How sad to hear that Margate’s shul cancelled its High Holy Day services this year, because they could not muster a minyan. The synagogue chairman explains that there are only eight regular worshippers. Young Jews move away, he says, “because there is nothing here for them”.
Nothing? I don’t think so. Let’s have a little more fighting spirit. Margate has a huge amount to offer Jews, young and old.
There’s a beautiful beach, and the glorious Turner Contemporary art gallery on the seafront. The town has become a magnet for hipsters, and is gentrifying furiously. There are vintage shops, cafes serving smashed avocado even a a mysterious shell grotto. And it’s less than two hours by train to London.
Biggest draw of all, are the house prices. Struggling to afford a one-bed terrace in Borehamwood (the UK’s most miserable area, according to official statistics released this week)? £300,000 in Margate would get you a five-bedroom family home.
The Margate Eight need to market their town and shul for next year. How about linking up with a local hotel and offering a seaside Yomtov experience? Invite the young, the creative, millenials priced out of the capital. Show them a different way of life. Jewish communities do not have to accept inevitable decline. As London becomes unaffordable, we need alternatives.
It’s not just the young who could be attracted to Margate. My generation are increasingly looking around for somewhere to settle as our kids grown up and (eventually) leave home. We are often asset-rich, looking to cash in our London houses, and move out. I sit with friends drinking coffee and discussing places that might be suitable. We don’t need Jewish schools any more, but we would like there to be a shul. Bournemouth? It’s a bit staid. Brighton? Expensive. Margate? Quite possible.
I grew up in an area with a small Jewish community. My experience is that they tend to be friendlier, and that people who might not bother with communal affairs in a large shul, get involved and work harder to keep their Jewish life going. Move to Margate and get involved in creating a new sort of community. I’ll be right behind you…