Closures, cuts and big plans

We look back at the big community stories of 2017 in our end-of-year round-up


2017 started with cuts. Jewish Care announced plans to close its Brenner Centre in Stamford Hill as part of an overhaul of services. One of the capital’s largest congregations, West London Synagogue, said it was cutting jobs, telling members it hadn’t taken sufficient care in balancing its books.

In a thinly veiled riposte to Trump administration policies, Prince Charles told World Jewish Relief’s dinner that he had decided to become a WJR patron because it helped “people in need, regardless of faith”.

Continuing the royal theme, Prince Charles invited Shoah survivors to St James’s Palace in his role as patron of the Holocaust Memorial Trust.

The only way was Essex for King Solomon High, which rejected the option of relocating the school from Redbridge to north-west London following a review into its future, concluding that to do so would be “the final nail in the coffin for the community”.

In another Essex enclave, the embryonic Charedi community in Canvey Island was boosted by the decision of the Agudas Israel Housing Associaton to buy properties in the area.

In March, a lunch attracted 325 people, the largest ever gathering of Jews in Hull and brought the curtain down on the community’s 250th anniversary celebrations.

There was good news for the Shir Hayim Reform congregation in Hampstead after stolen Sifrei Torah were found by a cricket club official, who was later invited to a special Shabbat featuring the recovered scrolls.

And bad news for Beis Aharon, a Chasidic boys’ school in Stamford Hill, where inspectors found that pupils struggled to name Prime Minister Theresa May.

As the football season ended, Manchester City’s oldest fan, 101-year-old Vera Cohen, enjoyed a surprise visit from City captain Vincent Kompany. She told him that when she started going to games, players were paid £12 for a win — “We had a laugh about that.”

There was a full and emotional house at Hendon Reform Synagogue for the shul’s final service before the merger with Edgware Reform, which has created a community of more than 2,500 families. Hendon’s Danescroft Avenue site was later sold for more than £6 million to a Strictly Orthodox boys’ school. And, as the new academic year began, Scotland’s only Jewish school, Calderwood Lodge Primary in Glasgow, moved to new premises as part of a ground-breaking project, sharing its £17 million site with a Catholic school.

A big-money scheme for the future is Jewish Care’s £47 million plan to redevelop its Princess Alexandra home in Stanmore.

West End shoppers enjoyed a charitable option as Norwood was involved in a pop-up shop at Selfridges in partnership with three other charities. Film-maker Miranda July curated the shop.

Britain’s most northerly community, Aberdeen, was itself in need of charity after flooding forced it out of its home for the High Holy Days. An emergency appeal elicited a generous response.

In a snapshot of the dilemmas facing declining shuls, Nottingham Hebrew Congregation made its minister, Rabbi Moshe Perez, redundant to save money. By contrast, Edinburgh is planning a £6 million Jewish cultural centre as a way to engage the unaffiliated and Brighton unveiled radical plans to revive the community, led by Brighton and Hove FC chairman Tony Bloom.

And, just about everywhere, Mitzvah Day 2017 was marked enthusiastically with Jews joining forces with members of other faiths in a record-breaking programme of activities, including in areas of almost no Jewish population.

The year ended with announcements by the CEOs of the community’s two biggest welfare charities — Simon Morris of Jewish Care and Norwood’s Elaine Kerr — that they will be standing down in 2018. Both are highly regarded within and outside the community and leave big shoes to fill.

Barry Toberman is the JC’s Community Editor

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