BRIGHTON HOPES TIDE WILL TURN
BRIGHTON AND Hove has a lot going for it. A coastal environment within a reasonable commute of central London; some elegant properties, decent restaurants and centrally located nightlife. But according to the Jewish Institute for Policy Research (JPR), the latest available figures (2011 Census) indicate a Jewish community of just 2,670, accounting for around 1 per cent of the local population. Based on the Census figures, eight per cent of Brighton Jews are aged 85 or above, four times the general number.
JPR points out that the Jewish community has fallen by 20 per cent since the 2001 Census, which recorded 3,358 in the area, placing it among the research body’s major “places of decline”.
Some local leaders argue that the Jewish presence is significantly higher than the Census indicates. What they do not dispute is that it is not a particularly youthful one.
An ageing community brings the attendant long-term welfare problems now facing professional and lay leaders. There is no Jewish school, kosher shop or youth movement provision. The Ralli Hall community centre relies on outside hire, for example from a Pilates studio, to remain viable.
And although there is a significant Jewish student presence, “they have very little impact on the community as they want to do their own thing,” says Sussex Jewish Representative Council president Beryl Sharpe. “Few young people stay.” The local residential Hillel is in an enviable location in the centre of town, alongside the historic Middle Street Synagogue, lovingly preserved as a heritage site but long closed as a place of worship, reflecting the movement and shrinkage of the Jewish population.
Mrs Sharpe is one of the four self-proclaimed “chair legs” — along with Sarah Wilks,DebraGoodmanand Jessica Rosenthal — who took on responsibility for the rep council when the last president stood down because of ill health five years ago. She talks up its virtues but is honest about its problems, recalling wistfully: “When our kids were little, it was so vibrant here. There was BBYO, JLGB, guides and brownies. Middle Street used to have overflow services at Yomtov. It’s so many years since we had a kosher deli or butcher’s. When we did, no one supported them.”
Echoing these sentiments, Mrs Wilks reflects: “I can’t say ‘I fancy spaghetti bolognese tonight’ — I’ll go out and buy some kosher mince.”
Although major supermarkets have kosher sections, consumers note a lack of understanding of the Jewish market. “Someone should tell them that we only need Yahrzeit candles once a year but we need Shabbos candles regularly,” Mrs Rosenthal points out.
Without kosher stores or a school, Orthodox families are less likely to come to the area, which in religious terms, runs the gamut from Progressive to Chabad.
Mrs Sharpe says that although a fragmented community, “we can get up to 1,000 at a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. But afterwards, the people who come out of the woodwork go back in.”
The discussion with the “chair legs” is taking place during a well-attended lunch club for senior citizens at Ralli Hall, where Mrs Sharp’s daughter, Fiona, is lending a hand. Fiona Sharpe is chairperson of Brighton and Hove Jewish Welfare Board, which provides monetary assistance to needy individuals and families. She has returned to the town after living abroad and says it not uncommon for those who have moved away from Brighton to come back once they have children for a quieter pace of life. “It’s fantastic, by the sea and near to London,” she says. Ralli Hall manager Maxine Gordon is another who has
It’s years sincewe hada kosherdelior butcher’s
Sarah Wilks, Debra Goodman, Beryl Sharpe and Jessica Rosenthal