Hatfield: is this the next big Jewish area?

As they show the JC around, the United Synagogue explain the new 'person-centred' approach to building a community in the area


Hatfield has been identified as the next Hertfordshire area of Jewish growth by the United Synagogue, which is working to build on the existing congregation in neighbouring Welwyn Garden City.

The drive is being fronted by Welwyn’s young rabbinic couple Yakov and Eliana Tatz through the US’s Communities of Potential project.

And as they show the JC around the area, Rabbi Tatz explains that their approach will be different from the traditional.

“Today most Jewish communities are centred around a synagogue with services,” he says. “In Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, the goal, the dream, is to create a Jewish community where it’s centred around people.”

His wife adds: “We feel it’s very important to have relationships with our members and having one-on-one time.

“A community based on the shul is not working nowadays because people don’t necessarily feel the same connection with the ritual shul process. They feel connected with their friends and their peers and it’s an identity thing rather than a ritual thing.”

The couple have already organised a plethora of community activities ranging from a spa evening to Bollywood dancing to bring Jews in the locality together. Many of the events have been held at non-shul venues.

“We are getting a lot of people who would never necessarily want to be affiliated because they don’t do the rituals,” Mrs Tatz notes. “But when there’s a community feel, they’re like ‘oh, maybe I will come’.”

In terms of the actual demand, the US concedes that much of its research is anecdotal — its strategic projects lead Ben Vos says it “sometimes comes down to walking the streets and counting mezuzahs”. But in 2017, there was a congregation of 200 in Welwyn and an estimated 900 Jews in the surrounding area.

Mrs Tatz knows of three Jewish couples who have bought properties locally recently. Her husband fields “a lot of calls from random people in London” asking about Hatfield. The couple are planning an event next month for Jews contemplating moving to the area.

“If you look historically at communities like Borehamwood, Edgware, Golders Green and Hendon, people started moving there slowly,” Rabbi Tatz says.

“What’s so incredible about the US — and what they’ve done with Communities of Potential — is that they saw Hatfield and they realised: ‘Borehamwood prices are going up, Edgware prices are going up and Jews are starting to trickle towards Hatfield because that’s the next place down’.”

Young couple Michael and Janine Ajoodan-Poor are among the new arrivals in Hatfield.

Mrs Ajoodan-Poor says their welcome has “been really warm, everyone’s been really approachable.

“We don’t go to shul that often but when we’ve gone for, say, Rosh Hashanah, it’s like everyone wants to meet you, everyone recognises you and you really feel part of it.” Her husband adds: “It’s nice to have a rabbi that we can connect to. Someone that’s not as traditional as other United rabbis.”

Timothy Cole, until recently chair of Welwyn shul, believes the way forward is “about offering different things for different people.

“We’re accepting of all. We’ve got people who walk to shul, we’ve got people that don’t. We’ve got people that married out. We’ve got it all.”

Mr Cole and his wife moved from Borehamwood 13 years ago and now live in a “much bigger house” with a 130-foot garden.

As well as more affordable housing, he highlights the “easy routes into London — the train into London can be 22 minutes”.

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