A leader of the Jewish community of Leicester has criticised the slow response of government after it finally imposed a local lockdown on the city this week.
Speaking to Jewish News ahead of the planned reopening of the Highfield Street synagogue, which now looks in doubt, Leicester Hebrew Congregation chair Anthony Jacobs said action should have been taken much sooner.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this lockdown didn’t go on for a month or more, because I can’t see how they’re going to judge in two or three weeks whether things have calmed down sufficiently,” he said.
“They don’t seem to be on top of it. Leicester has been talked about for 11 days. Why did it take that long to shut us down? They needed to shut us down on Day 2 to stop it spreading.”
The predominantly elderly congregation of around 100 families is led by the much-loved Chabad Rabbi Shmuli Pink, and had planned to reopen the doors on 25 July, however this may now be pushed back to August or beyond.
“So long as it’s safe to reopen, we will be able to,” said Jacobs. “The issue is, not everyone is going to want to come back. Plenty are still shielding. The Chief Rabbi’s advice is that there should be no pressure to come to shul. As a community we’re very conscious of doing the right thing, and we will.”
The shul was nearing the end of a £1.7 million rebuilding project, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which would create a learning and exhibition area for school visitors from within the ethnically diverse city, with completion now delayed.
Jacobs said the shul had taken a series of precautions, with hand sanitisers and face masks, a temporary bimah near the aron hakodesh, two-metre social distancing, a booking-in system to support track-and-trace if needed, and no singing, but this week said it was now “unknown as to what lockdown actually means for us”.
Describing the situation in the city, he said: “We all knew it was coming. There are lots of ethnic groups that have not necessarily understood the message about social distancing and keeping to one’s selves. It has spread because of that, I think.
“There is an area in Leicester like the Golders Green Road, where all the shops are. It is absolutely full of youngsters most of the time – and it still is. Not everybody is wearing masks. It doesn’t need much of an excuse to spread, this virus.”