Margate synagogue saved after ‘anonymous benefactor’ steps in

An offer was accepted on the Cliftonville premises just before it was due to go to auction


A campaign to save Margate Hebrew Congregation’s 1920s building in the Cliftonville area has succeeded, raising the £300,000 needed to take over the property to become a cultural Jewish space. 

Save Our Shul (SOS) was able to have the building withdrawn from sale just as it was due to go for auction thanks to an “anonymous benefactor”, and contracts were exchanged on December 24.  

The synagogue will soon be handed over to the newly-formed Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC, which will then conduct a local consultation “to ensure that the new space is a welcoming meeting point for everyone, reflecting Cliftonville’s cultural pluralism and bringing people together”.  

The synagogue had been put up for auction in early November by shul management after upkeep of the premises became unmanageable for the 11-strong community.  

Geoffrey Gradus, the shul’s chairman, previously said they would maintain the synagogue’s charity with hopes of finding a smaller venue to relocate to.  

The building, originally constructed Jewish holidaymakers in the seaside town, had also attracted the interest of two Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation rabbis, who claimed the organisation would be “willing and able to take it over”. 

Now the deconsecrated site will become a venue for “music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and food, as well as celebrating the rich history and diversity of the area.” According to the campaign, fundraising for the conversion will begin in early 2021, with a view to opening the space to the public by late 2022. 

Francesca Ter-Berg, a klezmer cellist heading the all-female campaign to save the synagogue, said it had been a “massive relief” when they received the funding to take over the synagogue. 

“There were many sleepless nights and even some tears,” she said. “But we did it, it feels amazing and we are all so excited about the next steps. We have the full support of the local community and it has been amazing to connect with people from all over the world who have a historical personal relationship to the Synagogue itself.”

SOS also received support from some notable faces in the arts, including Margate-raised film director Arnold Schwartzman OBE, actors Sir Ben Kingsley and Steven Berkoff, as well as The Great Pottery Throwdown judge Keith Brymer Jones. 

Upon hearing the news, Mr Schwartzman described it as a “miracle for Margate”. 

During the First World War, the then synagogue was used for prayer by Jewish soldiers stationed nearby before they went off to fight in France. 

The current building was constructed in the 1920s at a cost of around £6,000. 

According to a report from 1928 from the Isle of Thanet Gazette on the laying of the building’s foundation stone, the synagogue was established to meet increasing demand from Jewish visitors. 

In 2017, the shul was forced to cancel its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services because of a lack of numbers. It has not held formal services since then. 

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