York gets its first rabbi in 800 years

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York gets its first rabbi in 800 years

Rabbi Elisheva Salamo joins the community where the worst antisemitic massacre in British history took place in 1190 with 150 Jews murdered

Clifford's Tower, the site of the massacre of the Jews of York took place in 1190. (Wikimedia Commons)
Clifford's Tower, the site of the massacre of the Jews of York took place in 1190. (Wikimedia Commons)

For the first time in 800 years, the city of York, whose Jewish population was decimated in a medieval pogrom, will be home to a rabbi.

Rabbi Elisheva Salamo arrived in York from California last week after decades of pulpit work in the United States, Switzerland and South Africa. She will take a part-time pulpit at the York Liberal Jewish Community, whose congregation was founded in 2014 and now has about 100 members.

Her hiring is a milestone for York, a city in northern England whose medieval Jewish community was wiped out in a pogrom in March 1190, on the Shabbat before Passover. Seeking protection from antisemitic rioters who intended to either forcibly convert the Jews to Christianity or kill them, York’s Jews sought refuge in a tower in the king’s castle.

Rabbi Elisheva Salamo

Realising they would not make it out of the tower alive as troops amassed outside, they chose to kill themselves rather than convert — a choice also made by other European Jewish communities facing antisemitic armies during the Crusades. Approximately 150 people are estimated to have died in the York pogrom. A century later, the Jews were expelled from England entirely; they were permitted to return only in 1656.

“Helping to rebuild what was once one of England’s most vibrant Jewish communities is an honour and a privilege,” Salamo told The Guardian.

York is not the only British town with a history of medieval antisemitism where Jewish life is being re-established. Norwich, where the first known instance of the antisemitic blood libel took place in 1144, and which was the site of another 1190 pogrom, may become home to a Jewish heritage centre.

Salamo was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and attended Reed College and Yale University, where she studied biology and cellular and molecular biology. According to her website, she is also an experienced equestrian.

She will be joining a community that has been led by volunteers in the nearly 10 years since it was founded. Salamo’s first formal role will be to lead High Holiday services in September.

In order to hire her full time, York Jewish Liberal community has raised an initial £75k and has set up a Just Giving page to double that figure (£25k per year for the next three years) to make the most of the appointment.

Visit the page here.

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