Shul Crawl: Sandys Row Synagogue, City of London

Two Oxford University students have set out on an ambitious project to review every synagogue in Britain. Danny Kessler and Joshua Felberg will make light-hearted assessments of hundreds of communities, based on the standard of the kiddush, the rabbi's sermon, decorum, and "peculiar customs".


The oldest remaining Ashkenazi synagogue in the country is Sandys Row in the City of London.

We were told by a veteran member of the community with a gleeful smile that it was the second oldest, until the Germans destroyed Central Synagogue in Duke's Place during the war.

With the Blitz came the movement of Jews from the East End to the north west of London, leaving synagogues like Sandys rather low on congregants.

Sandys Row itself is going through a revival, boosted by its location next to the capital's financial centre – it even has plans to set up a museum of Jewish heritage in the future.

The Shabbat morning congregation included old time East Enders, tourists and the new Chabad rabbi of Islington - about 15 people in total.

The service was led by Reverend Malcolm Gingold, using traditional Ashkenazi siddurim with all kinds of variations to confuse someone brought up on United Synagogue traditions.

Sandys has had its roof refurbished, the whiff of fresh paint still lingers and there are holes where chandeliers will be put in place. Its interior is orange and there is a curious collection of antique books at the back of the room.

We wanted to poke around the attic and see what treasures were hiding, but we were immediately invited out to lunch by the Chabad rabbi and after a good two and a half hours of praying, we simply had to prioritise.

The East End has just a handful of remaining synagogues – Bevis Marks, Fieldgate, Nelson Street, Stepney Reform and the Congregation of Jacob. As you would expect, they don't get on. One man told us that in all his years at Sandys, he'd never been to the Congregation of Jacob, and never planned to.

Another told us that the Congregation of Jacob didn't have a real minister – he was an imposter. Sandys is, therefore, the kind of charming synagogue full of old-timers and enthusiasts, eccentric specimens of Anglo-Jewry and we bet the Congregation of Jacob is exactly the same.

The community is small, but very friendly. Both of us were called to the Torah and almost every male congregant had a formal role in the service.

The East End is a much-neglected part of Anglo-Jewish history, and we're pleased synagogues like Sandys keep the place alive.

    Last updated: 4:14pm, October 25 2011