Sir Otto Jaffe (1846-1929), painted by John Haynes-Williams,

The first Jew recorded living in Belfast was a Manuel Lightfoot, a tailor, who was resident in the city in 1652. Jewish immigration into the city started in the mid-19th century. Daniel Jaffe and his brothers were among the first Jews to settle. Daniel was a German merchant from Hamburg who came to Belfast to establish contacts for the sale and export of Irish linen. was one of the first

By 1870, the Jewish community had grown to 21. A  synagogue at 90 Great Victoria Street was founded by Daniel and other Jews. Twenty one years later, 282 Jews lived in Northern Ireland, 205 of whom were resident in in Belfast.

The increase in the Jewish community is partly explained by Russian Jews fleeing the antisemitic “May Laws” introduced by Tsar Alexander III in 1882. These laws restricted where Jews could live, be educated and own property.[1] Jewish emigration continued from Russia following pogroms in the latter part of the century.

By 1900, the Jewish community stood at 708. Many settled around Carlisle Circus, New Lodge Road and Lower Antrim Road area. With the increasing population a school was established in Regent Street School at the rear of the present Clifton Street Orange Hall. The Greenville Hall Synagogue, located on nearby Annesley Street, opened in 1904. Three years later, the Jaffe Public Elementary School at the corner of Cliftonville and Antrim Road was founded.[2] The Jewish community peaked at around 1,500 during the Second World War.[3] Today, there are approximately 300 Jews living in Northern Ireland.[4]

Sir Otto Jaffé

One of the most well known Jews who lived in Belfast was Sir Otto Jaffé (1846–1929). He was a businessman and philanthropist, orignallly born in Hamburg and was the sone of Daniel Jaffé (1809–74) who came to the city in the mid-19th century. Daniel had established a company importing Irish linen to international markets and from 1865 to 1877, Otto managed the family’s business in America. In 1877, he took over operations in Belfast.[5]

He became active in municipal life being elected to Belfast corporation in 1891. In 1899, he was elected first lord mayor of the newly established city of Belfast. He was knighted a year later and raised money for British soldiers who had fought in the 2nd South African War.[6]

Sir Otto was interested and active in the provision of education. He was vice-chairman of the Belfast Society for the Extension of University Teaching, and contributed large sums to the Better Equipment Fund of Queen College Belfast (that became Queen’s University Belfast in 1908). In 1907, he built and equipped the Jaffé National Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Rd for Jewish children. He was also the primary contributor to funds for a new synagogue in Annesley St. He resigned from Belfast corporation in 1916, after twenty-five years of service, and moved to London. He left Belfast as a result of anti German intimidation of the family during the war due to their German heritage.[7] He died on 29 April 1929. [8]

Chaim Herzog (1918-1897)

Chaim Herzog was another well known Jew from Belfast. He was born in Belfast on Cliftonpark Avenue in 1918 to Ireland’s Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog. His father was born in Poland and his mother in Latvia; both parents leaving Russia because of persecution. In 1919, the Herzog family moved to Dublin and Yitzhak was known as the “the Sinn Féin Rabbi” for his support of the Irish Republican cause during the Irish War of Independence.

The family emigrated to Palestine in 1935. Herzog was studied law at UCL and qualified as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn in the Second World War. He then joined the British Army and fought as a tank commander in the Armoured Corps. He was then commissioned into the Intelligence Corps in 1943, reaching the rank of Major when he left in 1947.

After the establishment of Israel, he fought in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and remained in Israeli Defence Forces after the conflict. He retired from the IDF in 1962 with the rank of major-general. He then became a lawyer and was elected to the Knesset in 1981. Two years later he served as the sixth President of Israel for two five year terms, retiring in 1993. He died four years later.

In 1998, the Ulster History Circle unveiled a commemorative blue plaque to Herzog at his birthplace on Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast.[9]

FOR MORE INFORMATION on guided walking tours around Belfast visit this page.

[1] Accessed 9.5.22.

[2] Accessed 9.5.22.

[3] Accessed 9.5.22.

[4] Accessed 9.5.22.

[5] Accessed 9.5.22.

[6] Accessed 9.5.22.

[7] Accessed 9.5.22.

[8] Accessed 9.5.22.

[9]  Accessed 9.5.22.