Harrow takes the bus route to shared home

Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith leads the procession to Bessborough Road

Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith leads the procession to Bessborough Road

Traffic was heavy on Sunday as Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue moved to the Middlesex New Synagogue premises after 60 years in a Preston Road, Wembley, building.

A convoy of vehicles, led by a London bus, transported the congregation's seven Torah scrolls to the MNS site in Bessborough Road.

In a ground-breaking initiative, the Liberal and Reform congregations last year agreed to share the MNS site after the declining Progressive community wanted to secure its future. It sold its shul for £2 million to a Sri Lankan Pentecostal church and refurbished an upstairs room at MNS for use as its sanctuary.

The congregations will remain as separate entities, maintaining their own rituals and affiliation.

HWPS chair Adrian Cohen said the final Shabbat service at Preston Road had been "very emotional, particularly when the Ark was opened by the congregation's only surviving founder member, 95-year-old Milcie Dobson, and its oldest member, 101-year-old Feo Kahan".

He added that to ensure continuity, "we have tried to replicate the look of our old shul as far as possible - same flooring, same paint colour on the walls and the same Ark, though slightly remodelled to fit the space. We have brought many of the fixtures and fittings with us."

The transfer had been arranged in an atmosphere of "goodwill, tolerance and understanding of the needs of both communities. We are moving into the home of MNS and we respect their rights in relation to any minimal differences in our practices. I already see our new shul as my home - and it feels right."

Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith said it had been "a wrench" to leave Preston Road. "But we have no choice, given the demographic decline of Jewish people in our area and our ageing membership. We are thrilled at the warm welcome we have received at MNS. I am very excited about the creative possibilities."

At MNS, Rabbi Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton said that "naturally, there are differences in approach on matters ritually and halachically". But respect for the differences on each side had avoided any problems.

"Although there was an initial fear by some members that the move of another brand of Judaism into our building might influence our own attitudes and traditions, it has so far proven to rather enhance our own identity."

The communities' religion schools have been successfully merged, with Reform and Liberal pupils taught side by side, using a curriculum devised by both ministers.

A joint Seder was held this year and there are plans for further social and religious collaborations.

Last updated: 3:23pm, June 16 2011