Cash-strapped Essex shul finds funds to save rabbi's full-time role

Lisa Barrett had faced losing her job at South-West Essex Reform - or being switched to a part-time role


South-West Essex and Settlement Reform Synagogue has shelved a plan to make the post of full-time rabbi redundant just days before members were going to be asked to approve it.

Rabbi Lisa Barrett — who joined the Newbury Park-based congregation two years ago — had faced the prospect of either losing her job in six months or having to switch to a part-time role.

But shul chairman Colin Joseph wrote to members last Thursday — four days ahead of the AGM — informing them that the redundancy notice had been “rescinded”.

Proposals to release “some or all of the locked-up capital in our site” were being explored, he explained. If successful, they could produce “significant funds that would secure the financial future of the community”.

Trustees believe they will have enough money from an emergency appeal and increased subscriptions, along with “temporary contractual changes kindly agreed by the rabbi”, to allow time to consider the property options.

Papers previously sent to congregants in support of the redundancy plan explained the shul was dependent on rental income because of a drop in membership over the past eight years.

As a result of an unexpected decision by Norwood to close its centre on the synagogue premises in October, the shul would lose rent worth nearly nine per cent of its overall income.

According to the documents, within five years the congregation would “probably need to relocate and downsize to provide a capital sum that will secure the synagogue’s future for our children and children’s children”.While the special appeal had raised nearly £16,500 from 120 donors, it was “a long way short” of the £70,000 target.

Membership income was likely to be affected by a variety of factors. The combination of an ageing community, the exodus from the Redbridge area, young people not joining synagogues and the presence of 13 synagogues in a 15-mile radius meant there was pressure to keep fees competitive.

Although the synagogue had made savings over the past nine years, there was now “limited scope for major reductions”. Spending had dropped from £408,682 in 2009 to £396,759 last year. 

But the affiliation fees to the Movement for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Joint Burial Society had increased over that period. In 2009, the shul had been “on a significantly reduced rate because of the financial crisis at the time”.

Although a part-time rabbi was “not ideal”, the papers stated, the synagogue had successfully made it work with Rabbi Stephen Howard (November 2011 to September 2012) and Rabbi Jackie Tabick (January 2015 to April 2016).

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