History of the EHC Shul

The three-storey Synagogue building is over a hundred years old and is situated on Susan's Road, just off Seaside Road, one of the main thoroughfares into and out of the town centre. 

Eastbourne at the turn of the century was a thriving and elegant Seaside resort and there were several hotels and boarding houses owned and run by Jewish people and several businesses and shops, amongst them 3 furriers.

 

Services each week for the Jewish population were held in private houses, various rented rooms and in fact they actually rented rooms in the Shul premises. In 1922 the entire building was bought for £1200 - £150 of which was paid in cash, the remainder guaranteed by four benefactors. The services were taken upstairs on cinema style tip-up seats, with loose chairs in the Ladies gallery on the top floor. The congregation consisted largely of shopkeepers and tradesmen and their families, although the total membership never exceeded more than 50 families augmented by holidaymakers. 

EHC's first minister, Rev Wolfe Jacobs was appointed in 1918.  He had previously served at Wrexham, Pontypridd (circa 1912) and Northampton (1913/1914-1918).  By November 1918 he was living at  Queen's Gardens, Eastbourne.  Our second minister, Rev Louis Wolfe (originally Wolpe) was elected in July 1922.  He was born in Lithuania in 1875 and had served as a minister in Greenock, Ireland, Bridgend, Bolton (c1910-1912), Reading (c1914-1919), and Richmond (1919-1922).  He had addresses at Willowfield Road, and Marine Gardens, Eastbourne.  In 1930, a cemetery was consecrated at Langney, Eastbourne, thereby it was no longer necessary to make use of the one at Brighton or elsewhere.     

After Dunkirk, Eastbourne was evacuated, except for local inhabitants, and the Shul was closed for a few months. Upon re-opening, attendances were boosted by locally stationed Jewish servicemen - English and American soldiers and airmen who were usually kindly entertained by the Panto families. Around 1944 a church hall was hired off Upperton road at Pesach time for the first Seder night. 150 people attended, approximately 100 of these were servicemen. Reverend Wolfe officially retired just after the war in 1945 and a new era in the history of the Shul began when in 1946, Reverend Chaim Zak, a comparatively young man became the new minister. His wife, Margaret was the daughter of Rev Jacob Kusevitsky, one of the four brothers who were world famous cantors. Sadly there was a gradual decline in membership as a result of members passing away or moving away from the town and the number of new arrivals to Eastbourne did not compensate for this drift. It was decided at this time to have new seating in the downstairs part of the shul and the pews that exist today were made and the old tip-up seats were transferred to the ladies gallery. Unfortunately, the decline in membership was so pronounced that in 1970 the Ladies gallery, deemed unsafe, on the second floor was closed and the chairs were placed to the rear of the Shul behind the men's seats for lady worshippers. In 1972 a new ark was very kindly donated by one of the members and consecrated. 

 

The shul congregation held its 60th anniversary in 1978 and a service was held in the synagogue in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Eastbourne - the first time ever that civic dignitaries had visited the Shul. The following year in 1979 a civic service was conducted by Reverend Zak in the town hall in honour of these dignitaries, Joe Angelman being the first Jewish Mayor in the town. Around 200 people were present including members of the borough council. 

In 1986, after 40 years as minister to our congregation, a tribute to Reverend Zak, and to Margaret, his wife took place at Shul. A special service was held in the presence of the then Mayor and Mayoress of Eastbourne. Councillor Cullen spoke of his long association with Reverend Zak and a presentation to mark the occasion was made to him on behalf of all the members. 

In 1997 Reverend Zak officially retired and moved to London but for several years afterwards was still our honorary minister and would take the services whenever he was in Eastbourne thereby becoming the longest serving Minister in the whole of the British Isles.