South London Synagogue to close as numbers fall

Streatham-based US congregation, whose history dates back to 1867, can no longer sustain a minyan


With “great sadness”, the South London Synagogue congregation has voted for closure, a decision endorsed by the United Synagogue council this week.

Dwindling numbers and the declining health of leading members are behind the demise of the Streatham-based shul, which incorporated a number of former South London communities with a history dating back to 1867.

The current synagogue opened in 1986 and enjoyed a regular minyan until the pandemic.

Only 67 of its 107 members live in the South London area. Thirty-eight are aged between 81-90; ten are aged between 91-100. Just two are under 40.

The shul has been shut since the High Holy-Days, when the biggest attendance was 30 (including 12 non-members) on Yom Kippur day. It did not attract a minyan over Succot.

Online services and other activities have been continuing and the Rev Stewart Myers — who has been serving the shul since 2017 — has been checking on members’ welfare.

The congregation spent six months discussing future options before concluding that closure was the most practical, albeit with ongoing online provision and pastoral support.

Geoffrey Harris, who has chaired the shul since 2002, acknowledged that with decreasing membership, “we can no longer guarantee a weekly Shabbat minyan. And increasing age and ill health means that the honorary officers and council members can no longer satisfactorily fulfil their obligations.

“I am a third-generation warden, with my father and grandfather both having served. It is, therefore, with great personal sadness that our community must now face the inevitable.

“The community has been privileged to be led by outstanding ministers, past and present. Rabbi Philip Ginsbury, who came to Streatham in 1956, was still giving a weekly shiur up to March 2020.”

Mr Harris thanked the US trustees for their support while the shul was able to maintain a regular minyan.

US communities’ director Jo Grose said “the closure of any community, particularly one with such a long and proud history as South London, weighs heavy on all our hearts.

“The United Synagogue council recognised the proposal put to it by the South London honorary officers was painful but concluded it was the right thing for its members. South London members will now be able to join a United synagogue of their choice and we will facilitate the smooth transfer.”

On behalf of the US, she paid tribute to Mr Harris and South London’s other leaders “for their extraordinary service to their community.

“We look forward to a celebratory service with the community later in the year and will be archiving and photographing material so South London Synagogue’s rich history is properly documented.”

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