Shul used as a public convenience, but relief is in sight for members

By Daniel Easterman, November 7, 2013
Plymouth Hebrew Congregation: targeted by drinkers and drug-users

Plymouth Hebrew Congregation: targeted by drinkers and drug-users

For years, Jews in Plymouth have had to put up with local revellers using the area round their synagogue as a public convenience.

Pubgoers urinate — and worse — in the alley that runs next to the city-centre shul. Drug-users have also found the narrow lane a good spot to indulge their habits.

But a solution may be at hand. Members of the Orthodox Hebrew Congregation — established in 1762, and the oldest operating Ashkenazi synagogue in the country — have lodged a planning application for iron gates to block access to the alley. A decision by the city council is expected next month.

“There has also been underage drinking and teenagers sniffing all kinds of things, including aerosol cans,” said Jerry Sibley, the synagogue caretaker who lives at the end of the alley. He had recently witnessed people snorting what looked like a white powder on top of a box next to the synagogue’s front door.

He said: “Women also use the synagogue’s grounds to go to the toilet and have accused me of being a pervert just for walking past them trying to get home. This has been really hard.”

Dr Peter Lee, the congregation’s warden and treasurer, said it had taken about two years to collect the evidence to submit a planning application. Local Tory MP Oliver Colvile had provided assistance in putting the application together.

Dr Lee said: “After we get permission from the council, we then have to apply to the Ministry of Transport to “extinguish” the definition of the alleyway as a highway. It dates back to the 18th century, around the period when the synagogue was founded.”

He paid tribute to Mr Sibley, whose work as caretaker had allowed “the religious life of our congregants to go on pretty much as normal despite all the disturbances”.

Darren Dulling, of Plymouth Council’s technical support team, said the application is being processed and a decision is due on December 18.

Last updated: 1:45pm, November 7 2013