Otto Jaffe – Belfast’s First Jewish Lord Mayor
Otto Moses Jaffe was born in Hamburg on 13th August 1846, one of 9 children of Daniel and Frederike Jaffe. When he was a child the family moved to Belfast. Here Daniel Jaffe and his older sons Martin, John and Alfred set up a business exporting linen. They had previously had a company in Germany importing Irish linen. Otto was educated in Holywood, County Down and subsequently in Germany and Switzerland.
Jaffe Brothers, Linen Merchants & Bleachers
After ten years managing the Jaffe Company in New York, Otto returned to Belfast to take over the family business – Jaffe Brothers, Linen Merchants & Bleachers. The warehouse was based at 9 Donegall Square East and 10 Donegall Square South and is now the Ten Square Hotel. The Company was extremely profitable and became the largest linen exporter in Ireland at the time, selling large amounts of material to Russia and North and South America.
Through his hard work and entrepreneurial skills, Otto Jaffe was one of the leading merchants responsible for the boom in the linen industry in Belfast. In 1910 Otto built the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, providing much needed employment. The mill expanded to making munitions during the war.
Belfasts First Jewish Lord Mayor
Otto Jaffe became a naturalised British citizen in 1888. He was a Commissioner of Belfast Harbour, a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Senate at Queens University. He joined the Irish Unionist Party and was a representative for St Anne’s Ward in 1892-93, St George’s Ward 1895-97 and Windsor 1897-1916. In 1899 he was elected the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Belfast. In 1901 he became High Sheriff of Belfast and in 1904 he was re-elected Lord Mayor. In 1905 Otto Jaffe was knighted at Dublin Castle by Lord Cadogan.
On the 8th March 1879 Otto Jaffe had married Paula Hertz in New York. The couple had two sons both born in Ireland. Arthur Daniel born 26th January 1880 and William Edward Berthold on 22nd December 1883. Otto built his house Kin Edar in east Belfast in Sydenham Ave. It had 9 bedrooms, 4 reception rooms and an 8 acre garden, tennis courts, a vinery and 6 outhouses. Otto had a great love of gardening – he was actually the first man to grow bananas in Ireland!
Support for Communities & Charities
Not surprisingly Otto Jaffe was very interested in the Jewish community in Belfast. He worshipped at the synagogue in Great Victoria Street, which his father had established in 1871. In 1904 he opened another synagogue in Annesley Street to which he had contributed £4,000 for building costs. The Jaffe family also established the Jaffe Public Elementary School for Jewish children on the Cliftonville Road.
Otto Jaffe was involved in various charitable enterprises for the benefit of his adopted city. He was a governor of the Royal Victoria Hospital and contributed £1,000 to hospital funds. Together with his wife Paula, he set up an appeal to raise money for the dependents of soldiers fighting in the Boer War; a total of £10,000 was raised. He was an enthusiastic member of the committee urging for the Public Libraries Act to be extended to Belfast, resulting in the first Free Public Library opening in the city in 1888. Otto was also an active participant in the foundation of Belfast Technical College. In 1905 the Jaffe family donated £4,000 to Queens University to purchase new equipment. Otto was also an interested supporter of the Scout Movement and the Salvation Army. One of his biographers. Louis Hyman described Otto as “lavish in unostentatious charities”.
Jaffe Fountain, Victoria Square
A sign of Otto’s depth of feeling for the city, was when his father Daniel died in 1874, he had his body brought back from Nice and buried in Belfast City Cemetery. He had the Jaffe Memorial Fountain erected in Victoria Square in his honour.
Departure from Belfast
When World War 1 broke out however, the Jaffe family met with a lot of anti-German feeling. This was despite the fact that Otto’s son and nephew were both away fighting on behalf of the British. This resentment and suspicion caused Otto much grief; he described himself as being “overwhelmed with pain and sorrow”. In 1916 he resigned from all public office and moved to London. He died in April 1929 and was cremated at Golders Green on 2nd May 1929.
With his single hearted love of humanity, his noble characteristics which gained for him the affection and reverence of all classes and creeds, he distinguished himself as a noble child of a noble family….Obituary in the Belfast Newsletter by Rabbi J Shachter
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