EAST END OF LONDON PHOTO GALLERY & COMMENTARY
London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......
My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London
Remembering characters of the Jewish East End: Reverend Baruch Smus,
z’l, Chazan of Fieldgate Street Great synagogue + some
wonderful 1970s black and white photos of the interior of Fieldgate
Street synagogue. The Reverend Baruch Smus's obituary is at
the bottom of this page
I walk the Jewish East End of London my thoughts stray to people and
places of times gone by. Following a recent walk down Fieldgate
Street it was with a sense of ‘bershirt’ (fate) that I received a
letter from the grandson of Reverend Baruch Smus. Reverend Smus was
Chazan (service leader and singer) at Fieldgate Street synagogue,
London E1 and his story encapsulates much of the flavour of the old
Jewish East End. He was born in Proskurov, Ukraine in 1899 and in
his youth was assistant Chazan at the Great Synagogue in Odessa. In
its day Odessa was the Paris of the Black Sea with a pavement café
culture and vibrant Jewish cultural life. Odessa was to become a
centre of anti-Semitism and Jewish emigration.
survived several pogroms, in 1919 Baruch Smus left Russia for Vienna
and later went to Palestine as a pioneer settler. He joined the
Palestine Police band and became an accomplished musician. Later he
studied at the Conservatoire of Music in Jerusalem. While in
Palestine he honed his davening (prayer leading) and singing
(cantorial) skills. He was persuaded to come to England in 1932 and engaged to
lead High Holyday services at the 4000 seat Pavilion theatre on the
Whitechapel road. He was paid the enormous sum of £300.
Translating from the Yiddish, the Pavilion theatre poster of the time
(see photos below) had this to say about his abilities:
“This is a great Yom Tov in the
Pavilion, this year more so than other years – why?
Baruch Smus – who is he? Born in
Proskurov, at the age of 16 years he davened at the amud
(reading desk in front of the ark in a synagogue)
and was very well received and got better and better.
He was a pupil of Chazan Kwartin,
and of the Berditchever Chazan, Meir Pisak. He left Proskurov after
he was saved from a progrom where he lost his father. He came to
Vienna where he excelled in davening. He was in Jerusalem for eight
years. Then a tour of Europe – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Scheveningen,
where they wanted him to stay as their permanent chazan, but Mr
Bodner was there on Shabbos and heard his davening, and talked him
into coming to London for the London public.
You should know that Mr Bodner has
never fooled the public. The young chazan Baruch Smus davened on
Shabbos in Sidney Street Shul. Ask anyone that heard him - what a
davener, what a voice, what music, what meaning of the prayers, and
all in this young chazan!”
Theatre closed in 1936 and was demolished in 1961. Today (2009) the
site remains a derelict plot near the corner of Whitechapel and
Reverend Baruch Smus made his home in the East End and met and mixed
with the great East End chazanim of his day. He spoke especially
warmly of his teacher and friend the late Reverend Edelman, Chazan
of Philpot Street Great Synagogue. He described him as a ‘golden
man’ and recalled how he would practice chanting the weekly Sidra
(Torah portion read at a Shabbat morning service) by rocking the
cradle of his youngest child in time with the rhythm of his
Many East End synagogues enjoyed Reverend Smus’s powerful and
melodic baritone voice, including Vine Court, Philpot Street Sephardish and finally Fieldgate Street. He also composed and had
published his own musical arrangements of several traditional Jewish
Although Reverend Smus died in 1976, he is recalled with great
affection in Fieldgate Street and his name can be seen in pride of
place on a plaque celebrating the special efforts of those who
contributed to the 1960 refurbishment of this historic synagogue.
Fieldgate Street recently reopened for monthly Shabbat morning
services and thus the spirit of Reverend Baruch Smus lives on.