Oxford Synagogue

Orthodox Synagogue, before the 2004 renovation
Orthodox Synagogue, before the 2004 renovation

Posted - January 16, 2013

A dramatic renovation

The presence of a synagogue in Jericho is something of an anomaly as there has never been a Jewish community here. In the 19th century there would perhaps have been little to attract Jewish residents to the area and few opportunities for employment. The first indications of Jewish settlement in Oxford since the 1290 Expulsion of the Jews by Edward I came in 1841 when a synagogue is recorded in Paradise Square. This part of Oxford has been rebuilt and the College of Further Education stands on the site. There was also a synagogue in St.Aldates in 1847 and 1871 but it is unclear whether it was in continuous use. The first settled home for a synagogue was when it moved into Worcester Place in 1878. The final move into a disused lecture hall at the end of Richmond Road came in 1893.

Jewish immigration into the United Kingdom and Oxford increased enormously in the years up to the Second World War, many immigrants being former members of German universities. They did not settle in Jericho which was very run-down at the time. It was not until well after the war when the number of Jewish students at the University and technical colleges was growing that a new synagogue was rebuilt on the same site in 1974. This modern building was much bigger and contains a large student and social centre.

In 2004, the The Oxford Synagogue and Jewish Centre underwent a further £1.5 million redevelopment, adding a new buildingt to offer facilities for young people as well as a library and meeting room.

Oxford Synagogue is fairly distinctive in that it brings together all denominations of Judaism. Although it does serve the needs of some local people, most of the 80 to 100 people who come to services on a Saturday morning are from other parts of Oxford—the nearest alternatives are in Maidenhead and Reading.

As a result there has been little identification with the local residents although the congregation has at times contributed financially to local causes. Nor has there been any conflict with the largest immigrant communities now living in Jericho which is Muslim, consisting of Pakistanis since the 1947 Partition, Ugandan Asians evicted by Idi Amin and Lebanese refugees. The Lebanese restaurant at the junction of Walton Crescent and Richmond Road is also the Lebanese social centre.

Information and image from the Jericho Sketchbook

Did you know?

The history of the Phoenix?

There has been a cinema here since 1913. Orginally it the ‘North Oxford Kinema’, since when it has passed through many hands and names, including the Scala, the New Scala, the Studios 1 and 2, Studio X (a club showing soft porn) and finally in 1977 the Phoenix.

Why Jericho still has such a mix of houses?

Jericho’s intriguing mix of housing today owes a lot, to the Residents’ Association in the 1960s and 1970s which together with the then Vicar and some local councillors resisted plans to bulldoze the whole area and turn it over to offices and light industrial use.