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The origins of the Dover Jewish community are surrounded in some mystery. The community may have begun in the medieval period, though the evidence is incomplete.
Intriguingly the Spanish historian, Jose Amador de los Rios, in his history of the Jews in Spain (1848), says there was definitely a secret community of Murranos Jews in Dover. This was after the general expulsion of the Spanish Jews in 1492. He states there were also other Murranos communities in London and York at the time. The records of the Inquisition provide proof that some communities of Jews, concealing their religion and identity under the guise of Christian conversion, were present in England, in the later medieval period.
The realms of certain Jewish history are only entered in the modern period. The modern Jewish community at the Cinque Port of Dover was founded during the course of the 18th century. It grew around the commercial opportunities offered by a busy and strategic port, then the main gateway to France and Europe and a strategic garrison against foreign aggression and invasion.
Most Jewish histories of the town relate that the Jewish community started at some point in the 1750s. However the will drawn up in 1908 of Madame Theresa Otterbourg, who was the daughter of the famous Rabbi R.I.Cohen of Dover, implies otherwise.
In her will she writes that she bequeathes to a Mrs Cohen of London, 'my copper branched candle stick for two lights (which was in the Dover synagogue two hundred year ago).' If Madame Otterbourg is right, this might push back the origins of the community and its synagogue back to around 1710. In her favour she was in a position to know - because of her father and because she was an art expert and collector. She was the owner of a remarkable private collection of art, including statues by Michelangelo.Next