Rabbi Romain says he'll keep his shul doors open so needy can stay warm

Maidenhead rabbi offers the reassurance as the economic and energy crisis bites


Maidenhead rabbi Jonathan Romain has vowed to throw open the doors of his synagogue to members struggling to stay warm this winter as the economic and energy crisis bites.

Rabbi Romain told the JC: “Our shul will remain open all day from the late autumn to welcome anyone unable to keep warm at home as energy prices soar.

“Initially the scheme will just be for members, but we might widen it if we feel there is a need. What is key is that we will be flexible and respond to events.”

The Reform congregation has also seen a massive increase in members cancelling their subscriptions or seeking reduced fees because of the economic crisis, he added.

He said: “Since renewal deadlines for membership subscriptions approached earlier this month, we have sadly been flooded by people across all ages and income brackets requesting reduced fees or asking to cancel their membership because they are terrified by rising energy, food and transport costs.

“This is highly unusual, with the typical year seeing just one or two membership cancellations due to people moving out of the locality.”

Rabbi Romain said membership had increased during the coronavirus pandemic, when the shul had anticipated that numbers would fall.

“Only now, as cost-of-living pressures spiral are we concerned about reduced memberships.”

He went on: “Communities cannot sit on their hands. We are already being proactive in our response. We are making sure to immediately contact anyone who gets in touch about a cost-of-living issue.

“Of course, we have a balance sheet, but we are happy to carry people if that’s what’s needed. We are more interested in people than pounds, shillings and pence.”

He also suggested that people’s ability to observe Jewish dietary laws could be compromised as prices rocket.

“With people currently looking for cuts wherever they can, it is also likely that less observant people who had previously kept kashrut out of habit rather than religious principle might be driven to cheaper food sources that may be non-kosher,” he said.

He also highlighted the strains that price pressures are exerting on family ties. “At the moment the impact on travel costs is short-term, but it could be that people who have family in Israel and elsewhere could see their relatives less. I was recently made aware of a wedding with a significantly reduced guest list, simply because many of the couple’s relatives based abroad could not afford to fly to the UK.

“It could also be that many educational and youth trips will not be able to go ahead as planned.

“Financial problems always lead to domestic problems,” said Rabbi Romain. “Our synagogue is luckily equipped with several trained counsellors and psychotherapists who volunteer to help people within the community, but I expect that their workload will increase.”

A recent survey found that 28 per cent of British adults were experiencing negative effects on their mental health because of rising living costs.

With the NHS facing record backlogs, volunteer mental health facilities such as Maidenhead’s are more crucial than ever.

“Synagogues can be enormously helpful. They are places where members should feel at home and safe from all the troubles of the world. Nationwide charities such as Jewish Women’s Aid, Jewish Care and the counselling service Raphael also provide essential help,” said Rabbi Romain.

The synagogue currently holds weekly lunches for the homeless and English lessons for Ukrainians.

An online discussion between a number of UK Reform rabbis on how to best help community members facing economic hardships will take place later this month.

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