South London rabbi's staying power

By Jay Grenby, May 1, 2008

The acting minister of Streatham-based South London Synagogue has agreed to stay on as a “permanent temporary”.

Rabbi Menahem Lester was recruited 12 months ago after the retirement of Rabbi Philip Ginsbury, who served South London congregations for 47 years — first at Streatham, then at Brixton, and after the two communities amalgamated in 1985. Rabbi Lester spent nine years with Chingford and Highams Park Synagogue before going on aliyah with his wife in 2004.

Already acquainted with the 220-member synagogue through returning from Israel to assist Rabbi Ginsbury at festival services, Rabbi Lester initially agreed to fill the breach for a short period, which was extended to the beginning of 2008.

The community had already held a farewell reception for him when he had a change of heart. His proposal to remain on the basis of a rolling six-month contract was readily accepted by the shul’s board.

Chairman Geoffrey Harris believes the synagogue is “very, very lucky. Rabbi Lester has endeared himself to us with his considerable energy, excellent singing voice and obvious enjoyment in teaching and leading services. On top of that, he is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

“He has already had a revitalising impact on our community. Last week, for instance, he helped organise our first ever communal seder, attended by about 70 people.”

Rabbi Lester is also pleased with the new arrangement, which will allow him to return home to Israel for four days a month.

“This is a lovely congregation,” he told the JC, “and I have every confidence in its future, especially as we are hoping to attract some of the younger professional couples who are beginning to move into the area.”

Last updated: 10:00am, July 8 2009