aid the war effort. With its growing prosperity, Cardiff replaced Swansea as the principal Jewish center in Wales. As industry declined in the cities after the war, however, Jews began to leave, which led to the closure of schools, kosher butchers and synagogues. The Merthyr Tydfil synagogue, built in 1877, closed in 1982 and all 400 Jews were gone by 1999. Pontypridd’s synagogue, founded in1895, closed in 1978.
In 1968, there were two Orthodox synagogues, a Reform congregation and a thriving Jewish community in Cardiff. At the time the Jewish population numbered approximately 3,500. By the mid-1990s, the number had fallen to 1,200. The 2001 British census found 941 Jews by religion in Cardiff.
Today, all of Wales has only a few hundred Jews. The Jewish History Association of South Wales (JHASW) is now trying to raise money for an archive to create a record of the lives of Welsh Jews.
M. Dennis, in: Cajex, magazine of Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, Cardiff, vols. 1–5 (1950–55), subsidiary articles in later issues; P. Grunebaum-Ballin, Joseph Naci, duc de Naxos (1968), 31. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: JYB, 2004.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
Neil Prior, “Wales’ Jewish history: Call to record it before it is too late,” BBC, (July 20, 2019).