The exterior of the Margate Synagogue by the Forward

91-year-old English synagogue saved by local artists

Image by Louise Oldfield

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A group of local artists, educators and celebrities successfully rallied to rescue a 91-year-old synagogue in the English sea town of Margate and plan to convert it into a cultural hub for the region.

The effort began in early November, after musician Francesca Ter-Berg discovered the shul, formerly a cornerstone of the town’s once-thriving Jewish resort community. Soon after, she learned it was to be sold. The Margate Synagogue hasn’t held services since 2017, and was put up for auction by the congregation’s trustees. Ter-Berg and her partners began a Crowdfunder campaign, raising £12,552 of a requested £300,000.

A Hanukkah miracle occurred in time for the Dec. 16 auction date, with an anonymous benefactor purchasing the building on the campaign’s behalf.

“The future of the building is no longer in the balance,” Ter-Berg’s group, Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC, wrote in a statement, which credited the support of actors Ben Kingsley and Steven Berkoff, as well as musician Imogen Heap, whom Ter-Berg said first encouraged her to purchase the building.

But it was also a community effort, made up of many names that aren’t household ones.

“Local arts organisations and businesses put up SOS Margate posters in their windows; local residents spread the word; and over 300 people donated to the crowdfunder campaign,” the statement said.

The Crowdfunder page is brimming with donors’ stories of the synagogue’s past, a history that the cultural center plans to preserve with a permanent exhibit.

The next step for the center, which has a tentative opening date of late 2022, is to consult with local residents and organizations to ensure the space is “a welcoming meeting point for everyone, reflecting Cliftonville’s cultural pluralism and bringing people together through music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and food, as well as celebrating the rich history and diversity of the area - past and present.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.

91-year-old English synagogue saved by local artists

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