The only Jew in the village — and she wants to find more
Tori Joseph heads the Board of Deputies’ project to help regional communites
There are Jews in each of the 348 local authorities of England and Wales, according to the last Census, from three in the Scilly Isles and four in Merthyr Tydfil to 54,000 in Barnet.
It can be hard to sustain Jewish life when you are just a handful. But there is no one better equipped to grapple with the challenges than the manager of the Board of Deputies’ new Communities Partnership Project (CPP), which has been set up to help small regional communities.
Tori Joseph, 30, grew up in Prestatyn, north Wales, where the Jewish community consisted of just her family. The nearest synagogue is 22 miles away in Llandudno but it is mostly used as a retreat centre for visiting Lubavitch.
“I understand the pros and cons of living in a small community,” she said. “If you are in a minority group, it can often make your identity stronger.
“We were conscious that we were a Jewish family — it didn’t matter geographically where we were. We had a culturally Jewish upbringing, we celebrated the festivals. When I was 12, I was given a star of David.”
It was her father’s parents who first settled in the coastal town and later her mother’s parents moved up from Newport in south Wales (where the tiny synagogue recently donated some of its Torah scrolls to Israel).
Fluent in Welsh, she says that she “feels very much part of Welsh culture and Jewish culture. I am very proud of both cultures. I went on family holidays to Israel and I think Wales and Israel have a lot in common — they are the same size and have a very strong cultural identity.”
Her background also helps her to empathise with the émigré Israeli community. “I understand what it is to be in a different country away from home. Wales and England are two separate countries. When you have grown up among mountains and waterfalls, it’s very different.”
Both her and her sister Samantha’s identification with Judaism became stronger as they grew older, she says. She studied English at university in Aberystwyth and Toronto, then took a postgraduate course in journalism in Salford and interned with ITV before going to London to work on events and programmes for Jewish Care.
Now she lives in an area that, Jewishly, is about as far as it gets from Prestatyn — Golders Green.
The CPP is there to respond to requests from small communities — to arrange a pastoral visit from a rabbi, for example, or find a mohel for a brit or a speaker for an Israel event. “The project is for all ends of the spectrum,” she said.
“We don’t care where they come from or their levels of religious observance. The community can be just three Jews or 800.”
The small outposts of British Jewry are often doing an “amazing job” in maintaining, and sometimes regenerating, Jewish life in their locality, she says.
And one group the CPP would like to reach in particular are Israelis scattered far and wide.
As she goes round enlisting support for the project, she says she has already received an “amazing response from the Israeli community. They are very keen to be part of it.”