I was born some 55 years ago and brought up in a traditional middle class Jewish family. We lived in Golders Green, a London suburb and an area renowned for it’s Jewish residents. With Grodzinski, the Bakery and Blooms Restaurant we were blessed with the Jewishness of our environment. Throughout my formative ages I would attend cheder at Alyth Gardens, and would often be at Friday and Saturday services. Then there was the youth club where I learnt I was a bit good at Table Tennis and attended almost every week for years.
I suppose when you are brought up in Golders Green there are very few other places you could move to with a similar identity. I guess Israel is one, maybe Manchester. But have no doubts being a Jewish boy in Golders Green was just wonderful. All those Jewish Girls, I digress.
For those of you that don’t know Golders Green let me share these figures that I found recently.
The first Jews settled in Golders Green just before the First World War, and by 1930 the suburb had been recognised for its significant Jewish community.
In the 2011 census the population of Golders Green was 18,818 and is made up of approximately 51% females and 49% males.
The religious make up of Golders Green is 37.1% Jewish, 26.1% Christian, 12.2% Muslim, 9.9% No religion, 3.8% Hindu, 0.9% Buddhist, 0.2% Sikh, 0.1% Agnostic.
Walking down the streets, it really was clear how strong the Jewish community in Golders Green was. My recent visits show it still has that similar feel, although Costas, Subway and McDonalds bring the more cosmopolitan look.
Back in my day walking along the street, you’d pass many men wearing Yarmulkes, many a group of orthodox men standing together talking, and ladies carrying the shopping bags out of the Jewish owned boutiques like Cream. Mind you on a Saturday after Shabbos Golders Green station forecourt would be crammed with 100’s of teenage Jews, I’m ashamed to say as I was one of them.
You never know what you’re going to miss, until you miss it.
Although I believe according to Torah law, a person’s Jewishness is not a matter of life-style or self-perception and that it is the relationship between the Jew and his Creator that defines ones Jewishness, my opinion is that Jews only feel at home when surrounded by others Jews. Well I know that’s how I feel.
So moving on I found myself, single, truthfully I should say divorced, living in an area I didn’t know, away from my family and going through a period of rehabilitation after a long time of ill health. I felt very alone and missed the closeness of friendships where you could talk about chicken soup and chop liver, or about a story from the Torah, or memories of holidays in Israel, who get what it is to be Jewish. But what could I do, being the only Jew in Bishop Auckland.
At this time I had to return to London, infact Golders Green, to the Crematorium in Hoop Lane. My cousin Elizabeth had died. We were both born on the same day, 17th June 1962. Cousins born to two sisters, my Mum Paula, and her sister Marlene. A sad day, one with many tears, but reconnecting with many family and friends, and a huge reminder of feeling at home in a Jewish Crowd.
On returning back up North I began Googling Jews in County Durham. To cut this story short I ended up speaking to a lady called Bess Robertson.
An hour later I hung up the phone, having told my life story, and now having an invitation too meet with this lady at her home. Her Jewish home, a couple of miles up the road, in Newton Aycliffe. I wasn’t the only Jew in ‘town.’
Well having then gone to her for tea, learning she was the Chair person at Darlington Hebrew Congregation a Reform Synagogue a few miles away from me. I also got to meet the Treasurer Martin, Social Events co-ordinator Shirley and Caterer Estelle. But what sold it to me was the smoke salmon bagels, and promise of chicken soup.
Ok, well in truth it was I immediately I felt a connection. A warm welcome into a Jewish community. The little lost boy had returned home, maybe not back to Golders Green but to a community full of caring, friendly Jewish people.
Anyone else, Jewish but finding yourself up here in the North East looking for a community of Jewish people, we are here for you. Small we may be, but with you in our number we grow. Know you’ll be welcome and I’m sure you’ll have found yourself a home to relax, chat, eat, learn and worship if you wish.
Long may this wonderful community continue here at Darlington Hebrew Congregation Reform Synagogue.