An ambitious plan to transform Hendon United Synagogue — or Raleigh Close as it is known to thousands of Londoners — is being launched this week.
And the enthusiastic synagogue chairman, Marc Meyer, hopes that the £6 million scheme, which will see the demolition of the present main synagogue building and a new, state-of-the-art complex built in its place, will attract a young and vibrant throng of people.
Raleigh Close was first consecrated as a synagogue 81 years ago. Today it has 1200 members but Mr Meyer says the main synagogue — with its “cathedral-like atmosphere” — is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. Certainly it is showing wear and tear, and those who attend on Shabbat often swelter in the summer and shiver in the winter.
Under plans drawn up by the architects Waugh Thistleton, the new Raleigh Close’s main synagogue will not have a ladies’ gallery, as at present, but fixed pews with separate seating for men and women, all on the same level. “The women’s section will be wraparound”, says Mr Meyer, “allowing everyone full participation in the services. We want it to be welcoming and inclusive”.
But the major shift in emphasis is that Hendon will not just be a shul. What’s planned is “a hive of activity throughout the week, being home to social, cultural, religious and educational events every single day of the year”.
Among the new facilities planned will be a flexible prayer and meeting spaces, a banqueting suite, dedicated areas for the youth and children (including a nursery) and a coffee shop. Mr Meyer, who is French, laughs when he says the current US idea of a coffee shop is “a boiling kettle and a jar of Nescafe”.
The funding for the new complex is almost on track, Mr Meyer says. One-third of the money is coming from the US, one-third has been “identified but not yet collected” from the community, and now he is actively seeking those who would like to contribute funds and have naming rights at Raleigh Close. With the last third pledged, demolition and rebuilding is expected to take between 28 and 36 months.