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

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