Unique Tour for Leeds Jews

By Jonathan Kalmus, June 19, 2014
Etz Chaim Synagogue

Etz Chaim Synagogue

What do you do when one of the world's most-watched sporting events takes place outside your synagogue on Shabbat? Start services early and serve a French cycling-themed kiddush, of course.

Leeds' Jewish community is preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of co-ordinating Shabbat around the visit of the Tour de France.

The prestigious cycling event's Grand Départ will cut through the Yorkshire city's Jewish neighbourhood, speeding past the gates of Alwoodley's Etz Chaim Synagogue on July 5.

It will bring with it not only thousands of spectators and a television audience of more than three billion, but significant logistical problems as well. As Chris Froome begins the defence of his title and the cyclists snake their way along Harrogate Road, the Jewish community will be sliced in half on either side of the barriers.

Shulgoers will find it impossible to walk their usual route to shul and will be unable to cross the tour's planned path before and after normal Shabbat service times.

For fifteen minutes, we are part of a world event going past our shul

Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue president Leon Davidson has planned a satellite service to take place at the Brodetsky Jewish primary school away from the route. An 8am start will allow congregants to finishing davening in time to watch the cyclists.

Mr Davidson said: "People were saying they couldn't miss this event, and we thought, 'what can we do about it?' We usually have 50 to 100 people attending. We are having a kiddush with baguettes, croissants and French cheeses. We want to make it special."

Councillor Dan Cohen co-ordinated meetings between communal leaders and Tour de France organisers to address potential problems.

Malcolm Sorkin, owner of the Kosherie store, will be one of the only business-owners in the area to miss out on the possibility of cashing in on extra customers flooding the area.

"They will pass very close to my shop, but it's a Saturday," he said. "There is a buzz in town, that's for sure."

A service will also go ahead at Etz Chaim for those able to reach the synagogue.Rabbi Anthony Gilbert, joint minister at Etz Chaim, said he expected to secure a prime viewing location from inside the shul gates.

"The plan is to finish our service about 10.45am and then go outside and watch. It is exciting. It's a world event going past our shul and we are part of it for 15 minutes."

Last updated: 4:45pm, June 19 2014