Newcastle synagogue numbers drop


Synagogue membership in Newcastle has almost halved in the last 10 years. And the forecast is that the downward trend will continue.

The sixth census of Newcastle Jewry, compiled by the Representative Council of North East Jewry, shows membership of the United Hebrew Congregation (UHC) and Newcastle Reform Synagogue (NRS), including children, has dropped from 956 in 1998 to 541 in 2009. UHC has 341, the Reform shul 200. The prediction is that by 2014, total membership will be down to 400.

Census committee chair Dorothy Sadlik fears "there will come a time, maybe within the next 10 years, when the shuls may have to merge or one may close".

An ageing population is evidenced by the statistics that just 12 per cent of congregants are under 30 and 77.5 per cent are over 50. There have been only 14 births since 2003 but 99 deaths. During the same period there were 24 marriages and 16 bar- and batmitzvahs. Only 25 Jews remain in Sunderland, where the Orthodox synagogue closed in 2006.

The report notes that declining Shabbat morning attendances and the struggle to attract midweek minyanim is a "major problem" for the Newcastle community and could encourage further migration, diminish the leadership pool and make the recruitment of rabbis more difficult.

Yet Mrs Sadlik said it was not all bad news, highlighting an influx of post-graduate students and young professionals who have taken an active role.

"The facts as presented would appear somewhat gloomy. However, the agenda for communal activities in Newcastle shows that life is anything but that with many communal activities taking place in our small but vibrant community on a weekly basis.

"Most nights of the week, there are several social and communal events in both the UHC of Newcastle site and Newcastle Reform Synagogue."

Brenda Dinsdale, co-president of the representative council, added that "one interesting statistic that emerged was that, despite the general decrease in numbers, there were a number of Jews in the region not affiliated to either synagogue. This gives us the opportunity to encourage people to become shul members."

There are recommendations that the 143 unaffiliated households be sent a letter from the council asking them to be more involved in the community and that the council updates its website to engage further with current or potential members.

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