Brighton & Hove
Marcus Roberts


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Jewish Brighton in the Modern Day

Since the 1980s there has been a relative decline in Brighton Jewish life, similar to that experienced in other communities, out-side of the main modern centers of Jewish population, though Brighton still has one of the most significant and vibrant Jewish populations out-side of the Metropolitan areas. This has been caused by many of the younger Jewish generation moving away from home, at 18, and going to university and then going to live in London or Manchester, or abroad in the USA or Israel, and not returning. The specific decline of Brighton, as a Jewish resort for north Londoner Jews, or place to have a holiday home, of even retire to, since the 1950s, has also undoubtedly played its part.

This, as in other communities, has left a Jewish population, of whom many are retired. It has also led to the progressive closing of many Jewish shops and businesses, including the kosher slaughter house, butchers, delis and bakeries, which have all but gone. The loss of these kosher facilities, is indicative of the difficulties facing this, and other communities. The synagogues, have continued to sustain themselves until recently the historic Middle Street Synagogue closed for regular worship, though part of its closure is down to the fact that many Jewish congregants now live further west in Hove. It is also possible there will be a future merging of the Orthodox congregations.

The present Jewish population is difficult to estimate, as there are many Jews who do not necessarily have synagogue membership, or may not actively identify themselves as Jewish, or are in mixed marriages, or are the product of mixed marriages, and there are also a significant number of Jews who have moved into the area surrounding Brighton and Hove, while still maintaining their synagogue membership, so official statistics can be unduly pessimistic. At its most conservative, the estimate is around 6,000 and at it most optimistic is around 10,000, the latter figure, supported by community workers and rabbis.

The 2001 Census, where people volunteered their ethnicity, gave the Jewish population of Brighton as 1.4 per cent, or 3,358 Jewish people.

On a brighter note, there is still a very active Jewish life in the town. The town still supports four synagogues, with the Hove Hebrew Congregation in Holland Road, Hove, the New Synagogue (Reform) in Palmeira Avenue, Hove (1955), the Progressive Synagogue in Lansdowne Road Hove (1935) and New Church Road (1959/61).
Ralli Hall, a Jewish community centre, plays an important part in Jewish life today as it provides both facilities and cross-communal activities and a plethora of events. The Brighton & Hove Jewish Representative Council, an umbrella organisation, represents no less than 50 local Jewish organisations.

There is a vibrant Jewish cultural life in Brighton. The town plays host to an annual Jewish film festival, which was founded in 1997. Also a local branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England was formed in c. 2002. There are Jewish artists and writers working in Brighton, such as Sir Arnold Wesker.

An example of a well-known local artist is Martin Wertheim-Gould, who ran a leather goods shop and then took up art in his retirement, is now well known for capturing the Brighton Jewish scene in his vibrant paintings and drawings. The Sussex Jewish News has also become an important conduit of local Jewish life and culture, through it magazine and web-site. There are also other active synagogue web-sites and magazines. There is also the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at Sussex University (f.1994), for the study of the history of Jews in Central Europe as well as the Holocaust and the history of Jewish refugees and their families to the United Kingdom, during and after the Second World War, which adds a further dimension to the Jewish cultural life of Brighton.

The visibility of the historical Jewish community in Brighton and Hove, is also ensured by the numerous streets named after leading 19th century Jews and also by the 'names on the buses scheme', whereby currently some 19 of of the celebrated Jewish Brightonians, have their names emblazoned on the local buses, along with other local celebrities, who have made a contribution to the town or local area.

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