Peter Saunders

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Basildon was a small Jewish community established in one of the UK's, 'New Towns', created post-war to provide more housing, opportunities and to receive 'over-spill' population from London. The community was informally active by the late 1950's, with 60-80 Jewish residents, mostly young families. The Saunders family moved to Basildon and was the first to institute regular religious observance on the Sabbath, but the community did not acquire a formal synagogue until the late 1960s, but the first of several. The heyday of the community was in the 1970s, with the community declining thereafter and the synagogue closing in the 1980s, though a small close-knit Jewish community is still present in the town. (Trail by Peter Saunders)

A Potted History of the Basildon Jewish Community

In the late 1950's there were approximately 60-80 Jewish residents mostly young families, as Basildon was one of the three new towns in the south east of England.

It was not until the Saunders family moved to the town that there was any form of regular religious observance on the Sabbath. Ken Saunders had come from a fairly knowledgeable family background and understood how to conduct a simple evening service, which was held in the home of one of the members for a few years.

When it came to the High Holyday festivals for the New Year, the Community was able to rent a community hall in Luncies Road, Basildon for the three days, and the Synagogue in Southend loaned Basildon the necessary Scroll and prayer books. Ken Saunders assisted by other members ably conducted the services and over time their expertise grew and it was felt they were really doing justice to the festivals.

A Sunday school was set up and teachers from the Southend Community offered their services for the children to learn Hebrew and Jewish history.
When the Community outgrew that particular hall, it acquired the use of a larger one in Laindon itself, and also a hall in Kingswood. This arrangement continued for several years until the late 60's when the Basildon Development Corporation gave the Community the use of a large house called Park Lodge at the top of Laindon High Road. It was renovated and converted into a Synagogue and officially consecrated by Rabbi Shebson of Southend as a House of Worship.
Leslie Graham was the enthusiastic Chairman at that time and he instigated a huge fundraising project to raise funds for the purchase of a Torah Scroll for the Synagogue and other obligatory appurtenances.

Then in 1975, that area of Laindon underwent redevelopment, the ever supportive Basildon Corporation found another building for the Community called Whiteways in Basildon Road, just outside the town.

After much conversion work, the building was consecrated by Rabbi Shebson in the presence of civic dignitaries and local MP Eric Moonman, himself Jewish and a great supporter of Judaism in Basildon.

Ken Saunders at this time was the Chairman and the Community was proud to have its own wonderful building where many services and social events were held.
As the decade of the 80's began, the number of Jewish families started to decline for various reasons and the number of people who were able to provide the necessary active support also declined. By the late 80's, it was obvious that the Community could not justify the maintenance of the building, and the hard work of running all aspects of the Community was falling on fewer shoulders, all aging members. It was apparent that the Community had to 'close down' regrettably, but the nucleus of families that remained still kept strong bonds with one other.

The Basildon Hebrew Congregation enjoyed a wonderful 30-40 years golden era; the second generation of families who were instrumental in the life of Basildon then now live in Southend where they have their own families. It would be lovely to mention the Graham and Raphael families of Southend and the Saunders family who now reside in Southern Spain, but still keep in contact with one another.


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