Manchester’s Reform Synagogue on Jackson’s Row is looking for a new permanent base.
Manchester city centre’s only synagogue will close this weekend after 70 years, making way for a 41-storey tower block and hotel backed by Gary Neville.
Manchester’s Reform Synagogue on Jackson’s Row will hold its final Shabbat service on Saturday (November 26), before hosting a special deconsecration service with a procession of holy scrolls the following day. Before the more than 700 members settle permanently in a new home, they will move to the Manchester Universities Chaplaincy on Oxford Road.
It comes as the building, bought for £15m by a group of US investors and the Relentless Group backed by ex-footballer Gary Neville, is due to be demolished. The consortium developing the £200m St Michael’s project is committed to bringing a five-star hotel and nine-storey office building to the site, which includes the former Bootle Street police station where work began of demolition this year.
It means the UK’s second oldest Reform community, which has been part of Manchester for 165 years, is now looking for its third permanent home.
Manchester’s Reform Synagogue on Jackson’s Row photographed in November 2020. Credit: Google Maps
Speaking ahead of the final day, the chief rabbi of Manchester’s Reform Synagogue, Robyn Ashworth-Steen, feels “mixed emotions” about the move.
“In a way, I’m very sad because the building itself holds so many memories for the community,” she said.
“But for now, I’m mostly excited. We’ve been waiting a long time and the building is collapsing.
“Part of the ark containing the holy scrolls fell last week. Now we have a real chance to build something new.”
The community has been in talks with developers about the future of the postwar downtown synagogue and the surrounding site for about two decades.
The plans, backed by the former Manchester United star, were finally approved in 2018 after a long-running saga and work started on the site earlier this year.
It came after members of the synagogue decided to sell the site and move elsewhere, having initially planned to stay and be part of the development.
The community will now decide what comes next with “everything on the table”, including a possible merger with a reform synagogue in north Manchester.
Rabbi Robyn said a three-month commitment project starting in the new year will focus on the needs of the community and seek to honor its history.
However, “it’s no secret” that he would like to have a presence in the city center.
“I think having a Jewish community in the heart of the city is vital. But really, let the community say so. Whatever we do, it’s going to take some time to work, but we don’t want to wait as long as we’ve waited before.”
The congregation now includes people from across Greater Manchester and beyond, while people from other countries join the online hybrid services.
Originally, the inner-city Reform community met at Park Place near Cheetham Hill Road, which was then a busy Jewish quarter.
That building was bombed in June 1941 during the bombing of Manchester, leading to the Jackson’s Row site being consecrated in 1952 and opened in 1953.