AS one of Newport Synagogue's last surviving members, Ron Black talks to Tomos Povey about what the future holds for Judaism in Newport.

“I’m 73-years-old and I have been a member of the Newport congregation since I was a young boy.

My mother was from Cardiff and my father from Manchester.

I was an only child – I’m not married – and was raised in an orthodox Jewish family and still live in the same house on Richmond Road.

I’m still orthodox but I’ve never wanted to wear the traditional orthodox clothing.

In fact, I know of other orthodox Jews who don’t wear the hat and long coat – most orthodox Jews do wear the clothing in London, though.

My father was in the clothing trade before he had an accident and went blind.

I later took on his job which basically saw me do clothes on hire purchase

There was no store it was just a house-to-house job.

A lot of people say to me that my surname doesn’t sound Jewish.

But some Jewish names have become abbreviated because of the level of anti-Semitism in the past and present.

My surname Black is a Scottish name too but my paternal family’s name used to be Bloch which is Jewish. This could have been altered at some point.

Having lived in Newport my entire life, we never celebrated big festivals like Christmas.

Instead we have Chanukah – this is to commemorate the destruction of the synagogue in Israel and it comes at the same time as Christmas. Some people do give presents to each other.

Other celebrations include the New Year to start off with and the Day of Atonement, where we fast for 24 hours.

We also have Passover which is one of the most important ones and on this day we don’t eat bread.

If you’re orthodox you don’t use the same cutlery throughout the year.

When I was young my mother would sort out the cutlery.

My mother was really busy at that time of the year and would clean out the house of any bread.

When I was young there were between 200 to 300 members going to the synagogue in Newport.

That’s quite large and when I’m at the cemetery and look at the graves you can tell at how large the congregation once was.

I’ve got the records of the congregation which was started over a hundred years ago.

Originally our synagogue was in Queen’s Hill from 1934 to 1997.

Our current synagogue had been used for burials until we moved there in 1997.

But before Queen’s Hill, we also had two synagogues in Pill, in Francis Street for instance.

I would go there on a Sunday morning and learn Judaism.

Newport was an interesting place to grow up in as a Jewish person. As I say, there were so many of us at one stage.

When there were more Jews here you could more easily live by Judaism’s traditions and rituals.

I remember we used to have a Jewish butcher in Clarence Place and the rabbi would come and would kill the chickens.

Even now when I walk past shops and can tell the ones that used to be Jewish.

Sadly over the years the congregation diminished so we moved our synagogue from Queen’s Hill, which was a big building, to the current location.

One problem Newport’s Jewish population faced was youngsters wanting to marry ended up moving to big cities, like Cardiff to marry someone Jewish.

The young people left Newport and that’s why we are where we are.

No-one replaced the young Jews.

It’s the same for many congregations, sadly.

If all the children remained in Newport we’d still be a big congregation.

It’s sad but it’s an evolution of things.

Even bigger cities like Leeds have seen their Jewish populations go down because many have now left for Israel.

Before the numbers went down, a lot of Jews had moved, not just to Newport, but also the valleys.

In the valleys you had congregations in Ebbw Vale, Merthyr, Llanelli which have now all gone.

There is no Judaism left there or here because it isn’t being carried on anymore.

Of course, deep down I always thought and hoped it might grow, especially with a lot of students coming.

But students won’t stay permanently.

The other problem with not much Judaism here, for a Jewish man, is that you find it difficult to stick to the rituals and traditions.

With more people here it was easier to keep to the traditions and rituals.

It’s difficult now.

In Cardiff they have food deliveries from London and they let me know. We did have a Jewish butchers but not now.

I’ve never eaten meat that’s not been kosher but I do eat chicken now which has not been killed by the rabbi.

I don’t eat pork.

I think all these things have contributed to why sadly Newport can’t attract more practicing Jews. The future doesn’t look good for Newport’s practicing Jews.

I know Cardiff is struggling too and in 50 years Cardiff will have the same problem as us in Newport.

But they do still have different dominations there – orthodox (United Synagogue) and reform.

We’ve always been orthodox in Newport and never had a reform congregation.

Basically you have three lots of people in Judaism: orthodox, reform and liberal.

Reform don’t keep up much of the Jewish traditions as an orthodox would.

If you’re orthodox you aren’t meant to walk on the Sabbath or drive and some won’t switch on a light on the Sabbath either.

Some will get their neighbours to put on a light.

Most Jews also speak Hebrew. I can read Hebrew but can’t speak it.

I don’t read a lot of Hebrew here but when I go to service I do.

A lot of the orthodox Jews lived in Ridgeway and that was walking distance to Queen’s Hill synagogue so people could easily follow the tradition of not driving.

I don’t even think of the different denominations because there’s only a few of us left.

After our last rabbi left, he wasn’t replaced because of the lack of members, so me and some others would do bits and pieces in the service.

At the end of the day, you can’t have a proper service without 10 men.

Of our congregation, there’s only me and a 93-year-old lady and a couple in Blackwood left.

I do worry about the synagogue at the moment and don’t know what will happen to it. If I’m not here then it’ll just be left and I’m also worried about the cemetery.

I’ve been looking after them for 17 years and been up there for the past few weeks working.

Acorns drop down and trees start growing and it’s tiring to clear it.

I’m conscientious about it and try my best.

I just hope that if people visit there they will do something when I’m no longer here.

We’ve also had vandals in the past – people taking drugs and drinking in there.

I don’t think it’s anti-Semitism but more vandalism.

They desecrated some of the graves and I used to go in there and find stolen handbags.

But now people can’t just go in the cemetery because there’s a lock on the gate.

For me now, it’s trying to tie up all the loose ends.

I need to sort out the building because it’s not in use.

I have spoken to the Argus previously about wanting people to take on the building.

I was pleased with the article by the Argus and have had some interest in our synagogue.

Hopefully the people interested will take it on because that’s one thing less to be concerned about.

My aim is to sort the cemetery and the building before I go.”