York community to get first rabbi since Jews expelled from England in 1290

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York community to get first rabbi since Jews expelled from England in 1290

Hundreds of years after the worst antisemitic massacre in British history, the city's liberal community gets a spiritual leader after a fundraising campaign

Clifford’s Tower at York, the site of one of the worst cases of antisemitic violence in Britain
Clifford’s Tower at York, the site of one of the worst cases of antisemitic violence in Britain

The historic city of York is hoping to get its first rabbi since Jews were expelled from England 730 years ago, after a tiny but growing community there began raising money for the salary.

It will be a symbolic appointment because to many the city is synonymous with the massacre at Clifford’s Tower in 1190, which came about after rumours spread that Jews were murdering Christian children – the origin of the antisemitic blood libel.

The city’s 150-strong Jewish community sought refuge in York Castle, pursued by a baying mob, but when they locked the keeper out the king’s also troops turned on them. Trapped, many killed themselves rather than be murdered or forcibly baptised.

Hundreds of years after the worst antisemitic massacre in British history, York is once again to have a rabbi, after fundraising from the York Liberal Jewish Community, which was founded in 2013 by Ben Rich after he moved from London.

There are now more than 200 Jews in York, with the small community celebrating weddings, baby blessings and even the world’s first gender neutral bnei mitzvah service, as Rich said at least 100 members were active.

“We have a very different model than most synagogues in that our members actually come,” he said. “With fortnightly services and a full schedule of lifecycle events, the Jewish story of York is very much an ongoing tale.”

The community has had student rabbis support it but Rich said securing a permanent appointment would enable it to extend its offerings in terms of services, events and pastoral and educational support.

Fundraisers are aiming for £75,000 to pay the salary of a part-time rabbi on a three-year contract, and Rich said more than half that sum had already been pledged, with the hope of being able to recruit by next summer.

“It would be transformative,” he said. “There is now a very active community here, but it depends entirely on volunteers and that’s very hard work. The right rabbi I’m sure would act as a catalyst for a wide range of activities.”

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