60 years after shul closure, a new Durham community emerges

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60 years after shul closure, a new Durham community emerges

The fledgling Durham and North East Liberal Jewish Community held its first service last month and will now start hosting events

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Durham synagogue
Durham synagogue

More than 60 years after Durham’s synagogue closed its doors a new community of about a dozen Jews has sprung up – and is starting to host events.

The fledgling group, called Durham and North East Liberal Jewish Community, held its first service last month, and got going by marking Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Hava Fleming, the group’s lay leader and a signatory to a recent letter defending Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, led the service at Newcastle Reform Synagogue.

The community will host its next event at a church next week, and plans to hold Friday night dinners and Shabbat morning services roughly once a month, but says it has no plans to buy a building.

“We are happy to share premises in the area,” the group said. “Ultimately, we will apply for consideration to be included in the UK Movement for Liberal Judaism.”

In a statement of its website, the group said: “As a collective, we will plan activities and develop a sense of purpose and who we are. But to start with, we are an inclusive, egalitarian community, which does not tolerate racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or any form of prejudice against gender, class, ability or ethnicity.”

Durham’s new added that they would prioritise interfaith work, and were looking for “other faith communities in Durham… to share Mitzvah Day with us”.

It is believed that the first Jews settled in Durham in 1888 and the Orthodox synagogue opened exactly 110 years ago, in 1906, but closed its doors in 1955 due to a declining population, the shul later becoming a Presbyterian chapel.

The last Jewish family is believed to have left in the 1970s, but since then, several have made the city their home. In Gateshead, 15 miles to the north, there is a thriving Orthodox community, owing to the city’s large yeshiva.

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