Gillian Merron, MP
Lincolnshire Jewish Community
Originally from Dagenham, Gillian Merron has been Lincoln’s Labour MP since 1997 and is currently a Health minister. Despite her busy political schedule, she finds time to run regularly and participates in the Lincoln 10k every year. She also enjoys watching Lincoln City FC home games. But her most rewarding pastime is attending services at the Lincolnshire Jewish Community, which has 55 members, 20 associates and 12 friends
Tell us a little about your community
Founded in 1992 and affiliated to Liberal Judaism, the community has revived Jewish life in Lincoln after a break of more than 700 years. We meet in the same building that was used by the Jewish community in the Middle Ages. Members are drawn from a wide area, up to 25 miles radius, and we even have associate members in London who want to support the community and enjoy visiting from time to time. We are an exceptionally diverse bunch and attendance at services and events is extremely high. We’re all there because we want to be. As an MP, the community for me is an anchor in an extremely busy life and only something very serious would keep me away. It provides a time of stillness and reflection that I couldn’t do without. Services take place every other Saturday, as well as on some Friday nights, and are led by student rabbi Sandra Kviat, or by one of our many experienced lay readers. It’s very supportive, inclusive and nourishing. We visit members when they are sick and we also run a bereavement committee. We maintain a busy social calendar and recently went to watch a fantastic local production of Fiddler on the Roof. We are launching cheder classes this weekend. My own introduction to the community is typical of the informal way we recruit new members. Nine years ago I spotted a man wearing a kippah at the Anne Frank exhibition in Lincoln Cathedral, which I was attending as a supporter of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I introduced myself and he turned out to be Allan Levene, the community’s membership secretary. He started sending me newsletters and let me know that the door was open. When I received an invitation to a Chanucah party, I couldn’t resist. Now if I meet someone who I think is Jewish, I’ll gently tell them about the community and invite them along. I’ve recruited a lot of people like that.
Is it easy to maintain Jewish life in your area?
Jewish life revolves around the community. We have a kiddush table after every service, which we take it in turns to sponsor. People often bring food from London and freeze it, because certain things are difficult to buy locally, for example, challah. Personally, I’m vegetarian. We provide our own adult education. We have had a few second bnei mitzvot, but no children’s celebrations so far — the first will be in a couple of years and we cannot wait.
What do you like about living where you do?
I love how the city has taken me in. It is a beautiful place with many different aspects to enjoy and it is getting better by the year. Transport links are great. And Lincolnshire Jewish Community is part of its cultural diversity. The city has an amazing history in respect of Judaism and there is a Jewish walking tour. Jews were driven out following the blood libel of Little Hugh, in which a Jewish man was accused of murdering a little boy and hiding his body in a well. Lincoln Cathedral recently held a rededication ceremony and gave a rewritten apology to the Jews for the horrors that followed the libel. It was a very moving ceremony and I had a tear in my eye. I said to the dean of Lincoln Cathedral: ‘I go to the cathedral for a great many public events. To have something of my own in there is really important.’
How can people find out more about your community?