Twenty-five years ago, Hale was a place to move to in Manchester to get away from Judaism, for joining the Cheshire set and forgetting your Cheetham Hill roots. But that is no longer the case.
Located 12 miles south of Manchester city centre, Hale is home to a thriving 1,000-strong congregation with a strong sense of unity. It is led by Rabbi Joel Portnoy, who joined in the quad-biking and hot air ballooning on a recent residential Shabbaton in Bournemouth with the congregation's barmitzvah and bat chayil students.
Rabbi Portnoy says that "Hale has evolved into a kehillah, a holistic community in its own right". Its objectives of Torah study, prayer and kind deeds "are manifest not just at our shul services but in the constant interaction of our members in a spirit of communal warmth, friendship and growing spirituality".
President Lawrence Fruhman says "strangers who come on Shabbat are, without fail, bowled over by the friendliness and warmth and visible cohesion. It is like one big happy family."
Such is the Hale effect that Mark Savinson decided to move to the area from London within two days of attending a simchah at Hale. "Our friends were amazed that we could make such a radical decision," he recalled. "What they hadn't seen was that Hale provided us with ease of access to everything a Jewish person needs. We are 10 minutes' walk from a butcher, baker and deli, and 15 minutes from shul. Hale is also a welcoming and friendly community."
He added that after attending his son's barmitzvah service, another family was encouraged to come to Hale.
The family summer seudah season highlights Hale's inclusivity, providing shiurim for men and women and entertainment for the children. Involvement has grown to the point where a garden marquee has been erected to accommodate participants.
"The hard core who never miss minchah mix socially with those who rarely set foot in shul on Shabbat," Mr Fruhman reported. "It is an example of being tolerant and non-judgmental."
Hale's inaugural service in November 1976 attracted 60 people and was conducted with a sefer Torah borrowed from the Stenecourt Synagogue in Broughton Park. The current Shay Lane site was purchased in 1978 with a new shul and community centre opened in 2003. Over 50 children attend the adjoining purpose-built nursery, headed by Pauline Newton, who says numbers have doubled since her arrival in 2000. "We offer a Jewish curriculum integrated with early learning goals. Rabbi Portnoy believes in instilling a Jewish feeling early in life."
Congregant John Blaskey highlighted the role of both the rabbi, his wife Ruthie and their nine children in communal life. "The rabbi does it by example and by the example of his kids. I don't know of any other rabbi whose kids are friendly with children in the community. They are normal kids but they have not compromised their values."
Hale has established its own cemetery and prayer hall in Dunham, a chevrah kadishah team and a kosher banqueting facility. The community is also served by a mikveh.
Raised in the area, 26-year-old Daniel Chalkin returned from university in Leeds to find very little socially for Jewish singles. "We have worked hard to create our own social environment and things are improving," he reported. "The UJIA and JNF are doing events and networking is good." However, the youthful input of Rabbi Danny Bergson, who moved to Glasgow two years ago, was much missed.