Sheerness & Blue Town
Marcus Roberts


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Riotous behavior was not entirely uncommon in synagogues in this time. The story is significant as it hints at a serious division in the early community around the status of seat-holders and members - but it is unwise to speculate beyond these bare facts. It is also note worthy that there was a Jewish constable in Sheerness this period. This sign of early integration into the official fabric of the community is also complemented by the promotion of Abram Abrams, a "gentlemen", to Ensign in the local Volunteer force 1807. The patriotic involvement and acceptance of provincial Jews into their local volunteer forces were socially important, especially in garrison towns.

Events in Sheerness show that the Napoleonic Wars triggered an episode of anti-Jewish feeling in Sheerness. In 1810 the community was harassed when a cat was thrown into the synagogue service. This tactic was also employed elsewhere, against suspected Papists. Then there was a serious assault of Asher and Rosa Nathan in White Hart Road, near the Point, by naval officers.

Despite the turbulence in the town, a small new, wooden synagogue was built in 1811. In 1812, Henry Russell, the songwriter and most celebrated member of the Sheerness Jewry was also born in Sheerness.

The congregation got themselves into hot-water with the Jewish religious authorities in the same year for doing business on the Jewish Sabbath. On one Friday some of the community went out to a Man-o'-war anchored at the Nore to collect debts and do business. As evening approached business had not been completed and they went back to shore. However the next day they returned, despite it being the Jewish Sabbath. Business was duly settled, sales made and accounts written. As a consequence the rabbinical court in London gave then spiritual sanctions, even though some had stayed on the ship over night to remain within the letter of Jewish Law.

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