The network which brings big gains for small UK communities

The Jewish Small Communities Network has grown to involve 100 communities and congregations in 80 locations


Ed Horwich acknowledges that “every organisation has someone who says they look after small communities. But they struggle because of resources.”

Drawing on his own experiences within the declining Southport Jewish population, the now Manchester-based photographer launched the Jewish Small Communities Network to support those living away from the major centres.

An early adopter of online promotion, he set up a website in 2003, ostensibly for the north-west. Today, the JSCN involves 100 communities and congregations in 80 geographical areas in the UK and Ireland.

“It helps them to have visibility and bring them together,” Mr Horwich explains. “People do not appreciate the scope of small communities.”

What started as side project became a part-time commitment and has reached the point where it takes up much of Mr Horwich’s working time. It is run on a shoestring, abetted by Lottery funding.

Mr Horwich defines small communities as those outside London and its environs, plus Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and the bigger coastal populations in the south. He currently also brackets Liverpool among the larger communities, although he believes that situation could change before too long.

By his estimation, that leaves up to 60,000 people, accounting for around 20 per cent of UK Jewry.

In the more remote centres, the JSCN has helped facilitate a barmitzvah in Shropshire, a Jewish funeral in Exeter and another in North Wales for someone who had spent their entire life in care.

It fields inquiries from those who have belatedly discovered halachic heritage and from social workers dealing with clients they know or suspect are Jewish. It is also contacted by people seeking Jewish knowledge about an area they will be moving to for work.

A regular question is “Will there be a minyan in Llandudno this week?” Chabad has a retreat in the Welsh coastal town.

Mr Horwich says that although the JSCN is not exactly inundated with inquiries, some take up considerable time because of the research involved. He has tried to maximise the content level on the website and further caters to his target audience by a diverse series of podcasts under the Jewish Talk banner.

The organisation additionally aims to satisfy the numerous requests from schools around the country for Jewish speakers.

Lottery cash has gone towards community meetings in places such as Chester, which Mr Horwich says is some 30 miles from a shul, and Sheffield, which involved representatives from nine communities and had a unifying quality.

The Chester event attracted a turnout of around two dozen and there were 40 people at the Sheffield gathering. After the latter, it was particularly satisfying when participants told him: “Now we feel more part of a community.”

For him, the JSCN represents the “missing jigsaw piece” for anyone wanting at least some semblance of Jewish life in towns and villages beyond the key communal areas. “In London and Manchester you get lots of Jewish stuff. Why can’t we do it for small communities?”

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