Greenwich draws a crowd as satellite launches find space in the market

Reform initiative expands reach of movement


Bromley Reform member Michelle Brooks Evans lives in Greenwich, which can require a 45-minute commute to shul.

So four years ago, she established a small satellite group for those similarly located, not appreciating its potential.

“We thought it would be nice for kids and the elderly to get together in smaller, more informal situations, like someone’s house,” Mrs Brooks Evans told the JC. “It really grew from there.”

From a starting core of around half a dozen, it now attracts 50 people and meets every four to six weeks in members’ homes.

“They learn and have Shabbat meals. Once we put up a world map so people could trace where their families were from.

“We really wanted to ensure that people aren’t missing that sense of community,” Mrs Brooks Evans added.

This is evidenced by the wide age range of participants — and the fact that those who drive to meetings offer lifts to those who cannot. “Genuine friendships have started because of it. We are slowly expanding. And mainly by word of mouth.”

The South London satellite is one example of Reform Judaism’s efforts to increase inclusion.

It is also having an impact in traditional Jewish areas. For example, Radlett Reform, the movement’s fastest-growing congregation, is running satellite operations in Borehamwood and Welwyn to meet local demand.

Radlett’s Rabbi Paul Freedman said that “by nurturing local geographic groups within our growing community, we are able to combine the advantages of both large and small congregations — a diversity of clergy, professional staff, facilities and activities — but also friendly, closer connections and support.

“In this way, our members are part of ‘big Radlett’ and also smaller chavurot. The two aspects of membership and engagement can really enhance each other.”

As with the Greenwich group, the Radlett satellite gatherings have led to “friendships being formed, especially with those living in the more remote areas, with people sharing lifts to cheder, etc”, explained shul chair Irene Blaston.

Radlett has “a large number of members in Borehamwood. But they didn’t know each other on their own street. Now each month we have a Friday night service followed by a dinner in a hall. People bring food, it’s free of charge and we welcome anyone — not just our members. People get to know its other, it’s intergenerational — we have both very young children and older people. The service rotates between rabbis Freedman and Celia Surget.”

Attendances average around three dozen but reach 60 on occasion. There is also a monthly local Kabbalat Shabbat service for under-fives.

But in Welwyn, “though the concept of the service and shared supper is the same as in Borehamwood, the purpose is different. Whereas Borehamwood is for people to get to know each other better, Welwyn is more for people who live too far away from shul, such as those living across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, to get together on a Friday night.”

Mrs Blaston added that the shul was contemplating further satellites. “We’ve done one Saturday morning at Mash Mills in Hemel Hempstead. Kings Langley is another area where we recognise growth — quite a lot of younger people are moving there.

“We are servicing the needs of the community because we cover an enormous geographic area from north of Edgware all the way up to Milton Keynes and across to Cambridge. We have even started streaming our services, so people can participate from their homes.”

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