Candle ban snuffs out strictly Orthodox Aberystwyth holiday plan

By John Jeffay, May 30, 2013
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More than 1,000 Orthodox Jews have been barred from their annual summer holiday in Wales because of health and safety fears over their Sabbath candles.

Aberystwyth University bosses have rented out their student village to Jewish families for a fortnight every August for the last 20 years. But they have pulled the plug this year, insisting they cannot relax their ban on naked flames.

Members of the Jewish community, mostly from Manchester and London, said they were “very disappointed and upset” at the decision.

Last year the holidaymakers were told that in future they would be allowed to stay in Pentre Jane Morgan only if they agreed not to light candles in the houses.

In response, they have found an alternative holiday destination, but are still hoping that the university will agree to a compromise so they can return next year.

The families rent up to 120 houses, each accommodating between seven and nine people.

One of the holidaymakers, Mrs Brander from London, who declined to give her first name, said: “We come to Aberystwyth for a holiday. We have stayed in Pentre Jane Morgan since it opened. It is a summer home to us, and we all love it. We are very disappointed and upset by the university’s decision.”

She added: “We were told about this condition as we left last year, but at the time, we did not think it a threat to our visit. But, ultimately, there was no real decision for us — our religion requires lighting of candles.

“There was a small fire last year, but it was not considered serious. And we have holders to make each candle safer. We offered to discuss it with the fire brigade, but the university was not interested.”

The majority of the visiting Jews come from north London, but others come from as far afield as Israel and New York.

The families’ absence will affect a number of traders, according to Chris McKenzie-Grieve, president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce,

He said: “Many of the visitors shop in the town. And it will surely have a great effect on the university’s income.”

A spokesman for Aberystwyth University insisted that candles and naked flames were forbidden in all university residences. He said: “This is clearly set out in the terms and conditions which visiting groups are required to sign and abide by during their stay.

“Unfortunately, last year there was more than one incident involving lit candles with this visiting group.

The spokesman added that the university had been asked to relax the rules or to accept covered flames, but that it had rejected the suggestion.

“In reaching the decision not to allow candles to be lit in rooms, we have taken legal advice, consulted with the Health and Safety Executive and the Fire Service, and our own risk assessment.

“The decision has been taken in the interest of the safety of those staying in university accommodation, and to protect our property.

“At all times, the university has stated that it would be delighted to welcome this group back, as long as they are able to sign our terms and conditions.”

Tragedy struck the families last year when Berish Englander, a 47-year-old rabbi and father of 11 children, drowned in the sea off Aberystwyth’s promenade.

Last updated: 12:45pm, May 30 2013