Exterior plaque at Richmond Synagogue. Reads "United Synagogue. The Foundation Stone of Richmond Synagogue was laid by Samuel Stanton Esq. Life President. 22nd of June 1986."

How Richmond’s only synagogue keeps the Jewish community thriving

Most Jewish residents of London have more than one synagogue where they can celebrate this week’s Sukkot festival, but residents of Richmond Borough only have one.

That is because there is only one synagogue for the entire borough.

North London’s Barnet Borough, on the opposite side of the spectrum, has 97 synagogues.

Although some would expect the lack of Jewish centres to dampen Richmond’s Jewish community’s energy, Rabbi Chaim Golker, 27, of Richmond Synagogue — which was built in 1986 — sees his solo synagogue as an opportunity for his community to find solidarity and resilience.

In fact, Rabbi Golker who became Richmond’s rabbi just over a year ago, alongside his wife Gila, 28, the synagogue’s Rebbetzen, believes that the lack of many Jewish community spaces has led to people making a real effort to engage with what they have, bringing out the very best in Jewish spirit.


The interior of Richmond Synagogue. Contains pews and a "Bimah" (an alter)
ROOM FOR ALL: The centre of worship at Richmond Synagogue

Rabbi Golker said: “As a community, I love the atmosphere.

The people are there because they really want to engage and they care, because they wouldn’t be there otherwise.”

Richmond Synagogue is Orthodox, but its place as Richmond’s sole synagogue means it’s become, according to the rabbi, a “one stop shop for people who identify as Reform or Conservative or Masorti.”

This cross-Jewish community spirit is aided by their sister organisation, the Richmond Jewish Community Hub, which is based within Richmond Synagogue. 

According to Rabbi Golker, the Richmond Jewish Community Hub has been vital to creating and sustaining Jewish spirit in Richmond.

It has become a haven for people who, according to Rabbi Golker, “are looking for, and craving, opportunities to engage with their Judaism in a meaningful way.”

For many, this means sending their children to the Synagogue and Community Hub’s cheder (Hebrew and Jewish studies) program. For others, this means re-connecting with their Judaism in adulthood. 

In the past year, the community hub has made a concerted effort to focus on young adult events, partnering with Clapham’s Moishe House — another Jewish community centre for young adults — to forge bonds among young Jews across London. 

Richmond Borough is also home to an Israeli population, many of whom have found the Community Hub a welcoming space to engage with their identity in London. 

Some difficulties for the synagogue have arisen in the lack of kosher food available in the area, as there are currently no kosher restaurants, or exclusively kosher shops in Richmond. However, Rabbi Golker remains positive. 

Thanks to being a synagogue in the 21st century, Rabbi Golker is able to organise deliveries from Kosher Deli, a kosher meat shop with locations across North London, as well as order from Ocado’s extensive kosher range, and shop at nearby Sainsburys and Waitroses, which both have kosher selections. 

Although synagogues in other parts of London may not have to think as much about their food deliveries, Rabbi Golker remains undeterred, and is striding ahead with the synagogue and community hub’s active schedule.

Rabbi Golker only hopes that Jews in the area know how much is available to them.

He said: “Whenever I go out for a walk in Richmond and I’m wearing my kippah I will be wished Shabbat Shalom or Chag Sameach.”

“It’s amazing how many Israelis and Jewish people there are in the area.

“I’d love them to know how much is available beyond [religious] services which I appreciate are not for everyone.

“There’s so much going on for everyone, there’s so many ways to engage with their Jewish identity.”

Rabbi Golker is looking forward to the cheder’s term starting, and to the synagogue’s large Hannukkah party in December. 

Article image credit: Richmond Synagogue Website

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