No inner city blues for happy inner city Jews

By Jessica Elgot, July 7, 2011
'The nearest synagogue is two minutes on foot - or half an hour by car'

'The nearest synagogue is two minutes on foot - or half an hour by car'

Synagogues in the heart of the UK's major cities could get a new lease of life as young Jews shun the suburbs in favour of city living.

New city centre apartments in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham are making inner city living more attractive to Jewish professionals.

In London, the Jewish population is growing in central locations such as Bloomsbury, Paddington, Islington and Shoreditch – where it is still possible
to live a kosher lifestyle, and walk to synagogue.

Trade magazine writer Sheli Rodney, 24, lives in Paddington with husband Simon, a newly qualified doctor. They keep kosher by using supermarket deliveries, eat at kosher restaurant Isola Bella in the Westfield shopping centre, and walk to New West End Synagogue every Shabbat.

Mrs Rodney said: "My husband's been working in St Mary's Hospital. Living nearby is really helpful when he's on night shifts, and it means we're able to spend a lot more time together."

Sheli and Simon Rodney

Sheli and Simon Rodney

City living was not more expensive, Mrs Rodney said. "I think we're actually saving money: we don't have a car, Simon walks or cycles to work, I get the tube. We could spend a lot more money here, but we keep kosher so we aren't tempted by the expensive restaurants. We only go to kosher restaurants, and if we lived in a very Jewish area, we would go out all the time."

There are a number of Orthodox and Reform synagogues in central London, including Chelsea Synagogue, New West End, Central Synagogue, West End Great Synagogue, Westminster and the West London Reform Synagogue.

In other cities, Manchester's Jackson's Row Reform Synagogue is central, as is Glasgow's Garnethill Synagogue, and Birmingham Hebrew Congregation is five minutes from the city's major shopping streets.

Manchester Beth Din's Rabbi Yehudah Brodie said: "Certainly there are more and more flats being built in the centre of Manchester, I know there are Jewish people living there. You're never more than 15 or 20 minutes from a kosher shop or restaurant, and you can buy everything you need online."

Michael Kay, 34, is studying for a PhD and lives in central Leeds, but grew up in the centre of Reading. "I buy my food via Hillel, so I rarely have to go to north Leeds for shopping, you can ask the rabbis to pick things up. But it's very important for me to live close to a synagogue. Reading, where I grew up, has the shul right in the centre of town, and it's about 20 minutes walk for us on Shabbat. My mum bulk-buys kosher food from London and we have two freezers. It's definitely possible to be observant and have the convenience of living in the city."

To meet demand for a Jewish lifestyle in new areas of London, Chabad has opened premises in Holborn, Bloomsbury, Shoreditch and one is planned for Islington.

Rabbi Yisroel Lew, from Chabad of Bloomsbury, lives on Warren Street. He said: "We kosher kitchens for people and there's kosher food available at Waitrose and Selfridges. It's almost as easy to keep Shabbat in the West End as it is in any Jewish area which doesn't have an eruv."

Rabbi Mendel Cohen runs Chabad of Shoreditch, attracting both city workers and bohemian types from east London. "We have started Shabbat dinners at local shuls to help boost their numbers and presence, including the first one in 50 years at Sandy's Row, as well as a joint one with Bevis Marks. That attracted more than 50 people. It can be challenging getting kosher food in the City. I often get last minute- calls to bring challot and wine from north west London."

Last updated: 12:19pm, July 7 2011