Candles (and Jews) blown out in Wales

By Isabelle Fraser , October 25, 2013
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The group of Aberystwyth resident with the painting they presented to the university

The group of Aberystwyth resident with the painting they presented to the university

A group of Aberystwyth residents are up in arms over the exclusion of Orthodox Jews from their holiday homes.

Aberystwyth University has historically rented 150 student houses to members of Manchester’s Charedi community every August, for the past 20 years. This saw an influx of around a thousand Orthodox Jews to the area.

Last May, the university banned the use of candles in the residences, citing health and safety issues after a “minor incident” with a lighted candle.

The Orthodox visitors were thereby effectively banned from staying in the houses.

Think about the risk for restaurants, churches and birthday cakes

An anonymous letter has now been given to the University by members of the Aberystwyth community, along with a painting of three Orthodox Jews by a local artist, John L Dennett and a commemorative candle. The tongue-in-cheek letter read: “Aberystwyth University is a pioneer and Wales could become a world leader in eliminating this terrible danger. Just think about the risk of candles in romantic restaurants, Catholic churches, and on birthday cakes!”

Diane Richards, a specialist cancer nurse who was an instigator in writing the letter, called the university’s reasoning “spurious — I don’t know if it was antisemitism, I’m not sure if it was ignorance… but it is suspicious.”

A local newspaper, Cambrian News, reported in August that the dearth of Orthodox Jewish tourists this year had cost the town £100,000.

This August saw just 15 families returning to Aberystwyth, staying in private accommodation. One resident described the Jewish holidaymakers as “part of the landscape… Aberystwyth has lost some colour.”

Asked why the letter was anonymous, Diane Richards said “We wanted it to be broader than all the people who would sign,” emphasising that “a good cross-section of the town” supported their argument.

She added that there was a “general feeling of intimidation” surrounding the university.”

A spokesman for the university said in a statement that “Aberystwyth University is working with representatives of the Jewish community to find a resolution that it is hoped will enable them to return to Aberystwyth for their annual holiday.”

Last updated: 6:45am, October 25 2013