Uni Glos RPE and Cheltenham Jewish community.

AS part of our Contemporary Religious Landscapes module Level 4 students were invited to join members of the Cheltenham Jewish community this week. Now most social distancing mitigation has been relaxed students were welcomed in to the Cheltenham Orthodox Synagogue for a discussion about Jewish sacred space and the central role that the synagogue plays in the lives of the community. We also discussed the impact of Covid on the ways in which the community took sacred space on line in terms of the strategies that they employed to continue their religious lives in lockdown when access to the synagogue was either non existent or very limited. The building itself , whilst playing a pivotal role is only part of the story as we found out and the home and indeed the domestic kitchen also played crucial roles in the spiritual lives of many during the pandemic. The building itself was extraordinarily beautiful, small but capacious in its sense of welcome. For me the most tantalising insight that we gained was the story of one of the Torah scrolls kept in the ark. The age of the scroll was uncertain, but despite it being very heavy had seemingly travelled either from Portugal or Spain many years ago and found itself in the sacred sanctum of Cheltenham synagogue, itself over a century and a half old. The group also had the opportunity to join revered academic and prominent scholar in Judaism and Feminism Melissa Raphael to discuss (in an online forum) the developments in virtual synagogue communities around the world. This is part of an ongoing program of events for these students that I shall be reporting upon over the next few weeks.

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