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Glasgow synagogues vote to merge

The Giffnock and Newlands and Newton Mearns shuls have started the process of amalgamation with overwhelming member support

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Members of two Glasgow Orthodox shuls have voted overwhelmingly for merger.

Following last week’s ballot, the chairs of the Newton Mearns and Giffnock and Newlands congregations addressed a joint Zoom meeting of 450 people on Monday night. The combined congregation will number around 870 members.

A merger between the two synagogues — located within 2.5 miles of each other on the south side of Glasgow — had been a possibility for two decades, with declining membership a symptom of the shrinking Scottish Jewish community.

However, it was the Covid crisis and its potential impact on congregation engagement and size that finally provided the “catalyst which helped to focus the minds” of the shul leadership teams.

Newton Mearns chair Lewis Orchant observed that now was “simply the right time to overcome the challenges [the communities face] and take responsibility for ensuring we can sustain and build a vibrant and exciting future for our newly-created congregation. There is little doubt we will be far stronger together.”

His Giffnock and Newlands counterpart Jeffrey Jesner said the merger “will benefit the Glasgow Jewish community and provide a strong, viable congregation which will be well funded into the foreseeable future.

“In a shrinking community with an ageing population, it is inevitable that organisations will have to look at how they can come together and work more efficiently with fewer volunteers. Giffnock and Newton Mearns congregations are showing the way.”

This week’s announcement kick-starts a 12-month transition period, during which questions such as where the new congregation will meet and the fate of the other building will be resolved.

For now, the two congregations will continue to operate from their current locations under one administration.

A merger team was first assembled after a meeting in early 2020 between the two shul chairmen and Giffnock’s Rabbi Moshe Rubin. By December, the merger team began consulting congregants. A series of Zoom meetings took place simultaneously with congregants of both synagogues throughout February.

The two shuls have been working together during the pandemic. In between lockdowns, Newton Mearns has been holding joint prayers with Giffnock as a result of reduced numbers at weekday services.

When Newton Mearns’ caretaker tested positive for coronavirus in October, forcing the shul to close, congregants were able to attend services at Giffnock.

Giffnock currently has a membership of around 570. The Newton Mearns congregation is just over 300.

Glasgow Jewry has been in decline in recent decades. In 1969, the Jewish population of the city numbered about 13,400. But by the time of the 2011 Census, it had shrunk to around 3,500.

Langside Synagogue — an Orthodox Glasgow congregation dating back to 1927 — closed four years ago as a result of falling numbers. Its building failed to reach its reserve price at a recent auction, delighting campaigners who are trying to save it for community use.

 

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