London shuls reveal reopening plans

Services will be 'very different' and 'the social environment will be absent'


Shuls across London have spoken of their efforts to ensure a smooth reopening over the coming weeks.

For South Hampstead Synagogue, Sunday will be the first day back with a cap of 30 congregants. Online services will continue and members will be able to sign up for Shabbat for next weekend.

Although the shul has around 2,500 members, Rabbi Shlomo Levin reasoned that “not all are going to come to shul on Shabbat. If they do, we’ll hire the Albert Hall,” he joked.

Services would be “very different. But “shuls are not just about services. They’re about a whole social environment — and that is of necessity going to be absent.”

South Hampstead has a few barmitzvahs coming up, the first on July 11, but families are still deciding whether to have them in shul.

Pinner Synagogue will also reopen on Sunday with morning and evening services. “The big test” will be its first Shabbat service next weekend, said its chair, Jonathan Mindell. A big response to a recent survey of members suggested Pinner may be oversubscribed for Shabbat morning bookings. It has a congregation of 1,100 and the sanctuary — which normally would seat 350 comfortably — will accommodate just under 60.

“There are a large number of people who want to come, despite the fact we’ve been very clear about what the service will look like,” Mr Mindell said. In preparation, Rabbi Ben Kurzer has released a series of walk-through videos, instructing members on how to attend safely.

In the meantime, weekday services will continue on Zoom and there are plans to livestream communal activities when events are allowed.

All barmitzvahs and weddings have been postponed and the shul has drawn up plans for the High Holy-Days in the event that current guidelines remain in place, including running a parallel service in a hall in Hatch End.

The Hadley Wood community will be back for Shabbat — the shul doesn’t normally hold weekday services.

Its premises have been deep cleaned in preparation this week. Its chair, John Melchior, told the JC that all the doors will be open so congregants will not have to touch them. The layout of the building allows for extra seating outside. Even so, instead of the usual 250 seats, the shul will be down to around 50.

“We need to be safe. But it’s also important that we start moving towards some sort of normality,” Mr Melchior added, citing mental health as an important issue.

Muswell Hill Synagogue will reopen with an outdoor service on Sunday morning. According to chair Karen Ackerman, the shul was working “step by step”, estimating that it would be a month before the 700-member shul would hold a Saturday service.

South of the river, Sutton and District Synagogue will restart on July 10 for a Friday night service, with Shabbat morning gatherings resuming the following week.

The shul will only be able to seat 25 of its 160 members, a “significant proportion” of whom are over the age of 70.

Chairman David Heller told the JC it would be a strange experience — but “we will have to adapt”. Without singing, some might find services “easier to follow and quite meaningful”.

Sutton has also put out a survey to assess demand for the festivals.

S&P Sephardi shuls officially reopen for Shabbat on July 11 but the hope is to begin weekday Shacharit at Lauderdale Road Synagogue from Sunday.

Its synagogues will all have plexi-glass installed over the bimah and attendees must wear face masks.

Due to social distancing, the capacity at Bevis Marks has been reduced from around 550 to a maximum of 40. Its Wembley shul, which can normally hold 120, will have a revised limit of 29 and Lauderdale Road — which seats 450 — will be down to 90.

The latter will have a booking system “to ensure as many people who wish to attend services are able to do so in a controlled way”, explained S&P chief executive David Arden.

Non-Shabbat services will be livestreamed and with restrictions on singing, the movement hopes to provide members with recordings of some of the songs that would usually feature.

S&P is in the “early stages” of planning outdoor minyans. There are no firm plans for the High Holy-Days and it was “extremely unlikely” there would be a succah at Bevis Marks this year. It is hoped Bevis Marks can reopen to tourists “once we feel it is safe and appropriate to do so”, Mr Arden added.

Od Yosef Hai in Hendon, run by the head of the Sephardi Beth Din, Dayan Abraham David, will be holding a service this Shabbat.

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