Party for the 100-year-old Liberal synagogue

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2011

Britain's oldest Liberal synagogue celebrated its centenary with a musical Shabbat service featuring participants from every decade of its existence.

Around 900 worshippers gathered at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, on Saturday - almost 100 years to the day that its founders met for the first time in a converted chapel on February 4, 1911.

A procession of children from the community carrying white rose stems entered to the massed sound of three choirs, whose repertoire ranged from traditional melodies to a new arrangement of Mi Kamocha written especially for the occasion by Cecilia McDowall.

Some of the oldest of the congregation's 2,000 members took part - Ludwig Spiro, 98, who read the opening prayer, and Ruth Ive, a few years his junior, whose Second World War role was to monitor Winston Churchill's top secret telephone calls to President Roosevelt.

Veteran actor Lee Montague recited the haftarah on Solomon's building of the Temple, an apposite choice since the rebuilt sanctuary at LJS is made of Jerusalem stone.

Representatives of other Jewish movements, the Board of Deputies and other faiths were among the guests. Congratulations also came from Lord's Cricket Ground, over the road. The rabbi of the neighbouring St John's Wood United Synagogue, Dayan Ivan Binstock, sent a message of "mazeltov", in particular acknowledging LJS's prominent role in interfaith relations.

In her sermon, LJS senior rabbi Alexandra Wright noted Liberal Judaism's "openness and tolerance, its spirit of inquiry and enlightened perspective on the world".

Its founders, she explained, had not had things easy in the conservative religious environment prevailing among British Jews at the time. "Prayer had to emphasise ethics over ritual and comprehension and meaning over tradition for its own sake - and provide a framework of worship for a modern congregation that was in danger of leaving Judaism altogether."

Highlighting the congregation's inclusive approach, she read a message from a former member grateful to the synagogue for "the rediscovery of my roots" and "the strengthening of my loyalty to our people".

He was unable to come to the service because he now lives in Israel.

Last updated: 12:51pm, February 10 2011