Rabbi David Kudan, the new interim rabbi at Temple Ahavat Achim on Middle Street, was instrumental in helping a small but growing Jewish community he is close to in the port city of Cork, Ireland obtain a sacred Torah scroll from his former congregation in Malden.

“They have graciously decided to bequeath this sacred scroll to help to renew Jewish life in the south of Ireland,” Kudan said during services in Gloucester on Saturday.

That day, March 11, the temple hosted Sophia Spiegel of the nondenominational Cork Jewish Community, after she had traveled from Ireland to the United States to bring the scroll back with her to the Emerald Isle. The community in Ireland was left without a scroll when the synagogue in the area closed and distributed its scrolls to its descendants, Kudan said.

“Sophia is one of the great dynamic leaders who have helped to revive Jewish life,” said Kudan of Spiegel, who is originally from Holland. She was raised in Brighton, in southeast England, and later settled in Cork. “She has really been an indispensable leader, and creative and inspiring,” said Kudan, who formerly served as rabbi of Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody.

Kudan is close to the Jewish community in Cork through his wife, Professor Barbara Abrams, whose family started traveling to Ireland 50 years ago while working for the World Health Organization.

Abrams and Kudan first met on a high-school trip to Israel. After they married, the couple traveled to Cork, and over the next few years they connected with the local Jewish community there. Kudan has been visiting Ireland every year for 40 years and his wife has been doing so since she was 12. Kudan has performed bar and bat mitzvahs and other services while in Ireland over the years.

Jews in Ireland

Spiegel on Saturday traced the history of Jews in Ireland, and said Sephardic Jews first arrived in Ireland in the 1200s.

The modern Jewish story in Ireland starts in the 1800s when Lithuanian Jews fled increasing antisemitism in Russia. She said there are tall tales of families coming off the boat in Cork thinking they had landed in the United States.

“But those Jews found homes, homes nearby in Cork, in Limerick and even in Dublin,” she said, and they were able to establish roots in Ireland.

“The area in Cork where the Lithuanian Jews settled is still called ‘Jewtown,’ which is a local term of endearment. It’s not a slander,” Spiegel said. The neighborhood had a kosher butcher, a rabbi and a synagogue.

The Irish Jewish community was at its height in the 1960s, at 5,000 people, she said, almost all of whom descended from the original Lithuanian families. When the Irish economy plummeted in the 1980s, many Jews left to find opportunities elsewhere. By the early 2000s, the local shul dwindled to a handful of families. In recent years, the Cork community, the only established Jewish community outside of Dublin in the Irish Republic, has about 300 people. Ireland’s census in 2016 counted 2,557 Jews in a country of more than 5 million.


With the revival of the Irish economy, often referred to as the Celtic Tiger, Jews started to come to Ireland for work or to settle.

“I am one of them,” Spiegel said.

The former Cork Hebrew Congregation could not bridge the gap between traditional Lithuanian orthodoxy and the many flavors of Judaism that had arrived. In 2016, the congregation closed and sold the synagogue to the Pentecostal Church, Spiegel said.

However, a group of women kept the Jewish community alive, while looking for support from rabbis who would come to Ireland on holidays, Spiegel said.

When the pandemic hit, the community rediscovered the joy of evening Shabbat services, she said, and those weekly online services are still going strong. The Cork Quaker Meeting House has become the Cork Jewish Community’s new home.

Spiegel said there are those who appear in Jewish communities with just right the connections at just the right time.

“In the case of the Cork Jewish Community, one of those people who happened to have the right skills at the right time is your rabbi, David Kudan,” Spiegel said. “All of the old congregation’s scrolls had been redistributed elsewhere. and without the scroll, our community didn’t feel complete,” Spiegel said. “And it was thanks to his skills and connections, being just the right person at the right time, that he heard of a surplus scroll in his old community, Malden Synagogue Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel … and by his suggestion the offer was made to donate the scroll all the way from Malden, USA, to Cork, Ireland, and that is why I’m here this weekend. Our community will be invigorated and able to grow around what is the pillar of all Jewish communities, a scroll.”

After her visit to Gloucester, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, the Malden synagogue held a special Torah giving ceremony. More than 40 people attended along with Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and Malden state Rep. Steven Ultrino.

Spiegel flew back to Ireland with the scroll on Monday.

At Ahavat Achim on Saturday, Spiegel described the difficulty of trying to figure out how to get a Torah scroll on board the cabin of an aircraft on Aer Lingus. She said on the flight to America, she described the plight, and the crew’s response was: “Ah, it will be grand.” She told the Gloucester congregation, the scroll was going to be smuggled on board “against regulation.” Kudan said the Malden congregation was making sure the scroll would be wrapped properly to go aboard as carry-on luggage, and some had volunteered to buy the scroll its own seat.

In the end, thanks to two Irish Americans who work at Trek Bicycle Cambridge, a donated bicycle box was secured to store the Torah in for the flight to Shannon, Kudan said. The Aer Lingus flight crew even found space in first class for the sacred scroll.

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714,or at eforman@northofboston.com.

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714,or at eforman@northofboston.com.

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