South­ern com­fort sus­tains Cat­ford reg­u­lars

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

SOUTH-EAST LON­DON may not be a hot­bed of Jewish life. But nes­tled be­hind a gated car park close to a busy main road is the home of an ac­tive community serv­ing 250 fam­i­lies.

The Cat­ford and Brom­ley United Syn­a­gogue building is weath­ered in ap­pear­ance, its paint­work chipped. How­ever, con­gre­gants gath­ered mostly for the weekly friend­ship club in­sist that the spirit within is more im­por­tant.

Look­ing for­ward to a three-course lunch, Benita Dent, 83, a Cat­ford mem­ber for 55 years, high­lights the lav­ish­ness of its kid­dushim.

“I have been to at least four kid­dushim in north Lon­don and got noth­ing to eat, in­clud­ing at my nephew’s bar­mitz­vah,” she says. “Here, no­body goes away hun­gry.”

There are three dozen people at the shul to cel­e­brate the 96th birth­day of Marie Blu­men­feld, who can re­mem­ber the first building of the con­gre­ga­tion, which is now in its 80th year.

“Fifty-three Cat­ford Hill,” she re­calls nos­tal­gi­cally. To her, the shul is more than a community. “It is my ex­tended fam­ily.

“I don’t know what lone­li­ness is. I love ev­ery­body here and I am a bit naughty be­cause I kiss all the men.

“Since my birth­day I have had a visit from some­one in the community ev­ery day. My din­ing ta­ble is cov­ered in flow­ers.”

She squeals with ex­cite­ment as two po­lice of­fi­cers in uni­form pop in to ex­tend birth­day greet­ings.

Although the shul is hugely sup­port­ive of its el­derly mem­bers, lead­ers are con­scious of the need to at­tract Marie Blu­men­feld cel­e­brat­ing her 96th birth­day with fam­ily and friends at Cat­ford and Brom­ley Syn­a­gogue

younger fam­i­lies and are heart­ened by the ris­ing num­bers in the cheder, cur­rently ed­u­cat­ing 35 chil­dren.

Joe Burchell, the Cat­ford and Brom­ley chair­man, be­lieves lower prop­erty prices are keep­ing young fam­i­lies in the area — and are mak­ing it more at­trac­tive to oth­ers.

“Many par­ents who fol­low their chil­dren to north Lon­don keep their Cat­ford con­tacts,” he notes. “Some even re­turn

be­cause they don’t like the north Lon­don en­vi­ron­ment.

“We re­ally are part of the lo­cal community. They know us and they know our mem­bers.”

Mrs Dent dis­misses the no­tion that it is hard to main­tain a Jewish life­style in south Lon­don.

“The shops round here are great. Waitrose do kosher stuff and I or­gan­ise a Sun­day de­liv­ery of meat and poul­try from north Lon­don.”

Leila Power, 88, and hus­band Gerry 91, have been mem­bers for 50 years.

Mrs Power says the cou­ple have pe­ri­od­i­cally con­sid­ered moving to north

Lon­don. But they would miss Cat­ford’s com­mu­nal spirit.

“I’d put up with the in­con­ve­nience of not hav­ing that many [kosher shop­ping op­tions] for the sense of fam­ily we have.”

Dorothea Lip­ton, 75, re­lates that one woman spends up to two hours trav­el­ling from west Lon­don to at­tend the friend­ship club lunch “be­cause she likes the at­mos­phere so much.

“Ev­ery­body is warm and wel­com­ing. There is no cliquish­ness. I look for­ward to a Tues­day with real an­tic­i­pa­tion be­cause I know I’ll have people to talk to.

“When the chil­dren are mar­ried and gone away, you find your­self iso­lated. But if you have a place like this to come to, it means ev­ery­thing.”

Rev David Rome says he felt he was “com­ing home” when he joined the syn­a­gogue as min­is­ter in 2012 — his grand­fa­ther Rabbi Ju­dah Rock­man served Cat­ford and Brom­ley for more than 40 years.

“We are very di­verse,” he says. “I try to keep ev­ery­one happy, both re­li­giously and so­cially, even if it does not al­ways work.”

Good re­la­tions are main­tained with other lo­cal faith groups. School par­ties are hosted al­most ev­ery week and the po­lice and Lewisham Coun­cil also use the venue for events.

The building ad­ja­cent to the shul has a mezuzah on its door. It houses the Ravens­bourne Project, a non-Jewish respite home for chil­dren with se­vere spe­cial needs, of which Mr Burchell is direc­tor.

“On oc­ca­sions the chil­dren use our fore­court for safe play — and some­times they use our youth club,” he ex­plains.

“We help with fundrais­ing and gen­er­ally look out for each other.”

Hen­rii Webb, Ravens­bourne’s chair­man of trustees, says: “Joe has been great for us. He can get people to give in a way no one else can.

“It is re­ally nice hav­ing the shul next door to us be­cause it feels safe.

“We look out for them and they look out for us. We are a great community.”

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