Luton shul finds a permanent home

By Jay Grenby, January 22, 2009

Luton Hebrew Congregation has completed the £225,000 purchase of a building in Dunstable Road for a synagogue and community centre.

The deal heralds the end of a nomadic existence for the community of 100-or-so members, which has been operating from a series of temporary premises. The move to a pleasant residential location is especially welcome for minister Rabbi Yossi Schwei and his family.

Rabbi Schwei has been living on the periphery of a predominantly Muslim area and has for the past two years received a police escort on his walk to synagogue. Now he and his family are hoping to move closer to the new shul premises, eliminating the need for extra security measures.

A former doctor’s surgery, the property is currently divided into four rooms, plus a large rear garden. The plan is to knock two of the rooms into one to create a hall for synagogue services. The remaining rooms will house a cheder and meetings of the friendship club, ladies’ guild, youth club and mums and tots and young marrieds groups.

Shul president Brian Green explained: “Seven years ago, the community sold its Bury Park premises, which now houses an Islamic cultural centre.

“Since then, we have been using a variety of different premises for our weekly and festival services, most recently a local council community centre.

“All that time, I was in discussions with the council to find a site that could be used as a synagogue and a general community centre. But despite the support of individual councillors and the local MP, they came to nothing.”

When he first saw the former surgery for sale, Mr Green felt it was ideal, other than the fact that the asking price was too high. However, when the housing market slump brought the property to a more affordable level, he quickly stepped in.

The first stage of the refurbishment programme will start within weeks, funded, like the purchase, from the proceeds of the sale of the Bury Park premises. The intention is for completion in time for Pesach.

A further fundraising campaign will be launched shortly with an initial target of £50,000 to cover immediate needs, including the construction of a new bimah and kitchen. More ambitious proposals incorporate an extension to the property.

Luton Hebrew Congregation was established in 1923. Although it has forged links with the United Synagogue, it retains independent status.

Last updated: 3:16pm, January 22 2009