Guildford gets first permanent rabbi in 80 years

The congregation is one of the smallest in the UK


Rabbi Alex Goldberg, rabbi of Guildford Synagogue

Guildford Synagogue has appointed its first permanent rabbi in nearly 80 years.

Rabbi Alex Goldberg has been chosen to lead the town’s small Jewish congregation in Guildford Synagogue on York Road, the synagogue in which he had his bar mitzvah.

He told the JC the request from the community to become the shul’s official rabbi, which since 1945 has been led by its members and hosted visiting rabbis, was a “pleasant surprise” and one he “felt was right to accept”.

He said he will be “restructuring” his current position as Dean of Religious Life at the University of Surrey in order to serve the town’s Jewish community.

He sees his role as being created in part to encourage an informal merging of three separate communities: the Guildford Synagogue, which currently has around 50 members, Jewish students at the University of Surrey, and the online “Covid community” made up of local Jewish people who initially formed online during the pandemic but has since continued. The three combined communities could number as many as 350 people.

He said that especially in the last seven months since October, there has been a “growing need for rabbinic pastoral care and spiritual guidance” for Jewish communities.

As well as focussing on growing the community, Goldberg will look to offer more programmes for young and old people, strengthen interfaith relations with local churches, and “generally try to create a bit of Yiddishkeit, Jewish identity and religious life in the Surrey Hills.”

“Guildford’s Jewish community of 10 years ago was I think quite an ageing community made up of people from the war and post-war period, who mostly arrived when the university opened its newer sites in Guildford during the 1960s and 1970s.

“Now, that’s changing,” he said. “The Jewish community in Guildford and surrounding towns is growing slightly, but more importantly it's changing demographically, with more young families moving away from London boroughs and finding in Guildford a place that offers enterprise, industry, arts and culture, all in beautiful, green countryside.”

He said Guildford residents “are very artsy people, very scientific and very talented. It will be a joy and a privilege to serve.”

Beatrice Gould, 93, has been a member of Guildford Synagogue for many decades and currently serves as its chair. She said it was the community’s hope that Rabbi Goldberg, who she has known since he was a baby, will act as “a live wire to get the community going again” and engage with more younger people.

“Guildford is a lovely and wonderful place to live,” she said, “and particularly good for older people with so many facilities and organisations that we can join and enjoy. It is an amazing place to live and community to be a part of.”

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