Ruthless Jewish care home closure is heartbreaking for Brighton

A keystone institution in many regional Jewish communities is the care home. Looking after, visiting and administering to the sick, the infirm and the simply elderly is a great mitzvah. It is also a source of satisfaction and great pride.

My own visits to my late Aunt Rosie, a survivor of Auschwitz and a rabbatzim, and my mother’s cousin Margaret at the Hyman Fine home in Brighton’s Kemp Town, were never simply a chore. It was a chance to reminisce on family matters, gain first hand insights into 20th century history and simply engage. It has always been inspiring to see first-hand the dedicated work of the professional care workers and the local volunteers. It was also a chance to re-engage with non-family acquaintances from childhood living among friends in Brighton and Hove community.

Imagine, then, the shock to learn that without formal consultation with community leaders, about possible ways forward, Jewish Care has decided to close Hyman Fine which has been part of the fabric of the Brighton and Hove communities since 1954. Its closure is a bolt from the blue. I have been inundated with emails and social media messages from friends in Brighton fearful of what lies ahead.

One poignant note from an old friend told of how the 94-year-old mother of his partner has been told she would have to be moved to a non-Jewish home or to London. The daughter’s fear is that away from Brighton, where she has lived all of her life, the shock of the move would effectively be a death sentence.

Jewish Care’s reasons for the closure are essentially economic. With just 21 residents at present, in a home which accommodates double that number, the home is no longer viable. Recruitment of full time care workers has become difficult – so increasingly more expensive agency carers have to be deployed – and the building needs refurbishment.

There are dark mutterings locally that those responsible for the closure see a real estate opportunity in Brighton’s booming residential market.

As a charity Jewish Care is often held up nationally as an example of community self-help to the nation, and does not live alone by principles of commerce. Those of us who have made small donations over the years, and regularly support Jewish Care events, can only but be appalled by the events in Brighton.

I suspect some of the biggest donors would be appalled. Their donations ensure that generations of loved ones can enjoy Jewish life, kosher food and Shabbat and yom tov services, as if they were still living in their own homes.

The local anger is palpable. It was the first topic of conversation in shul and among friends everywhere I went on a visit to Brighton last week. On Friday evening, just before Shabbat, the Sussex Jewish Representative Council issued a robust statement deploring events.

It noted news of the closure was ‘delivered to elderly and vulnerable residents and their family with no warning.’ It added that Jewish Care had acted precipitously without any discussion with local welfare bodies. It said to ‘rip’ this vital service from a community, with an ageing population, shows a ‘shocking lack of care and consideration.’

Brighton and Hove has long been a fractious community. But with the opening of a New shul, mikvah, kosher restaurant and residences in West Hove there has recently been an optimism about the future. The area still has four functioning synagogues and an active Chabad.

Nevertheless it is a shadow of its former self. Rival orthodox minyanim struggle to put together 10 people on Shabbat morning. A once thriving kashrut community of three kosher butchers, two delicatessens and even a Jewish fishmonger has disintegrated.

The loss of a care home is huge brick out of the wall of Judaism for a community just 50 miles from London where so many people have ties to the south coast.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor