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Golders Green: Clocking up a growth in numbers

Charedi and Israeli influx is changing the face of a traditional community

    (Photo: John Belknap)
    (Photo: John Belknap)

    Walking down Golders Green Road, there is a decent chance of hearing a range of languages being spoken.

    Today the North-West London suburb is home to a melting pot of communities and cultures. But it retains one of the UK’s largest Jewish communities, including a fast-rising Charedi and Israeli population. The shtiebls of the former explain a shul count in excess of 40 — and more than 30 Jewish schools.

    Alongside the chain coffee shops and Polish supermarkets are close to 50 kosher restaurants, bakeries, shops and supermarkets. Golders Green is also the base for Jewish Care and a plethora of communal welfare projects.

    Based on Census figures, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) records a 34 per cent increase in Jewish population from 2001-2011, taking the community from 5,691 to 7,661.

    The changes have been observed by Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski of Golders Green Synagogue, which serves the traditional mainstream community.

    “There is a café culture there never was before and you will notice on the street there is a lot of Hebrew spoken,” he says. “You might hear Yiddish in Stamford Hill but not in Golders Green.”

    The shul — which is more than a century old — is itself attracting a broader and more youthful spectrum of worshippers, which the rabbi attributes to improved amenities for families.

    “We have an excellent nursery and school [Rimon Primary is on its Dunstan Road site]. But like anywhere in London, the cost of living makes it a challenge for families.”

    He believes an extension to the North-West London Eruv — covering the Golders Green Estate west of the A41 and going towards Cricklewood — will entice others to the area.

    “The houses on the other side of the A41 are more affordable,” he points out. “One of the reasons we pushed for the extension was because of the price of property.

    “People who come to the shul and live that far out don’t want to be outside the eruv.”

    Some 500 families belong to the synagogue and although the minister is keen to grow its numbers, he does not desire a membership of thousands. “It moves from rabbinic to crowd control at that point.”

    As in many shuls, members range from those for whom religion is “a deep priority” to people “who come for social reasons, or see it as a centre. We cater to all of them.”

    Located off Finchley Road in the direction of Temple Fortune, Alyth Reform has also had to adapt to meet the needs of a membership of 3,400, says minister Rabbi Mark Goldsmith.

    His community “has become much more diverse in their prayer and educational needs.

    “We hold at least two services every Shabbat morning and host hundreds at prayer every Shabbat evening.”

    Around 50 per cent of the shul’s younger members attend a Jewish school and Alyth’s Jewish education provision “has had to develop to meet the needs of those who do or do not learn in a Jewish environment during the week. We have become more comfortable with Jewish classical texts in our study programmes with large groups studying Talmud and Midrash weekly.”

    Lifelong Golders Green resident Caroline Levey says the area has changed dramatically.

    The 54-year-old Dunstan Road congregant says Golders Green has become more religious in Jewish terms — and has also undergone change among the general populace. “The Irish have left and there are a lot of Polish and Asian people now.”

    And whereas there were once just a handful of kosher restaurants, “now there are so many and it is lovely”.

    But, like Rabbi Belovski, she feelsthe cost of housing is making it harder for younger people to remain.

    “I don’t know how they afford to buy,” Mrs Levey says. “You can’t get a house for a family under anything near a million.”

    Rabbi Goldsmith agrees that “the area is certainly less affordable to young families than it was.

    “We have had families moving to Childs Hill, Cricklewood, Muswell Hill and Hendon in order to find less expensive housing.”

    He cites Jewish Care’s £44 million campus as another selling point of the area.

    At the campus, Belinda Topliff, manager of its Michael Sobell Community Centre, speaks of efforts to appeal to all strands of the community.

    Single-sex events are organised to cater for the more religious.“We helped to put a group of Orthodox ladies through training in keep-fit so they could work with the more Orthodox members.” The success of such activities has inspired similar projects for Charedi men.

    “Traditionally the men are interested in learning and prayers so we worked with the local shuls to provide lectures they will enjoy, followed by an exercise class. They then stay for lunch.

    “Part of the whole planning of this centre was to have a kosher licence so that people could eat here and benefit from everything on offer, not just come in for classes.

    “Word gets out and we work with different communities to involve them in the centre. We set up a kosher internet club, which means they can come in and book their trips to Israel or whatever it is they need to do.”

    Barry Yarrow, 87, has been a regular at the Golders Green campus since its reopening.

    “The area has completely changed,” he reflects. “It is like a ghetto now with all the religious people. And further up towards the tube station it is more ethnically mixed than it used to be.”

    Mr Yarrow participates in the centre’s Chaps That Chat sessions, enjoying the opportunity to converse with people from a range of backgrounds. “I love it because we’re all different and have very interesting life stories.”

    He credits the club for helping him to cope with the loss of his wife a year ago. “If I could do I would come here more.”

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