Stoke: 22 members over 200 miles

January 15, 2010
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Sydney Morris (right) with son Martin

Sydney Morris (right) with son Martin

The last time a couple walked up the aisle at Stoke on Trent Hebrew Congregation was in 1995. The time before that was 1956.

There were a few barmitzvot in between, but not many. This is because Stoke, once a thriving congregation with 175 families, is now one of the smallest in Britain.

“We have 22 members scattered over about 200 square miles of north Staffordshire,” said Sydney Morris, 84, president of the synagogue since 1982.

Mr Morris, a widower, is by no means the oldest member. That honour belongs to a 92-year-old, while the youngest is 47.

Those rare weddings were conducted in the old synagogue in Hanley, Stoke On Trent. The decline meant the synagogue, built in 1923, was replaced by a smaller one three years ago.

Services are held every Friday night and on all chagim. “We have a service even if we don’t get a minyan,” said Mr Morris.

“The Rev Malcolm Weisman [minister for small communities] comes three or four times a year and so does Rabbi Brian Fox of the Reform Synagogue in Manchester. At Pesach, we had a communal seder for 36 people, with relatives and non-Jewish people asking for invitations. It was a wonderful night.

“We look after and support each other, and I think this is how we survive.”

Mr Morris and two fellow congregants, joint treasurer Rae Elias, 75, and Paul Lewis, who is 65, attend representative council meetings in Manchester. Before they go, Mr Morris takes orders for kosher food as there is none in Stoke.

Mr Elias, who came from Bombay 50 years ago, said: “When we go to the Rep Council meetings we explain how we manage and they just have no idea. It would make a huge difference if volunteers from elsewhere could come to our services, even once a year.”

In the past the community has brought someone in to run services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mr Elias said: “A couple of years ago we tried to get a reader. Even a student wanted £3,000 plus expenses, and we would have had to pay for accommodation. How on earth can we afford that? Our subscriptions are £50 a year minimum plus £8 a year for burial. The most people pay is about £70 a year.”

Last updated: 4:21pm, February 2 2010