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Times (Don’t) Change in Gateshead

Binyamin Rose, Gateshead

It’s a bit of a riddle, a phenomenon that’s gone against the trend. How is it that the challenge of assimilation that wreaked havoc on Jewish communities around the world didn’t touch Gateshead, the only provincial Jewish community of prewar England that is still almost exclusively Orthodox and is only improving with age? And what role did its flagship yeshivah play, and continues to play, to guarantee Gateshead remains a makom Torah?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Have you ever been to Gateshead before?” “Yes,” I answer, “about 20 years ago.” “So, has anything changed around here in the last 20 years?” These two questions were repeatedly posed on my recent visit to Gateshead by curious, friendly, and courteous Jewish community members who will never enter a shul or yeshivah building without looking over their shoulder to keep the door open for anyone trailing behind them. But other than acknowledging that special courtesy, and mentioning that it rained constantly on each visit — no winter novelty in northeast England — it’s not a question I felt qualified to answer. But soon it dawned on me. There was a reason people kept asking an outsider if he noticed any changes. It wasn’t a question meant to be answered. It was a more of a statement, even a badge of honor for a kehillah whose founding fathers in 1887 aimed for the lofty goal of establishing a totally shomer Shabbos community, which was unheard of at that time in England. In that regard, nothing has changed in Gateshead. Not in 20 years, and not in 129 years. What the Enlightenment, two world wars, and Nazi, Communist, and Fascist persecutions ripped away from the bulk of European Jewry was carefully preserved in Gateshead. It is the only remaining provincial Jewish community of that era in England that is almost exclusively and strictly Orthodox, and that today, is expanding and improving with age.

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