Call for permanent museum to mark Welsh Jewish heritage

Siôn Pennar
BBC Cymru Fyw

image captionThe synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil is the oldest that still exists in Wales

Wales needs something "solid and permanent" to mark its Jewish heritage, according to an expert.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones said Wales has no permanent institutions or projects dedicated to this aspect of its past, despite a recent increase in awareness.

His comments come as uncertainty remains about the future of the old synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil.

It has been suggested the building, constructed in the 1870s, could be developed into a museum.

Awareness of the history of Welsh Jews has increased in recent years, according to Dr Parry-Jones, the author of a book on Wales' Jewish communities.

"Since devolution, more is being done because Wales is starting to understand and see itself as a multi-faith and multicultural country," he told the BBC's Welsh language services, Newyddion 9 and BBC Cymru Fyw.

"In the last decade, a couple of books have been published on the history of Judaism in Wales.

"There have been some temporary exhibitions also, but nothing solid and permanent - so more could be done, I believe."

He said the situation is different in England and Scotland, where dedicated archives and museums have been established.

image captionDr Cai Parry-Jones said he would like the synagogue in Merthyr to be used as a museum or heritage centre

The synagogue in Merthyr - which has not been used for worship for many years - is the oldest synagogue still standing in Wales.

It is currently for sale, with planning permission granted for it to be converted into flats; this has been the fate of many other old synagogues in areas where there is no longer an active Jewish community.

The neo-gothic building, which is listed, is architecturally "unusual" when compared to other synagogues in the UK, according to Dr Parry-Jones.

Its style, he says, was influenced by other iconic south Wales buildings of the period, such as Castell Coch and Cyfarthfa Castle.

It has been suggested by some in the area Merthyr Tydfil council could take over the privately-owned building and turn it into a museum.

BBC Wales has asked the council for a comment.

image captionThe synagogue is located on the corner of Church St and Bryntirion Road near the centre of Merthyr

In another part of Wales, a member of the Jewish community says maintaining it and its heritage is a challenge.

Prof Nathan Abrams from Bangor says Jewish people in the north are dispersed and the area lacks a synagogue and other community facilities.

However, the small community manages to put on some cultural events - such as a Hanukkah celebration held with Bangor University's chaplaincy team earlier this week.

"I try to put on things like films, things to do with food - because everyone likes food," said Prof Abrams, professor of film at the university.

"And we had an exhibition at Gwynedd Museum around 10 years ago to teach people about the Jewish history of north Wales.

"We try all sort of things, but it is difficult."

image captionProf Nathan Abrams has written about the representation of Jews in film

Although the future of Merthyr's synagogue is uncertain, for those who want to see more recogintion of Wales' Jewish history, it could be key.

Along with potentially transforming the building into a museum or heritage centre, it has been suggested it could be moved to the National Museum of History in St Fagans, near Cardiff.

The museum - which is home to many of Wales' historically siginficant buildings - has examples of Christian houses of worship, but none from other faiths.

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