For the first time in 800 years, the British city of York, whose Jewish population was decimated in a medieval pogrom, will be home to a rabbi.
Rabbi Elisheva Salamo arrived in York from California after decades of pulpit work in the United States, Switzerland and South Africa. The congregation was founded in 2014 and now has about 100 members.
Her hiring is a milestone for York, a city in northern England whose medieval Jewish community was wiped out in a pogrom in March 1190, on the Shabbat before Passover. Seeking protection from antisemitic rioters who intended to either forcibly convert the Jews to Christianity or kill them, York’s Jews sought refuge in a tower in the king’s castle.
Realizing they would not make it out of the tower alive as troops amassed outside, they chose to kill themselves rather than convert — a choice also made by other European Jewish communities facing antisemitic armies during the Crusades. Approximately 150 people are estimated to have died in the York pogrom. A century later, the Jews were expelled from England entirely; they were permitted to return only in 1656.
York is not the only British town with a history of medieval antisemitism where Jewish life is being reestablished. The British town of Norwich, where the first known instance of the antisemitic blood libel took place in 1144, and which was the site of another 1190 pogrom, may become home to a Jewish heritage center.