At the beginning of the 1880’s with a community of maybe four or five hundred, Dublin had one shul, in Mary’s Abbey, off Capel Street, quite Anglicised and with something of a German-Jewish character.
A trickle of people had already been arriving from Eastern Europe. However, with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the resulting troubles, a very large exodus from the Russian Empire began. For the United States and the rest of the world this amounted, by the time of the Great War, to many millions and radically changed the demography of world Jewry. In Ireland the number eventually came to a few thousand. These people settled in the South Circular Road-Clanbrassil Street area (also in Cork and Limerick). What evidence we have suggests that most of them tended to see the Mary’s Abbey Shul as perhaps a little too modern and assimilated for their preferences. They would have formed ad hoc minyanim in private houses, as has happened over the centuries during such migrations. Eventually they founded a number of small shuls (some sources say seven altogether). The first of these was Machzikei haDas (the Hebrew is מחזיקי הדת literally “those who reinforce the Law”, though there are possible variations on this) . This is the name of a nineteenth century organization of shuls and yeshivas in Eastern Europe that aimed to improve education and observance. The name was added much later, possibly at the time of the move to the present site in Terenure in 1968. It was founded in St. Kevin’s Parade off Clanbrassil Street in 1883. It is now the last of the small shuls founded at that time. One or more of them came together to found Greenville Hall in the 1920’s. (Terenure Shul is derived by a number of removes from Greenville).
The name of the founder and first President (Parnes) of Machzikei haDas is well known and is remembered regularly at Yizkor. He is Reuven Bradlaw and he is also credited with the foundation of the Bais Olam in Dolphins Barn, where he is buried. He is mentioned as one of those who carried a Sefer Torah at the foundation ceremony for the opening of Adelaide Road Shul in 1892. His wife’s name, as donor, is inscribed on the silver yad used for lehning in Machzikei haDas to this day. His name and the date 1883 is on the marble foundation plaque which can be seen at the entrance to the shul today.
The centenary was celebrated in the shul on Shabbos VaYigash 10 December 1983, with Chief Rabbi Rosen and the late Judge Wine in the box, over a hundred people in the shul and a Kiddush that lasted rather longer than usual.
The Steinberg family arrived from Munkatch in Czechoslovakia in 1928. Aharon Steinberg was responsible for a regeneration of the shul and may have given it its current name when it moved. He presided over the move of the shul in April 1968, not long before he died, from Kevin’s Parade to its present site at Rathmore Villas. A marble plaque commemorating this can be seen at the entrance to the shul, beside the original foundation plaque. The Aron Kodesh is the original one, moved from Kevin’s Parade. Two of his sons were Presidents of the shul : Louis, who died in 1980 and Jack/Yankele, who was President from 1983 to 1997 and who died in Manchester in 2009.
In the late 1970’s – early 1980’s many members moved away, leaving the shul barely viable. Only two families remain from that period. Almost all of the current regulars came in the past fifteen to twenty years, many of them more recently. The shul has benefited from the trickle of immigration in recent years. There are more children than there used to be and the shul celebrated its first Bar Mitzvahs in eighteen in 2011. For the most recent one, in November 2011, the shul was almost as full as it was for the centenary in 1983.
It is a long time since the shul was able to field a minyan for any more than Shabbos morning, though it has managed good showings for Yom Tov and Yomim Noroim and aims to improve on this as circumstances permit. Davening on Shabbos and Yom Tov is at 9.30 A.M. and is always followed by a pleasant sit-down Kiddush to which all are very welcome.
The shul is fortunate in having dedicated and deeply committed long-serving officers.
The Pesident is Michael Milofsky (whose uncle Frankie, previously president of Terenure, succeeded Jack Steinberg as president in 1997). David Golding is Secretary. Vice President and Treasurer are, respectively, Joe and Robbie Katz, who have been with the shul longer than anyone else, since 1969, and whose contribution to the well being and survival of the shul over many years is incalculable.