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Of those who have served as ministers in Leicester, Abraham Newman was noteworthy in bringing stability and consistency to a community evolving during the early decades of the twentieth century. Educated in Lithuania at the rabbinical college of Vilnius, he came to England some time in the 1880s. He lived in Leeds, lodging with the Altshuler family and working as a Hebrew teacher. In the summer of 1891 he married Adeline, the elder daughter of the family and in 1898 he was appointed to Blackburn community, remaining there until he moved to Leicester in 1905.
Arrival in Leicester
In Leicester he lived in College Avenue, a short walk from the Synagogue, and he quickly established himself at the centre of Jewish life in Leicester. The Jewish Social and Literary Society was formed in 1908 with Rev Newman as its first President. He was a supporter of the Jewish Debating Society and, when that became the Jewish Literary and Drama Society, he became Vice-President. In 1918 the Zionist Society held its first meeting, Rev Newman taking the lead as President. Ten years later he was made an honorary Life President to mark a decade’s work in that role.
As Leicester’s Minister, Rev Newman also had a presence in the national Jewish newspaper. A stream of correspondence found its way from College Street onto the letter page of the Jewish Chronicle. Subjects varied from observations on the advice of the Chief Rabbi, to the virtues of shechita and the correct interpretation of certain Hebrew words. One consistent strand was his view that both Reform and Liberal forms of Judaism served only to undermine Jewish faith and its continuance. He could however turn his pen to other matters and, in 1940, supported those who needed to turn lights off during the blackout, as life-saving suspends the Sabbath Laws.
The Wider Community
Rev. Newman made significant contributions to the wider Leicester community. He officiated at the annual service in aid of the Royal Infirmary and Children’s Hospital. These occasions were attended by the Lord Mayor, the High Sheriff and the High Bailiff, and after a number of years, Rev Newman was elected as a Life Governor of the Infirmary.
The latter period of his ministry was overshadowed by the events leading up to the war. In 1936 the Baptist Congregation sent supportive greetings to their Jewish brethren in response to the rise of anti-Semitism. In 1939, due to his failing health, Rev Newman retired, but remained in Leicester. The arrival of evacuees and refugees led to some friction and to a report in the Jewish Chronicle that kosher meat was only available to the new arrivals after the local residents had been served. Once more, Rev Newman’s pen was called into action, defending the timetabled arrangements to avoid the uninviting sight of Jewish women standing and gossiping in the open street in a non-Jewish environment.
Rev. Newman died on 26th March 1945. He had regarded his responsibility as a teacher very earnestly and said, on more than one occasion that, of all his duties, he looked upon teaching as the most serious. Not only did he approach his teaching duties conscientiously, he also organised annual outings and picnics for the children. He and his wife had no children but a tablet erected in the synagogue entrance hall ensures their name is remembered.