Cash-strapped Liverpool shul makes minister redundant


Crippling finances have forced a major Liverpool synagogue to part company with its popular minister.

Childwall Hebrew Congregation has agreed a redundancy package with Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, having calculated that its remaining reserves of £25,000 would be exhausted by the end of 2016 if he remained. The minister, who joined the synagogue in 2011, will serve three months’ notice.

Shul chair Syd Edels said the move was solely the result of its “perilous” financial situation. Childwall has already made staffing cuts and Mr Edels estimated it would have required a one-off £70 payment from all the shul’s 300 members to retain the rabbi’s services.

Both the chairman and rabbi felt this was too much to ask of less well-off congregants. The resolution to terminate the rabbi’s employment will be presented to the AGM on March 1.

In a letter to members, Mr Edels explained the necessity “to re-establish a realistic reserve to shore up our dilapidated complex for maybe the next two years.

“Rabbi Wollenberg fully appreciates our predicament and has, within the tight timescale, fully co-operated with us in reaching a mutually agreed settlement.”

Despite facing a “pretty bleak” future, the rabbi is not taking the decision personally.
“The building’s old, the boiler’s broken — it’s a sad situation,” he said. His departure would “leave only one full-time rabbi in Liverpool [Allerton’s Daniel Lieberman] for 2,000 people, but they’re trying to avoid a situation where they wake up one morning and can’t pay me.

“They’re about to run out of money, so it’s not easy for the shul leadership. I have no hard feelings. It’s all been as dignified as these things can be.” The father-of-seven fears his family will be forced to leave Liverpool if he cannot find other work.

Rabbi Wollenberg urged congregants not to make his exit a divisive issue. “I hope whatever transpires is dignified, because sniping doesn’t help anyone. I hope there won’t be wedges driven, or people pointing fingers, because it doesn’t help anyone.” Normal service will be maintained during the period of notice.

Childwall is pinning its future on reaching agreement with the city council to release covenants to allow a sale of land, funding a smaller, purpose-built synagogue on the current site. Managing without a minister releases the funds to complete such a deal.

“If we can clear the covenant situation, there will, I hope, be a new shul in the next two years,” Mr Edels said. “The build period is about nine months and we don’t have any plans yet. But Rosh Hashanah 2017 is the target we’re aiming for.”

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