Nefusot Yehudah Synagogue
The Nefusot Yehudah synagogue in Line Wall Road is the second oldest Jewish place of worship on the Rock. The present building is dressed with grey limestone quoins. The windows have decorative terracotta hoods and are plainly glazed. The synagogue still retains some of the original windows, timber frames and feature delicately coloured glass and narrow glazing bars which suggests a ‘Gothic’ provenance.1 Both this synagogue and the Esnoga Synagogue in Engineer road have simple classical façades in keeping with the character of Gibraltar’s Old Town, which largely dates from the Regency period.2
Nefusot Yehudah has a lavish interior which includes marble pillars and a marble enclosure of the bima, a Moorish-style arch above the ark. It boasts of intricately patterned walls and ceiling from which a considerable number of shining silver candelabras and chalices hang. The beige Dutch-style façade, with its shaped gable outlined in white and Star of David displayed prominently, is the most distinctive of all of Gibraltar’s synagogue exteriors.
Nefusot Yehuda Synagogue entrance
Nefusot Yehuda Synagogue interior.
A synagogue existed near this site since the early 18th Century. The Nefusot Yehuda Synagogue (English: The Dispersed of Judah) also known as Esnoga Flamenca (the Flemish Synagogue) or the Lime Wall Synagogue was founded by Dutch merchants who built this synagogue in the years 1799-1800 in order to adhere to more formal Dutch customs as some local Jews thought that Moroccan traditions had begun to dominate the services at the Great Synagogue of Gibraltar. The years from 1793 onwards were ones of great economic opportunity and prosperity in Gibraltar as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars and Gibraltar merchants became very rich through the ownership of privateer vessels, bringing in prizes which were later sold at auctions held at Commercial Square (also known by its Spanish name of El Martillo) as well as providing supplies for the army and navy operating in Gibraltar. It was from such rich profits that the money was raised to construct the Nefusot Yehuda Synagogue for a sum of $26,300 (almost £3,000)3 on the site of a garden bought by Semtob (Toby) Sequerra (b. 1784 in London d. 1871 in Faro, Algarve) from John Crusoe (listed as a tavern keeper in the 1791 census). Semtob Sequerra is listed as one of the founders of the Gibraltar Exchange. He also bought another property in Faro in 1815 which he also converted into a synagogue (Esnoga Sequerra) which remained active until 1932.
The Nefusot Yehuda synagogue was built in a garden and closely resembled the Amsterdam Sephardi synagogue, also known as the Portuguese Synagogue. The only remnant of the original garden is a single palm tree called El pájaro de arena (English: sand bird) in the synagogue's courtyard. This Pájaro de arena palm tree is the highest of its kind in Gibraltar. The garden was at one time probably much larger and the synagogue once had another entrance that opened into a Lane, later incorporated into the Line Wall. The stretch of the Line Wall between King’s Street and Bomb House Lane was at one time known as ‘Synagogue Lane’ but this name is not found on any map.4 The side entrance leading to Bomb House Lane is of a much later date.
Bomb House Synagogue by Frederick Leeds Edridge 1830.
From its foundation until 1882, the minister of the synagogue was a member of the Conquy family. The Conquy family came to Gibraltar from Amsterdam in the 18th century but were originally from the northern Spanish city of Cuenca.
The interior of the Nefusot Yehudah synagogue, unlike that of HaShamayim, contains few original features because in 1911 a fire completely gutted the interior of the building and destroyed most of the early 19th Century timber Ehal, Tevah, benches and the gallery.5 The traditional internal floorplan is shown in detail on the 1869 Survey of Gibraltar map. For its reconstruction an Italian architect familiar with the architecture of Catholic buildings was contracted to carry out the works. It was thus rebuilt with the bima removed from the centre to just in front of the ark. It also combined the Ehal and Tevah.
The synagogue therefore has two contrasting architectural styles, a beige Dutch exterior and an Italian interior adorned with marble. It also has a reading desk incorporated into the ark for the Torah rather than being positioned in the centre of the building.
Gibraltar Synagogue postcard circa 1900's.
Floor plan of the Nefusot Yehudah synagogue
After 1945, on the return of the evacuees from London, the synagogue was given a face-lift and Moroccan tiles, donated by Joe Acris, were installed which give the interior its ornately patterned ceilings and walls.
However, in 1951 the explosion aboard the RFA Bedenham caused extensive damage to buildings along the Line Wall, including the synagogue.
Also of note is that the President of the synagogue from 1964 until his passing in 1997 was the Honourable Sir Joshua Hassan KCMG CBE LVO QC JP leader of the post-war civil rights movement and Gibraltar’s first Chief Minister, holding office from 1964 to 1969 and from 1972 to 1987. A plaque bearing his achievements as well as the founding of the synagogue in 1800 was unveiled on the 13th September 2000 by the then Chief Minister, the Honourable Sir Peter Caruana QC to commemorate the bicentenary of the synagogue.
Bicentenary plague outside the courtyard entrance in Bomb House Lane