“Building Community: The Haredi Journey to Canvey Island”

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    The New York Jewish Travel Guide recently held a comprehensive interview with Mr. Joel Friedman, a founding member of the Haredi community in Essex, London, discussing the growth of the Canvey Haredi Community. Here’s a detailed summary of part two of our discussion:

    NYJTG: What are the demographic characteristics of the individuals relocating to the island community?

    Joel Friedman: Very few individuals who relocate do so with the intention of purchasing their own home due to expanding family needs. The majority fall within the 28–35 age bracket, though exceptions exist. Among these exceptions are younger individuals whose children have married and relocated to Convey, as well as older individuals, typically over 60 years old. While a handful—perhaps five or six—have sold homes in London to move to Canvey, approximately 20 individuals own homes in Canvey primarily for holiday purposes, with occasional visits for Shabbat.

    The primary movers, as previously mentioned, are those seeking stable housing, often residing in rented accommodations in London. Many have endured cramped and inadequate living spaces for their families, making the spacious homes in Canvey an attractive prospect. It’s not solely about affordability but also about the quality of housing provided. Families escaping cramped rentals and accommodating multiple children in small apartments or homes without gardens find Canvey appealing.

    The Synagogue at Canvey Island, New York Jewish Travel Guide

    NYJTG: Could you share the typical monthly influx of families to the island and their origins? Additionally, have there been instances of individuals departing from the island for various reasons?

    Joel Friedman: Approximately eight years ago, around five or six families departed from the island for various reasons. Some chose to relocate to Israel due to personal motivations, while one family moved to Detroit, where the head continued their role as a rabbi in America. Additionally, a couple of individuals returned to London, finding Canvey not to their liking. This diversity in preferences is not something to be ashamed of but rather a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the community.

    Indeed, the constant flux of arrivals and departures is a sign of a healthy, mature community. Every locality experiences a similar transition, reflecting the multifaceted needs and desires of its inhabitants. While moving to Canvey may require sacrifices, particularly in terms of social amenities, it offers spiritual fulfillment and a sense of belonging for many. However, it can also present challenges for those accustomed to more bustling environments.

    As the community grows and evolves, these challenges are gradually addressed, and families find their own equilibrium. Some prefer the tranquility of Canvey, while others seek the vibrancy of urban life. Ultimately, what suits one person may not suit another, highlighting the importance of accommodating diverse needs within the community.

    NYJTG: Are you noticing an increase in the number of families relocating to the island?

    Joel Friedman: Absolutely, without a doubt. The growth is evident. We began with just six families, and now we’ve reached approximately 125. There’s considerable interest, not just in purchasing homes but also in rentals. However, the supply of rental properties is limited, resulting in a waiting list for prospective renters.

    NYJTG: Do you have a community center, a kosher butcher, restaurants, Judaica stores, shuls within walking distance, kosher grocery options, a mikveh, and separate campuses for boys and girls?

    Joel Friedman: Before our community moved to the island, philanthropists from London bought a large campus, which was once a public school. This campus houses a synagogue, mikveh, shop, and yeshiva schools—all under one roof. Our approach was to avoid concentrating everything in one area to prevent housing shortages and price pressures, as seen in some urban ghettos.

    To integrate smoothly with the local community, we prioritize positive public relations. While spreading out helps, we also recognize the need for proximity, especially on Shabbat when walking long distances is challenging. Thus, there are two additional local shuls, one of which is temporary, to accommodate different needs and demands.

    For all your food shopping needs, there’s a well-stocked grocer offering a wide array of goods, including fresh meat and dairy products, to meet the needs of the community.

    In addition to other community services, there’s a dedicated team of dispatchers, including my wife, managing two ambulances. While one ambulance is an older model acquired from another Hatzalah, the other was procured through a successful crowdfunding campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. My involvement extends to being contacted on the road for assistance during emergency calls. This proactive approach has led to the community being readily identified as a reliable resource in times of crisis, further solidifying our commitment to supporting and serving the broader community beyond our own needs.

    Canvey Island, New York Jewish Travel Guide

    NYJTG: What was the response of the local Canvey Island population to the emergence of the ultra-Orthodox community, and what steps were taken to foster positive relationships?  In what ways has the presence of the community affected the local economy, particularly in the housing market?

    Joel Friedman: In terms of sheer numbers, Canvey Island comprises approximately 16,000 homes, with our ultra-Orthodox community occupying residences numbered 120 to 130 households. While this may seem like a small fraction, it’s essential to consider the larger demographic picture. Yes, we may be just 120 households out of 60,000 on the island, but when factoring in household sizes, which tend to be larger within our community, the actual population impact is substantial. With approximately seven individuals per household, we make up almost 1,000 people within a broader community of 30,000.

    This demographic shift has tangible effects on local economics. With more mouths to feed and increased consumption, our presence benefits the local economy. While some may argue that our preference for kosher food isn’t inherently local, we still utilize local shops for non-kosher items, thereby contributing to their success. Additionally, our established relationships with these businesses lead to mutually beneficial arrangements, such as the hardware store anticipating increased demand before holidays like Sukkoth and Passover and ensuring they have the necessary items in stock.

    Overall, our community’s integration into Canvey Island’s social and economic fabric has been a symbiotic one, where both parties benefit from increased interaction and commerce.

    NYJTG: Do you have a rabbinical leader on the island whose guidance you follow?

    Joel Friedman: Currently, we don’t have a rabbi on the island, but we do have a Dayan who provides spiritual guidance, interprets Jewish law, and provides direction on religious and communal matters. . Additionally, we have a committee comprised of several rabbis from London who collectively offer guidance when needed. This consultation is frequent, as various issues arise concerning education, relocation, and other matters within the community.

    NYJTG: Is it necessary for individuals seeking to purchase a home in the community to go through our organization? And does the process depend on their professional skills, such as being a Hebrew teacher, which may hold more significance for certain institutions?

    Joel Friedman: There’s no need to advise individuals; so far, the process has been smooth. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis. However, in cases of immediate necessity, such as requiring a teacher, they may be prioritized. Yet, according to discussions with the committee, this scenario rarely arises. Each person’s housing preferences vary, so even though it’s first come, first served, there’s usually little contention over specific properties. Thus, while the process generally follows this principle, there are occasional exceptions based on urgent needs.

    NYJTG: Is this the first significant migration to a completely new location in Britain?

    Joel Friedman: No, there was a significant migration around 100 years ago. However, this marks the first instance of a Haredi community deliberately relocating to a new area outside of London. The move was purposeful, with the community selecting a specific location on the map for their settlement. This historic precedent can be observed in the example of Newcastle, where a community initially settled before relocating to Gateshead. Since then, this community represents the first major migration of its kind, and now there are two established Haredi communities in the area, with another emerging approximately a year later, just 20 minutes away.

    NYJTG: What plans or aspirations are envisioned for the future of the island?

    Joel Friedman: We’re focused on continuing to develop and grow our community, which is still in its early stages. We’re keen to welcome more families, as the demand for housing remains high. While we understand that we may not be able to solve everyone’s housing needs, we believe that addressing the broader housing crisis in the country is vital. Additionally, we’re committed to sharing the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained with others to provide support where possible. Our aim is to expand while maintaining positive relationships with both the local community and existing Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

    NYJTG: Thank you for your valuable time and for all the information you shared with us. I appreciated it, as will our readers.

    For more information:

    Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide.com, and New York Jewish Guide.com

    To access the first part of our conversation, kindly click on the following link:

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