By Simon Round
The United Synagogue could be about to benefit from a massive cash injection, courtesy of an unexpected benefactor: billionaire Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.
According to sources close to the Russian oligarch, whose fortune is thought to be in excess of £8 billion, he has fallen out of love with football and is said to be seriously considering funding Britain’s biggest Jewish religious organisation.
Abramovich’s possible change of direction may explain why big-money signings at Chelsea have been thin on the ground in recent months.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that recent talks with senior figures at the US are likely to result in a huge investment — possibly in excess of £100 million.
He told the JC: “Mr Abramovich has become passionate about his Judaism in the past year or two. His vision is to transform the United Synagogue into a world-class religious organisation which will be able to take on the best in Europe, notably the Catholic Church.”
Although Mr Abramovich has expressed confidence in the work done over the years by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, he is said to be enthusiastic about bringing in a new director of religion to work alongside Sir Jonathan in rejuvenating the organisation. He is also said to be considering investing in other personnel. Mr Abramovich plans to use the bait of higher salaries to recruit world-class rabbis from the continent and the USA.
A huge sum of money will also be earmarked to bring the organisation’s facilities up to date, with the flagship synagogue, St John’s Wood, set for demolition and reconstruction. Another plan Mr Abramovich is said to be considering is the building of a brand-new headquarters for the organisation — possibly at Stamford Bridge.
Said the source: “Two hotels were built as part of the Stamford Bridge complex by the previous Chelsea owner, Ken Bates. They could be converted into a state-of -the-art United Synagogue HQ. The Star of David would then stand alongside the Chelsea lion at the gates of the stadium.”
This is not the first time Mr Abramovich has donated funds to Jewish organisations.
In Russia, he is a long-time supporter of the Lubavitch-led Federation of Jewish Communities.