A Beacon of Light
A new history of West London Synagogue
The light of West London, Philippa Bernard, West London Synagogue, £25
When the Reverend D W Marks spoke at the consecration of the West London Synagogue in 1842, he hoped it would become "a beacon of light and a secure haven to the sons of Israel". Philippa Bernard meticulously traces its subsequent history within three buildings, with a wealth of detail from minute books and other documents.
The work she has done cannot be underestimated, yet ultimately it left me unsatisfied. Only a limited understanding can be got from such a collection of information; focusing on the details without also looking at the relationships of the big personalities whose story was played out through these documents made me long for the rest of the story.
I also missed an objective drawing together of the material into a clear statement of what Marks called in that same sermon "the reasons why and principles on which" the synagogue was instituted. Instead, the author diverted her attention into a more hagiographic work, where many of the synagogue's more interesting internal events have been glossed over or else alluded to only in passing and so are likely to be overlooked by those not already aware.
Much of what would have given insight, texture and clearer understanding of what the Reform community has become today has been lost in this varnishing of the material; the admirable hard work by the author in researching and collating the written material is not well repaid.