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No Synagogue welcome

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-09-22

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As we start to enter the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are told to reflect on ourselves and indeed our actions, so that when we enter the synagogue we can pray.
 
But what happens if you happen to be of limited mobility? The answer, you're not exactly welcome in the house of God.
 
So while, Rabbis are encouraging people to connect with God and other Jews in the synagogue, how many of them actually spare a thought for those who are of limited mobility and indeed need to use a wheelchair?
 
You see, Judaism is supposed to be a religion of tolerance and understanding, but why do many synagogues and indeed their rabbis and leaders seem ignorant of how people can get inside the building?
 
A couple of years ago, I wrote of this and two years on, the situation is just as bad.
 
The Jewish community in the UK is still ageing, there are still disabled people, yet "our leaders" don't want to address the issue of dealing with accessibility.
 
One synagogue which I belong to has a great building on the outside. Its gardens get numerous awards.  But in order to get inside, you need to get up a flight of at least a dozen highly inclined steps.  If you can't manage that, you then try the back entrance solution. That in itself is just as bad, not as inclined but only gets you so far before you have to go up some spirally steps.
 
This community is not getting any younger, so how do they think people are going to be able to get inside? And of course, once they get inside, the accommodation is not exactly comfortable. The seating hasn't been updated for what seems like 50 years, the space between members next to each other and in front and behind is very limited. If it is packed, (which these days is not that often), you easily end up elbow bumping other people. It this was a scene from a comedy sketch, it would be funny, but the reality is that it's not. Jews actually have to put up with conditions like that.
 
Got a wheelchair? Forget about it. You have no real hope of getting in. Unless you want to suffer the indignity of being physically lifted in with no guarantee that those lifting you are actually trained and can carry your weight.
 
That's not an isolated incident. There are many synagogues up and down the country which are crumbling. They have no real way of being accessible to those of limited or no mobility  We as a community need to address that issue.
 
How we address that issue is quite simple - invest in getting these buildings up to a reasonable standard.  For whatever reason, Jews have accepted these low standards for many years, but now, enough is enough. We do not need to accept it.
 
Synagogue members pay fees for the provision of a service.  This provision should be accessible to all. Money from membership fees can be used for this and if it is not enough money, then they need to raise funds.  This may mean that instead of giving to the usual appeals, it is given back to the community.
 
Without a solid community, then any hope for raising funds in the future for others will be lost as people leave and are not replaced.
 
Before it is way too late,  Jewish communities, their leaders and synagogues need to start really addressing the issue of accessibility. If someone wants to go to synagogue, they should not be denied that just because of their situation. It is the synagogue and organisations who run them which should take responsibility and that means making their facilities accessible now.
 
There are no reasons why they can't do it now, ignorance and lack of understanding is no longer an excuse, neither is lack of funds. Money can be found for other causes, and now it is time that more money was utilised for actually servicing members who are in need and that starts with making premises accessible.