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Gateshead’s 21st Century Shtetl

Shoshana R. Meiri

There are a few new shops on its only commercial block, and now two elementary schools for boys, but beneath it all, Gateshead clings tenaciously to the charter established when two men broke off from Newcastle to form what is now the only shtetl left in Europe.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Nestled in the northeast corner of England, a stone’s throw from both the coast and countryside and close enough to the Arctic to shiver from the bite, lies a peaceful twenty-first century shtetl — the town of Gateshead.

Founded in the 1880s by two bold, principled Eastern European immigrants, Gateshead has marched to its own drumbeat since its inception. While change in a community of this size inevitably tiptoes in in various ways, the kehillah is intent on retaining the character it inherited from its founders — a strong flavor of yesteryear.

Home to approximately 400 families today — all of whom are shomrei Torah u’mitzvos — the Jewish community of Gateshead is one of the few remaining authentic kehillos, with an infrastructure that is guided by its rav, assisted by a governing committee. Not merely another small, secluded community, Gateshead has a pulsating heartbeat — its commitment to Torah learning and living.

The kehillah is spread across a half-square mile, encompassing a dozen or so streets. Although small in area and population, it is blessed with an abundance of prominent roshei yeshivah and rabbanim and boasts numerous Torah institutions: four prestigious yeshivos (Gateshead Yeshiva Gedola, Yeshiva Ketana, Sunderland Yeshiva, and Ba’er Hatorah); two seminaries (the august Gateshead Seminary and the younger Beis Chaya Rochel); seven kollelim; and boys’ and girls’ kindergarten, primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools — perhaps the highest concentration of Torah institutions in Europe.

 

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