Arrest the slide in population
returned to the town. She is pleased to be back, but with a young son, bemoans the fact that “other than cheder, there is nothing for young people”.
Ralli Hall hosts a variety of social and cultural activities and is used by most communal organisations. It was home to Brighton and Hove Progressive congregation while it awaited the completion of a more compact, flexi-space redevelopment of its synagogue. The first service in the new premises was held last month.
Its minister, Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, says that for her community, the temporary accommodation “has been perfect — and Ralli Hall was not using the space on Shabbat morning”.
As someone “all about inclusion and equality” — Rabbi Sarah is a pioneer in advancing Jewish gay and lesbian rights — she is pleased at the diversity of her 320-member congregation and a programmeof activitiesrangingfromaFairtrade week to a thriving “Shabbatots”.
The town’s main Orthodox shul, Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation, also has ambitious building plans for its New Church Road base that better reflects present and future needs. The shul’s 300 members could all be accommodated in the current synagogue, where the average Shabbat attendance is around 50. BHHC chairman David Seidel is in discussions over a scheme that would see part of the site sold off for housing and the remainder converted into a site “in keeping with current needs rather than historical ones”. The intention is to provide a more intimate, adjustable space for services, plus facilities including a functions hall, kitchens, rabbi’s accommodation and meeting rooms. There is additionally the possibility of a kosher café and shop.
A potential development partner has been chosen and assuming that planning consent is received, building work could start early in 2017. Mr Sediel says that as well as funding a more relevant facility, the property deal would leave “a substantial reserve. One of the best things we can do is to secure the future.
“There has been a civic renaissance in Brighton. The shuls have to follow that with a renaissance of their own.”
BHHC’s Rabbi Hershel Rader arrived from London six years ago. He prefers it to the capital — “it’s more relaxed, a better quality of life and there are a lot of cultural attractions.” He is excited by the proposed redevelopment, which he believes will make the shul more appealing to people both within and outside the area. He adds that a key challenge for local shuls is attracting Israelis who have moved to Brighton and Hove. “They are not used to things that take place around a synagogue.”
The town’s other Orthodox synagogue, Hove Hebrew Congregation, has been making its own adjustments to a declining community and representatives of both shuls acknowledge that talks over a merger have periodically taken place down the years. Mr Seidel says that “unofficial discussions” have been held in recent months. His personal view is that merger “would make sense because we all know each other and it would provide economies of scale”.
BHHC is also responsible for Middle Street and Mr Seidel says it is exploring ways of increasing use of the building, which opened in 1875.
Over at Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, Rabbi Andrea Zanardo says that in his three years in Brighton, he has experienced “a sense of community that I didn’t find in London. There’s no competition between synagogues. I sometimes attend an Orthodox minyan and am made welcome.”
The minister says the congregation is on the conservative side of the movement (it rejected Reform’s new policy to recognise the Jewish status of the children of Jewish fathers and Muriel Lewis is a whisker away at the Hyman Fine home non-Jewish mothers). It is the largest in Sussex with around 500 members and he is encouraged that “we are beginning to attract young families and young adults”. He would also like to involve more of the Israelis living in the area and would be interested in doing “some serious research with JPR to find out why they don’t reach out”.
Mrs Wilks is also heavily involved in local welfare provision having been a founder of Helping Hands, providing a range of voluntary services, at the turn of the century. “I was just back from Edgware and felt there was no Jewish Care-style network in Brighton,” she recalls. The organisation has grown to a three-figure army of volunteers dealing with problems such as mental health, unemployment and loneliness and isolation. Financed by donations, it has “filled a big gap”.
Jewish Care is represented in the town through its care home, Hyman Fine House, where manager Natasha Carson — who formerly served the charity in north-west London — conducts a proud tour of the site. “We feel very much part of Jewish Care but we live by the sea,” she says. In keeping with the more country feel, the home has “hen power”, with chickens in the garden area.
2016 is a landmark for the community — the 250th anniversary of the first Jewish presence in Brighton. Mr Seidel hopes it can serve as a springboard for revival. “The Brighton community has an incredible amount of potential. It’s heartening that all congregations are trying to make things happen. You can’t mourn for what was. You have to look at what you can do.”
Weare starting to attract youngfamilies
Beautiful but rarely used: Middle Street Synagogue