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Yad Vashem

The Jaffe contribution to education, local government and culture


In many ways, however, it is the legacy of his Daniel Joseph’s son – Otto – that often overshadows his father’s testimony. Louis Hyman’s account of Sir Otto’s life records this most distinguished of Daniel’s children as “shrewd, sharp-witted, far seeing and [whilst] almost parsimonious in business, he is lavish in unostentatious charities”.11 Otto was elected a city councillor in 1879, was elected as Belfast’s first Lord Mayor in 1899 (as mentioned the first incumbent of the title under the new status of the city as a county borough). He was knighted after his first term, served as High Sheriff and was reelected as Lord Mayor in 1904. Sir Otto’s interest in education extended not only to the primary education of Jewish children in the Cliftonville Road School. He was also a pioneer in the foundation of Belfast’s Technical College and contributed £4000 to Queen’s University.


Otto Jaffe made a huge contribution to the consolidation of Judaism in the province. As life President of the Belfast Congregation he contributed the majority of the funds required to build a new synagogue to house the two separate Great Victoria Street and Regency Street congregations. On 31 August 1905 Sir Otto opened the new synagogue in Annesley Street, Carlisle Circus.


As JP, member of the Harbour Board, member of the first senate of Queen’s University, Governor of the Royal Victoria Hospital, British Consul for Germany, twice Lord Mayor and knighted, Sir Otto Jaffe was the representation of Jewish civic virtue, a fully integrated philanthropist, leader of both his co-religionists and non-Jewish citizens. Yet Otto Jaffe has no headstone in Northern Ireland. Instead a tall marble pillar stands chipped and graffitied, both the memorial of a remarkable life and a testimony to the sad story of intolerance in Belfast. Sir Otto returned to England in 1916, after 25 years of service in the Belfast Corporation, following intimidation and suspicion leveled at the family during the First World War because of their German roots.12 The family’s loyalty was without question: they returned to support the war effort in the mainland with Otto’s son Arthur Daniel serving in the British army. The destructive intolerance and ignorance that Sir Otto fled from was prophetic of what would become of his father’s memorial at the end of that century. The only visible memorial to both Daniel Joseph the commercial giant and Otto the stalwart of civic duty, are the desecrated ruins of anonymous headstones and graffitied memorials. Yet very few will every see the empirical evidence of this sight, as the graveyard is unsafe to visit for more than a very short period of time.


The Jaffes were a fascinating family. They represented the upper echelons of Jewish society. The headstones which ought to represent in tangible form the memory of the Jaffes may now be desecrated: but the continuing existence of a Belfast Hebrew Congregation, its organisation and place of worship is perhaps a more lasting testimony to the lives of these men while they continue to be denied a memorial of their death.

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