‘Declining’ Reading cannot afford to keep its minister


Reading Hebrew Congregation is to make its rabbi and rebbetzin redundant because it can no longer afford to keep them.

Rabbi Zvi and Shira Solomons, who arrived from Liverpool seven years ago, will lose their posts at the end of the month.

Reading's president, Sarah Firsht, said membership had been "declining continuously over the past two decades. There are now only around 50 local families who are able to financially support the synagogue and community." The congregation was "relatively elderly" with few new members in recent times.

"The impact has been very severe in financial terms, to the extent that the community can no longer support a rabbinical couple on any basis". It had been "a difficult situation for all involved", she added.

The Solomons, who have three children, said they would continue to serve the south-east community.

"We hope that, together with the shul, we will be able to reach agreement on how to build the strongest possible future for Judaism here, even as they no longer can employ us," they said. "Whatever their decision, we are committed to the Jewish community of Berkshire and continue to serve as the Orthodox rabbi and rebbetzin here.

"We invite all those who believe that Berkshire's Orthodox Jewish community has a future to support our continuing activities. We shall welcome visitors and locals to our home in Reading as normal."

The JC reported last week that another regional synagogue, Childwall in Liverpool, had raised £30,000 from an emergency appeal to retain its rabbi, who would otherwise have been made redundant on financial grounds.

Sheffield's Rabbi Yonosan Golomb, who chairs the Rabbinical Council of the Provinces, said what had happened in Reading was "symptomatic" of the problems facing several regional communities.

"Numbers have been diminishing and so has income," he said. "It's like a bath where the water is running out. You don't notice it for a while until you see the bottom."

Sheffield last year became the first northern congregation to join the United Synagogue, which he described as a "knight in shining armour".

The US will help to maintain a congregation for as long as it can keep a regular Shabbat morning minyan.

Nottingham's Orthodox community is considering following Sheffield's lead.

Mrs Firsht said that Reading had also contemplated a tie-up with the US but "the board felt there was no general support within the community".

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