United Synagogue sorry for 'misunderstanding' over small congregation's viability

The chair of the 85-member Staines Synagogue has complained that rather than offer encouragement, US head office has questioned its future


The United Synagogue has apologised for “any misunderstanding” after the chair of one of its smallest congregations was told by a US official that her shul was not viable.

Hilary Stone, who heads the 85-member Staines Synagogue in Middlesex, feels she should be receiving encouragement from head office.

But conversations she has had have given the impression that “they are not interested in us”.

Staines is one of seven remaining affiliate US synagogues.  Affiliates enjoy greater autonomy than constituent synagogues but receive fewer services from head office.

The US has been keen for affiliates to convert to constituent status, with three having made the change in the past five years and a fourth, Kingston, in the process of doing so.

“We are an ageing community and don’t have a cheder,” Mrs Stone explained. “We get a minyan on most Shabbat mornings.”

The congregation recently had to undertake “substantial roof repairs which made a big dent in our finances”. But, as an affiliate community, “we have stayed in the black — we are not allowed to go in the red”.

When she first spoke to a US official about what help might be on offer, she was told it was “not a viable community”.

Mrs Stone pointed out: “We’re the nearest shul to Heathrow airport, which is going to expand. He replied that was 10 to 15 years down the line.” In a more recent conversation, the official offered to “come down to see if would be religiously viable in five years’ time”.

She argues that the US attitude should be “let’s see what we can do to help you be viable in five years”, rather than take a view on its future now.

Donald Brenner, a Staines board member, stressed: “We have such a burning desire to carry on.

“We are going to do just that and not become a full US member synagogue, only to be told a little later on down the line that we are not viable and will have to close and lose everything.”

A US spokesman responded: “We are always ready to engage with local shuls and discuss working together to the benefit of the wider Jewish community.

“We work with member and affiliate shuls in this fashion and find that the best way to proceed is by getting together to discuss things. We are very happy to do this with Staines, as with any community, and we are sorry if there has been any misunderstanding in this case.”

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