Redbridge rabbi sees latest merger as turning point for dwindling community

'I think there is a possibility to grow," says Steven Dansky on the eve of amalgamated Cranbrook congregation's first Shabbat


Not very many decades ago, the Jewish community in Redbridge was said to be the largest in Western Europe.

More recently, however, its history has been told through a series of mergers.

In 2014, the Wanstead and Woodford US congregation merged with the independent Orthodox Waltham Forest shul to form Woodford Forest United.

Three years on, the Woodford Liberal and Bet Tikvah congregations joined forces to establish East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue.

And this Shabbat will be the first for another merged congregation, Cranbrook United. This is the result of the amalgamation of the Redbridge United and Ilford United congregations (Redbridge United was itself the product of a 2014 merger between the Clayhall and Newbury Park shuls.)

But Cranbrook’s minister, Rabbi Steven Dansky, appears hopeful that the latest merger will prove something of a turning point.

“I think there is a possibility to grow the community,” he told the JC, suggesting Cranbrook “has together people of the right age groups and demographics. For example, there are a sufficient number of young families, perhaps, to create something really meaningful.”

It is housed on the premises of the former Ilford United in Beehive Lane and takes its name from a landmark local road. With more than 2,000 members, the new shul will be the largest United Synagogue in the Essex/East London area.

Together with his wife Siobhan, Rabbi Dansky, 41, wants to create “a vibrant, flagship community, one which actively strives to engage members at all levels”.

This will incorporate “a whole range of initiatives for members of all ages to provide multiple entry points of connection”.

Having served as rabbi of Redbridge United for the past year and a half, the South African-born minister appreciates the need to maintain a solid base of young families, and possibly attract new ones. “I’ve got a committee which is looking only at that,” he reported.

“The main thing, first of all, is to make them welcome in our community and to create tailored events for them, focusing very specifically on a plan for younger families and their needs.”

Asked for a preview of his sermon for the shul’s first Shabbat, he responded that “the most important element of any community is really about caring and how valuable every single individual is”.

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