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Dying communities

Debbie Young-Somers's picture

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This weekend I visited Plymouth Synagogue, the oldest Ashkenazi (Jews from Western and Northern Europe) synagogue in the UK. It is being beautifully maintained and is a gorgeous little nugget of history, kept open by a dedicated non-Jewish care taker. He was sad, as were we, that there are now only four regular attenders at the synagogue for services. More come for the big holidays, but it's not really enough to keep the place going, epsecially as traditionally you need at least 10 men for a full service to be conducted.

The Jewish community in the UK is generally very small, less than 280,000, and increasingly Jews are living in concentrated areas where there are thriving communities and shops, as well as jobs etc. This means smaller provincial communities are dwindling. And this means a dilemma. What to do with this beautiful historic building. It would be sad if it were to become a museum, as it is a place of worship and joy, but then other churches have become pubs, so perhaps we should face the reality of changed times. In the East End of London many former Huguenot chapels and houses became synagogues and are now Mosques, which represents the shifts of the communities there. Then again, this is a community of particular significance, and should maybe be preserved for this reason. I wonder if there is a way to preserve the building and make it more accessible to those interested, while maintaining it as a living community. Either way, we will continue to face these kinds of challenges as communities shift and change, and demographics alter, and peolpe use their free time in ever more diverse ways.

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