‘Great joy’ as regional shuls restart services

Small communities report enthusiastic turnouts following the lockdown


Small communities are reporting enthusiastic turnouts as they reopen shuls following the lockdown.

Hull Hebrew Congregation — which lost three members to coronavirus — had 18 worshippers at its first Friday night service, a decent attendance from a community of 80, all but six of whom are over the age of 70. In total, five members had died during the lockdown.

Anna Grantham, joint-chair of the ladies’ guild, reported that six women had been among those present.

She said it had been a “great joy to be back in shul”. But some people had been hesitant to return, either because of health concerns or because the social element of shul would be missing because of distancing requirements.

Ms Grantham added that Hull’s minister, Rabbi Eli Denderowicz, who commutes from Gateshead, had been eager to come back, having led Zoom discussions on the weekly parashah on Thursday evenings.

Southport Hebrew Congregation reopened for a Shabbat morning service attended by 19 people, around a fifth of the membership.

Shul chair Gillian Moonman said the first service since March had been “poignant” and the congregation included a man who wanted to say Kaddish for his father, who had died during the lockdown.

The sanctuary can seat 70 socially distanced congregants and members have been allocated assigned seats where they can keep a siddur and chumash.

Shul leaders are not anticipating having to implement a booking system for the High Holy-Days and hope that many family groups will be able to attend.

In Newcastle, the United Hebrew Congregation is planning to reopen for a Friday night service on July 31 before easing into Shabbat morning and weekday services. Normal Shabbat attendance for the 200-member community was between 40 and 50, according to shul president Anthony Josephs. But with 80 per cent of congregants aged over 70, he expected fewer to attend.

Mr Josephs said that “in the early part of the lockdown, I never thought I’d miss shul, having occasionally bemoaned the fact that I seemed to be in shul all day, every day”.

Its online offering had attracted increased engagement, with a number of “Geordie ex-pats” from Toronto to Gibraltar tuning in. UHC still plans to sell the synagogue and relocate to its communal hall.

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