London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

Rabbi Isaac SuwalskyRemembering Rabbi Isaac Suwalsky, publisher of HaYehoodi (The Jew)

Among the unsung heroes of the Jewish East End is Rabbi Isaac Suwalsky.  Born in Poland in 1860, he died in poverty in the London hospital, Whitechapel, in 1913.   Some 16 years earlier he founded the Hebrew journal HaYehoodi (The Jew) and through this endeavour strove to promote Hebrew as a living language.  He was Orthodox to his bones and wrote The Life of the Jew according to the Talmud.  Despite his Orthodoxy he shocked his readers when he pleaded in an article in HaYehoodi for absolution for masses forced by circumstances to work on Shabbath.   He was a pioneer of Zionism and was in the Anglo-Jewish delegation to the sixth Zionist conference in Basle in 1903.  Other notable Anglo-Jewish delegates included Israel Zangwill and the Reverend J K Goldbloom (another pioneer of modern Hebrew).  

At his funeral oration, Dayan Feldman of the Federation of Synagogues said: “When he first came to this country it was quite desolate as far as Hebrew was concerned, and it was due mainly to Suwalsky that the Hebrew language and literature made such progress in the country in recent years.” 

A view up Brick Lane looking towards Bethnal GreenThe former Spitalfields Great Synagogue - now a mosqueHis funeral procession was followed by a large number of Jews including notable rabbis and dayans (Jewish judges).  The hearse processed from Pelham Street, Spitalfields, then along Brick Lane, stopping briefly at Spitalfields Great synagogue, and hence to Philpot Street synagogue for the funeral oration.  Rabbi Suwalsky’s dying words are reported to have been: “Look after my wife and children,” and to this effect an appeal was promoted through the pages of the Jewish Chronicle.  The Board of the Federation of synagogues proposed sending a letter of condolence to his widow.  The motion was supported by Lord Swaythling (Samuel Montagu) and was passed unanimously.  Today Rabbi Isaac Suwalsky lies almost forgotten in the Federation cemetery in Edmonton.  His memory deserves better.  He was my cousin’s wife’s grandfather.

The headstone of Rabbi Isaac Suwalsky z'l is below, together with a translation of the Hebrew inscription on the headstone:

The headstone of Rabbi Isaac Suwalsky, Federation cemetery in Edmonton, North London, UK

Here is the resting place of the rabbi, the sagely author,
Our teacher and rabbi, Isaac Suwalsky of blessed memory.
The son of our teacher and Rabbi Shimshon of blessed memory.
Who passed away in the 53rd year of his life on the 12th Iyar
in the year 5673.  May his soul be bound up in everlasting life.
Isaac you were a sacrifice on the altar of literature.
Splendid pieces of work you edited for the community at large.
Under Talmudic influence you wrote 'The Life of the Jew'.
Whilst enriching literature with occasional Jewish pieces.
Also your speedy pen wrote many words - your mouth spoke the language of teachers.
Literature benefited from your book 'The Life of the Jew'.
Suddenly your generation lost you, it's foundation stone.
Nevertheless knowledge of your books is highly regarded in great numbers by your readers.
Isaac may your memory be for a blessing in every community.
Great is the sorrow and the loss amongst those who honour you.
Philip W, July 2009

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