Jewish Heritage UK is dedicated to caring for the historic synagogues and cemeteries of Britain’s Jewish community.
After over 350 years of secure settlement unrivalled anywhere in Europe, Britain’s Jewish community, the oldest non-Christian faith group in the country, proudly possesses a unique architectural heritage that is now acknowledged as part of the nation’s heritage.
The Jewish community has always been a very small minority, never comprising more than about 450,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. The latest figures show a slight increase in the Jewish population, from ca.267,000 in the 2001 Census to ca. 269,000 in 2011, still representing a mere 0.5% of the total population. In the suburban strongholds of North London, South Hertfordshire, and and North Manchester where Jews are tending increasingly to congregate, communities are actually growing. On the other hand, smaller Jewish communities scattered around the country are vanishing. Dwindling communities lack the resources to look after their historic sites, and suburbanisation has led to the redundancy of historic synagogues and cemeteries in urban centres.
Established in 2004, Jewish Heritage UK is the only organisation specifically tasked with protecting on a professional basis the built heritage of British Jewry for future generations. The task of Jewish Heritage is the protection of British Jewry's material cultural heritage, covering synagogues and cemeteries, and also moveable property such as artefacts, archives and ritual objects.
Jewish Heritage’s origins go back 25 years, to a campaign in 1987-8 to save the fine Victorian East London Synagogue at Stepney Green. That campaign spawned in 1991 the establishment of a Working Party on Jewish Monuments in the UK & Ireland.
The Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the UK & Ireland supported, by amongst others, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the RIBA was launched in 1996. The Survey resulted, ten years later, in the publication of the first ever guidebook to Jewish Heritage in England by English Heritage in 2006 and a major architectural study of The Synagogues of Britain and Ireland by Yale University Press in 2011, both by Dr Sharman Kadish. The guidebook proved so popular that it sold out and a second edition, retitled Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland, came out in summer 2015 under the imprint of Historic England.
Dr Kadish founded Jewish Heritage in 2004 and it attained UK Registered Charity status (Registered Charity No. 1118174) in 2007 under the governance of a Board of Trustees.
Jewish Heritage was established to bring a professional focus to the UK Jewish Heritage agenda. The mission of Jewish Heritage UK is twofold:
1. The preservation and conservation for the benefit of the public of historic buildings and sites of Britain's Jewish community.
2. The promotion of Jewish Heritage by educating the public in the subject of historic buildings and sites of Britain's Jewish community and facilitating public access to them.
Jewish Heritage UK operates nationally, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Where appropriate, Jewish Heritage assists in the protection of the material cultural heritage of the Jewish communities of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Irish Republic and Gibraltar, which have close ties with the Jewish community on the UK mainland.
Jewish Heritage is primarily concerned with caring for the building fabric of historic synagogues and maintaining them in use for worship. We also monitor the condition of historic Jewish cemeteries around the country and especially those that are no longer in use, or where the communities that established them have disappeared. Jewish Heritage’s remit extends to defunct synagogues, Mikvaot (ritual baths) and other Jewish communal buildings and sites of architectural or historical significance, including schools, hospitals and soup kitchens. In general, we do not deal with houses, modest or grand, or business premises built by private Jewish individuals or the affixing of commemorative plaques.
Until the end of 2016 the tiny professional staff comprised Jewish Heritage Founder-Director Dr Sharman Kadish assisted by a part-time Administrator. Accounting, Legal and Technical services are out-sourced. The Jewish Heritage Casework Committee consists of the Director (until end 2016), a retired heritage professional (English Heritage) and several accredited conservation architects or surveyors. It meets from time to time to consider individual buildings and sites on a case-by-case basis. Jewish Heritage’s Board of Trustees meets at least twice a year in order to review progress.