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  • on January 2, 2017

More Recent History Of DHC: How The Congregation Became Reform

Thank you to former chair and president Martin Finn for supplying the following information about more recent decades OF DHC history.

The community moved from Victoria Rd to number 13 Bloomfield Rd which it had purchased in about 1967. Number 13 is the very large listed and historic stone building adjacent to the current synagogue, now converted into flats. At the time it was an UHC congregation and the then current Chief Rabbi was asked to come to dedicate the building however it was felt that the congregation was too small to merit his journey north and so the recently retired Chief Rabbi , Rabbi Brodie came to conduct the service. This event is recorded in a photograph on display in the current synagogue Kiddush room which is currently incorrectly labelled 1959. The dedication in fact took place in 1969. The synagogue had a number of beautiful decorations including a large ner tamid, 4 scrolls, stained glass windows, 2 kitchens and various teaching and function rooms. The fine, heavy wooden benches and reading desk made by one of the original founders of the synagogue was transferred to number 13 (and later thedesk and many of the benches came to the new premiseswhere they are still in use today).From time to time soldiers from the Catterick Garrison would attend services especially on festivals and the High Holy Days.

The congregation had never been large and as the younger people gradually moved away for university and work, the community could not form a male minyan and had no rabbi though a few of the original founding families still lived in Darlington. At that time the Finn family were also members of Newcastle Reform Synagogue and had made the acquaintance of its then rabbi, Rabbi Wolf. Rabbi Wolf offered to come down to Darlington to lead the occasional service and after a while in about 1987/1988, following consultations and agreement amongst the remaining members, it was decided that the congregation would join the Reform movement, the orthodox authorities considering the community no longer viable. The community then made an arrangement to share rabbinical services with NRS e.g. the NRS rabbi would come and lead 2nd day Rosh Hashanah services as they were not held in Newcastle and a number of Shabbat services through the year. Youngsters were able to attend the NRS cheder. Ruth Finn was the first bar/bat mitzvah in 1989 under Reform auspices. At the time the community became a Reform congregation it was agreed that a quantity of Singer prayer books would be sold and they were bought by somebody from Gateshead who also purchased a very badly damaged scroll at the same time. Luckily he had a similar sized scroll that was also badly damaged but in different books than the DHC one which would enable him to construct an entire4 sefer torah.

After a number of years it was realised that the continuing use of the very large premises that were by then in increasingly poor repair, was no longer sensible, the premises were sold and the adjacent rabbi’s bungalow was converted into a small synagogue with kitchen and Kiddush room. The congregation moved in in about 2007 and continued the rabbi sharing arrangement with NRS for a number of years until NRS decided to discontinue having a resident rabbi at which point DHC were pleased to be able to come to an arrangement with Rabbi Borts for her to provide part time rabbinical services to the congregation.

At the time of the move there were fewer than 20 members, most of whom were regular attenders at the monthly Shabbat services which were in the main led by lay readers. Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur services were also led by lay leaders with 2nd day Rosh Hashanah led by the NRS rabbi. (There was no 1st day Rosh Hashanah service), other festivals were not observed with services unless they coincided with the monthly Shabbat service.

It was not felt by many that the congregation would continue for much longer.

However that has not proved to be the case at all. Membership is now more than doubled though the majority of members now live in towns and villages surrounding Darlington rather than in it, most of the monthly Shabbat services are rabbi led, all the major and many of the minor festivals are celebrated, there is a thriving fortnightly Lifelong Learning that includes a cheder for the youngsters and a beit midrash taught by Rabbi Dr Borts for an enthusiastic group of adults, several members have now been trained to lead parts of the services, there are a number of Friday evening services throughout the year which are followed by a communal Shabbat meal and there is a social club that organises a number of catered events throughout the year such as the annual Chanukkah Party, as well as the occasional outing. Above all the tradition that the majority of its members continue to be active in their support of the community has continued and the great majority of members regularly attend most of the services and functions with the remainder coming along at least several times a year.

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