Sadness as shul holds final service


Emotions ran high at the valedictory service of Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation on Sunday as 200 congregants said goodbye to the 95-year-old east London shul.

Since February, members of the formerly independent community have been worshipping at the Churchfields premises of Wanstead and Woodford Synagogue, following Waltham Forest's merger with the United shul to form Woodford Forest. The merged congregation numbers 1,200.

Martine Asscher, a lifelong Waltham Forest member who has been a security volunteer, said there was almost universal sadness at the final service.

"As I stood outside Boundary Road shul for the last time, I thought: 'This is my home from home, my place of worship. It holds so many memories.'

"Everybody is very sad. It's very hard being on the door when people come up to you and say: 'Why are you closing?'"

Shul chair Mark Phillips - now co-chair of Woodford Forest United Synagogue - said it had been a wrench to leave Boundary Road, but that it was the only choice for a struggling community.

"You've got to look at it in the context of why the merger took place. We're a community which has moved away from the Walthamstow area.

"For the past couple of years, attendances were in decline and we were struggling to deal with it.

"That's why, looking at the demographics of our community, we joined forces with Wanstead and Woodford."

The merged community is in the process of selecting a senior rabbinical couple and youth minister. Waltham Forest's full-time minister for nearly a decade, Rev Stewart Myers, has been made redundant.

Mr Phillips said the decision had been difficult, but that the minister had "accepted with extreme good grace the requirements of the community. I would say we parted on extremely good terms, not just on a personal level but also on a communal level.

"He totally accepts the situation. We all think it's a great shame to leave a building after 90-odd years."

The first Woodford Forest Shabbat service had attracted a turnout of 160 "and it's been quite buoyant since then. I look forward to working with a new rabbi and board of management in writing this tremendously exciting new chapter of the Jewish community of Woodford Forest".

Those Waltham Forest members still living in the Walthamstow area now face a four-mile journey to shul, a problem for the elderly who are shomer Shabbat.

"We have a number of families who are based in the vicinity of the [Churchfields] synagogue who are happy to help out and provide accommodation," Mr Phillips said.

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