Manchester city centre’s only synagogue will close this weekend after 70 years, making way for a 41-storey tower and hotel backed by Gary Neville.
The Manchester Reform Synagogue at 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 permanently settle in a new home, they will move in with 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 to be demolished. The consortium developing the £200m St Michael’s project promise to bring a five-star hotel and a nine-storey office building to the site which includes the former Bootle Street police station where demolition work started this year.
It means that the UK’s second-oldest reform community, which has been part of Manchester for 165 years, is now searching for its third permanent home.
Speaking ahead of the final day, Principal Rabbi of Manchester Reform Synagogue Robyn Ashworth-Steen feels ‘a mix of emotions’ about the move.
“In some ways, I’m really sad because the building itself holds a lot of memories for the community,” she said.
“But at the moment, I’m mostly excited about it. We’ve been waiting for a really long time and the building is falling apart.
“Part of the ark which holds the holy scrolls fell down last week. We’ve got a real chance to build something new now.”
The community has been in talks with developers about the future of the post-war city centre synagogue and the site surrounding it for around two decades.
The plans backed by ex-Manchester United star were finally approved in 2018 following a long-running saga and work started on the site earlier this year.
It came after the synagogue’s members decided to sell the site and move elsewhere, having initially planned to stay and be part of the development.
Now the community will decide what comes next with ‘everything on the table’ – including potentially merging with a reform synagogue in North Manchester.
Rabbi Robyn said a three-month engagement project which starts in the new year will focus on the needs of the community and seek to honour its history.
However, it’s “no secret’ that she’d love to have a presence in the city centre.
“I think to have a Jewish community at the heart of the city is vital. But really, it’s for the community to say. Whatever we’ll do will take a while to work out, but we don’t want to wait as long as we’ve waited before.”
The congregation currently includes people from all over Greater Manchester and beyond while people from other countries join the hybrid services online.
Originally, the city centre reform community met on Park Place near Cheetham Hill Road, which was then a busy Jewish neighbourhood.
That building was bombed in June 1941 during the blitz in Manchester, leading to the site in Jackson’s Row being consecrated in 1952 and opened in 1953.