Menorah festival in Islington: ‘Our Jewish community was forgotten, but now we are growing again’
- Credit: John M Fulton
You couldn’t move for people in Islington Green last night, at the annual Menorah lighting festival. Rabbi Mendy Korer tells the Gazette that after decades of inactivity, Islington once again has a vibrant Jewish community.
According to the 2011 census, there are 2,000 Jewish people living in Islington.
But while there are numerous churches, mosques and other religious centres across the borough, there is not one synagogue.
The North London Synagogue, in Lofting Road, Barnsbury, shut in 1958 after amalgamating with the Dalston Synagogue – which itself closed in the 1970s.
And Rabbi Mendy Korer argues: “Islington was a vacuum for Jewish activity for many years. Since the synagogue closed, the Jewish community in Islington was not catered for.”
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In 2011, Rabbi Korer and his wife, Hadasa Korer, decided to act. They set up Chabad Islington, which remains the only Jewish institution in the borough.
Last night, they organised the sixth annual Menorah lighting festival in Islington Green. About 250 people were tightly packed in, and Rabbi Korer thinks it is proof that Islington’s Jewish community is “building up again”.
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He said: “It was amazing. The turnout – at that time of year, and in that freezing cold weather – I’m so grateful to everyone.
“Menorah was the first major event we held when Chabad Islington formed in 2011. We didn’t know how it would go, or who would turn up. We barely knew anybody, but in the end 90 people came from word of mouth and it has been growing every year since.
“I met a couple of elderly men who were members of the Barnsbury synagogue. For them, it is special at events like Menorah to see Islington’s Jewish community building up again.
“This was a small community, but that disappeared when the synagogue closed.”
That is where Chabad Islington comes in.
“There are a lot of people who haven’t been represented,” says Rabbi Korer.
“So we go round neighbourhoods to make sure people know we are available. We share a positive message to re-connect with people – whether Jewish or not.
“The next step is to open up a permanent community space to operate from. It’s our big aim.”
Last month, Rabbi Korer spoke at the “Islington Together Against Hate Crime” forum at Finsbury Park Mosque.
It was called in response to a spike in religious and racially motivated hate crimes in the borough over the past year.
There was also a notable police presence at last night’s lighting ceremony, but Rabbi Korer was keen to stress: “Many people I talk to feel very safe, and very comfortable, in this neighbourhood.
“Yes, there were police, but with today’s climate you have to take security into account when holding these events.
“But Jewish people generally feel very welcome in this community, and I guess we don’t hear about that sort of thing enough.”
For more information about Chabad Islington’s activities, visit jewishislington.co.uk