Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet is one of the most high-profile rabbis in the country. But could the outspoken minister of Mill Hill Synagogue be proving a magnet for the area?
Mill Hill in north-west London is one of the ten wards in England and Wales with the biggest Jewish population, according to the latest data released from the 2011 census.
Some of the top ten, like New River and Springfield in the north London borough of Hackney, or Kersal in Salford and Sedgley, Bury, reflect the rapidly growing Charedi community – the main reason that the Jewish population was slightly up on the 2001 census nationally.
But analysis by the Institute for the Jewish Policy Research (JPR) also reveals that in 10 years the Jewish community has grown by around a quarter in wards such as Mill Hill and Finchley Church End in Barnet. Some of the country’s most thriving synagogues are located in and around Finchley — Finchley United, home of chief rabbi-elect Ephraim Mirvis, New North London and Finchley Reform — while new Jewish schools have opened or are about to open there.
JPR executive director Jonathan Boyd posed the question: “Is it the strength of the shuls driving people to the area, or are people moving to the area and then joining the shuls?”
The census breakdown is so detailed that it is possible to calculate the Jewish population not only for individual wards but also smaller clusters of 300 or so people. Synagogues have used the results of the previous census to work out how many Jews lived within walking distance, for example, while new Jewish schools could estimate the potential demand in their catchment area.
“Compared to many other Jewish communities around the world, we are extremely lucky to have such quality and specificity of data,” Mr Boyd said. “What we need to see is the age breakdown [for 2011]. That will give a real sense of what is happening.”
British Jews remain remarkably concentrated, with half living in just 66 of the more than 8,500 wards in England. While no ward has a Jewish majority, Kersal has the densest Jewish population, comprising 41 per cent of its residents. Whereas Garden Suburb in Barnet was the most populous Jewish ward in 2001, even though it has grown since, it has been overtaken by Golders Green, which has increased by a third in a decade.
JPR now puts the number of Jews in Golders Green at 7,661 – which is considerably higher than the 6,795 people in the ward who identified themselves as Jews by answering the religion question in the census.
JPR has adjusted the total by adding the estimated number of Jews from among people in the ward who did not answer the religion question. In fact, JPR demographer David Graham has found that in wards with large Jewish populations, the number of residents overall who omitted the religion question was 9.3 per cent — more than the 7.2 per cent who left it blank across the country as a whole.
Local figures shed further light on the rise of the Charedi sector. Strictly Orthodox communities have been expanding out of the strongholds of Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington in Hackney to the neighbouring borough of Haringey: the Jewish community of Haringey’s Seven Sisters has doubled in a decade.
Radcliffe West in Bury, and Lobley Hill and Bensham in Gateshead, increased similarly by almost 150 per cent each.
“The growth of the Charedi population in the country as a whole was four per cent annually,” Mr Boyd said. “So to see an annual growth rate of 7.3 per cent in Seven Sisters is quite extraordinary.”
Beyond the Charedi community, Jews continue to spread from the London suburbs into Hertfordshire; the neighbourhoods of Borehamwood Brookmeadow, and Shenley, have also doubled their Jewish constituencies since 2001.
One — on the face of it — surprising area of Jewish increase is two wards in Nottingham. Whereas Jews in the Manchester district of Fallowfield have dropped by two-thirds since 2001, they more than doubled, to just over 300, in Nottingham’s Radford and Park ward.
“It is likely that this is evidence of a shift in Jewish student preferences away from the University of Manchester and towards the University of Nottingham,” Dr Graham observed.
But a big increase in some areas is offset by steep decline in others. Four wards in the east London borough of Redbridge lost from 40 to 55 per cent of their Jewish population in a decade – partly the result, JPR believes, of “internal migration” to Barnet and Hertfordshire.
Since 2001, the Jews of Clayhall ward in Redbridge have fallen from 2,599 to 1,299.
Kenton in Brent in London, home of a Maccabi youth centre, Moortown in Leeds and Belmont along with two other wards in Harrow, Middlesex, have also suffered losses of a quarter or more.
“The question is how to respond,” said Mr Boyd. “Do you fight the trend and try to attract Jews back to your area? Do you ignore it?
“Or do you try to build a platform for the future in the knowledge that the Jewish community is slowly, but surely, declining?”