Simon Murray

I've moved from North London to Essex - and found Jewish life thriving

Simon Murray has swapped Borehamwood for Chigwell and loves his new community

April 01, 2022 10:56

When the girl of my dreams told me that she wanted us to live in Essex, I have to admit it took me a bit of time to get my head around it.

I grew up in Southgate and, after moving out of home, bought a flat in Borehamwood. I love both areas — my friends are there and they are major centres of Jewish communal life — so could never see myself living anywhere else.

Then I met Julie, an Essex girl. We started dating in 2017, married the next year and had our beautiful baby daughter this January.

There was just one issue. Julie absolutely loves Essex and had always made clear that she wanted to stay. And, despite my initial reluctance, if there’s one thing I believe above all else, it’s happy wife, happy life.

At first, we lived in Julie’s flat in Collier Row and then mine in Borehamwood. But the decision was eventually made that we were moving fully to Essex.

I had the same doubts and preconceptions that many do. I worried that all other young people were moving in the opposite direction to us and that only an ageing Jewish community remained in Essex. I felt I’d find no Jewish life, no thriving communities and that we were making a mistake.

But since we bought our dream home in Chigwell last year, I’m pleased to say I couldn’t have been more wrong. I absolutely love it.

There are so many mezuzahs down our road and surrounding roads, lots of young Jewish families around and we can’t walk down Grange Hill Parade or Chigwell Parade on a Sunday morning without seeing someone we know.

I go to Chigwell and Hainault United Synagogue every Shabbat. The community is very friendly and has been so welcoming.

Many of the members know Julie from when she was a kid and are delighted that she has stayed in the area — and, better still, had persuaded a North London boy to join her.

We are keen to be part of the community and become fully involved with activities for young families. We have made many friends and attended the young families’ Purim party, which was brilliant. We will be hosting a monthly Jewish wisdom learning series for men under the age of 40 at our home.

The synagogue has just appointed a new young rabbinic couple, Rafi and Chaya Goodwin, who we have got to know well and are fantastic.

Chabad is also doing an incredible job in Essex with centres all over, making it so easy to connect to Judaism. Reform and Liberal synagogues are also seeing new young families joining. There really is something for everyone.

I love getting my challah from La Boucherie on a Friday and my local newsagent stocks the JC. And we are only a 30-minute drive from my family and friends in North London. The only thing missing is a kosher restaurant.

Before the move, we looked at many different places in Essex — including Loughton and Buckhurst Hill — but Chigwell is just brilliant, with beautiful houses and roads.

It is so green as well and, during our first few weeks, my wife and I couldn’t believe how fresh the air was compared to Borehamwood. We are surrounded by countryside with Epping Forest and Havering Country Park a short drive away. Plus, there is much better value for money in housing compared to North London so we were able to buy and renovate our dream home.

Essex people are down to earth, very friendly and proud to live here.

And because it is a smaller community than parts of North London, there is a real sense of warmth and love for someone like me who has made this reverse move.

Everyone has been so welcoming. I love hearing the stories about how Gants Hill and Clayhall were once the massive centres of the Jewish community and meeting the older generation who are still here.

With more and more young people and couples making the same move, I’m hopeful that together we can build the Essex community back to what it used to be.

Simon Murray is a regular attendee at Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue

April 01, 2022 10:56

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