OPINION: Last-ditch chance to save historic Hove community

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OPINION: Last-ditch chance to save historic Hove community

With deep family connections to the community, Alex Brummer is devastated at the pending closure of its 93-year old Sussex shul

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

Holland Road synagogue (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Holland Road synagogue (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The closure of a synagogue is always a great sadness.  When it is a shul with such a storied history as the Hove Hebrew Congregation on Holland Road, with such a strong link to one’s own family, it is devastating.

News of the proposed closure brought me to tears – so much of my life and that of my parents and late brothers is embedded in the fabric, memories and traditions of that community.

The paradox is the news comes at a moment of revival for the 250-year-old Jewish community. The opening of a new synagogue, kosher restaurant and housing complex in West Hove, a project conceived and executed by the proprietor of Brighton & Hove Albion, Tony Bloom, was intended to act as stimulant to the future of Judaism in Sussex and a tremendous and benevolent achievement. It should not have become a challenger to existing congregations.

The closure of Holland Road also comes when there has been a marked influx of Jewish families and young people to the Brighton area attracted by closeness to London, the city’s cultural diversity, glorious Regency architecture, great schools and the sea and promenade.

Pic: Holland Road synagogue website.

The current plan is for the doors to be closed immediately after Yom Kippur and the keys handed to property developers. One wall of the original building is listed; there are efforts to include more but one fears that ship has sailed.

The extraordinary thing is that despite an elderly and slowly depleted membership the community is in good financial health.

Also, to their great credit, the current honorary officers have taken huge and complex precautions to ensure the rights of existing members are properly preserved.

Alex Brummer

Burial rights have long been a source of contention between the more historic Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation (BHHC), owners of historic Middle Street synagogue, and the new shul in West Hove as well as the Meadow View cemetery on the South Downs.

Heroically, Holland Road chairman Stanley Cohen and his wife, joint-honorary life president and treasurer Michele Cohen have shown the great foresight, skill and kindness in setting up a special trust fund to make sure that the burial rights of members, their families and the waifs and strays of Hove – without formal connections to the community – are fully preserved. This meticulous preparation for all future eventualities I suspect was a key factor when members came to vote on closure.

That is not to say I don’t have an admiration for BHHC too. My uncle Hillel Brummer, served as chazzan and minister during the Second World War and by reputation bravely saved the splendid Middle Street synagogue from destruction by stray Nazi shells.

Holland Road synagogue interior.

My parents met on the steps of the shul and were married there and my late brother Martin was barmitzvahed there –  but my heart and memories are tied up with Holland Road.

The question now is whether the closure is necessary. As a financial writer, I am aware of the importance of succession planning. With the right rabbi, excellent catering facilities of the Talmud Torah hall next to the shul and the central geographical location, one cannot but feel there must have been an alternative path.

I am reminded of how close the United Synagogue came to shutting South Hampstead until the inspirational Rav Shlomo Levine turned it into one of London’s most vibrant and aspirational communities. A similar transformation has been accomplished at Brondesbury.

My mother Hilda, who served as chairman  of what used to be called the Ladies Guild at Holland Road, would be beside herself with anguish. My late brother Daniel, who as warden was responsible for much of the mechanics of calling-up to the law, including reading the Haftorah when the honoree failed to show, would be distressed. And my late father Michael, an honorary life vice-president who lived that role until he died at the age of 103, would have recognised as a refugee from the Holocaust that survival is the ultimate triumph.

Whatever happened to that can-do spirit?

Maybe I am tilting at windmills.

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