Former synagogue east of London bought to become cultural space

The local Jewish community has all but disappeared in recent years in the Cliftonville area as part of a demographic reconsolidation of Jewish life in the United Kingdom.

Ian Fagelson showing tourists the site of the first synagogue in London (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ian Fagelson showing tourists the site of the first synagogue in London
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Musicians in Britain secured funding to buy and turn into a cultural center a former synagogue east of London.
The building of what used to be the Margate Synagogue in Cliftonville, a coastal municipality situated some 75 miles east of the capital, was bought on Dec. 24 thanks to a donations to the tune of $410,000, the Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday.
The local Jewish community has all but disappeared in recent years in the Cliftonville area as part of a demographic reconsolidation of Jewish life in the United Kingdom. In this process, once vibrant Jewish communities in places such as Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool have shrunk as their younger members moved to London and Manchester. A large Haredi community grew near Newcastle.
Synagogues and communal spaces in shrinking Jewish communities outside these major cities have become an unaffordable financial liability to the few Jews who remained in places like Cliftonville.
The number of people who identify themselves as Jewish has decreased by 25% from about 345,000 in 1939 to 295,000 today due to assimilation and emigration, according to a major demographic study of European Jewry from 2020.
The former synagogue will become the seat of the Cliftonville Cultural Space charity, which will conduct a local consultation “to ensure that the new space is a welcoming meeting point for everyone, reflecting Cliftonville’s cultural pluralism and bringing people together,” the charity said in a statement.
Francesca Ter-Berg, a klezmer cellist, and several of her colleagues led the fundraising campaign to turn the former synagogue into a cultural space. Actor Ben Kingsley, filmmaker Arnold Schwartzman and television presenter Keith Brymer Jones were among the VIPs who made donations. But the largest chunk came from an anonymous donor, Ter-Berg told the Chronicle.
Michael Mail, founder of the UK-based the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the new owners intend to incorporate Jewish themes and activities in the new center. “I think the exact format is something that’s been worked out right now,” he said.