The sale of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation communal hall to a local Somali group will ensure the viability of the diminishing community for the foreseeable future.
From a membership in the 300s in the congregation’s 1950s’ heyday, the shul now has less than 100 members, most of them elderly.
“There have been just three new families in the past five years,” said chairman Gary Kramer, a Londoner who has lived in Leicester for over 20 years.
The original plan had been to sell both the communal hall and the main synagogue, a listed building dating back to 1898, and relocate to one of the suburbs where most of the community resides. “But on reviewing the state of the market, we decided to think again,” Mr Kramer explained.
“We are being actively supported by English Heritage to ensure that the shul is maintained for the congregation and for educational use for the wider community [such as visiting school groups]. Leicestershire County Council wants to see the heritage sustained for many years to come.”
To this end, an application for a six-figure grant has been made to the Heritage Lottery Fund for essential work to the synagogue and the adjoining schoolrooms.
With the loss of the community centre, it is hoped that the synagogue will be able to stage small-scale functions. Other activities for the young and old held in the centre will either switch to the shul or be hosted by members.
Mr Kramer believes the sale — “the culmination of a lot of hard work”— will sustain the congregation for at least 20 years. The shul maintains Shabbat services and Sunday and Thursday morning prayers and Mr Kramer paid tribute to Rabbi Shmuli Pink and his wife Rivkie “for working not only to engage those who observe but also those who have little engagement with Judaism”.