Students' great shul crawl

By Marcus Dysch, September 22, 2011
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Two Oxford University students have set out on an ambitious project to review every synagogue in Britain.

Danny Kessler and Joshua Felberg plan light-hearted assessments of nearly 400 communities, based on the standard of the kiddush, the rabbi's sermon, decorum, and "peculiar customs".

The friends served as co-presidents of Oxford Jewish Society last year and came up with the idea after seeing the Sandys Row and Bevis Marks synagogues in London's East End.

Danny, 21, explained: "We had visited my brother who lives in the East End and we realised there were so many diverse communities we had never seen. It spiralled from there."

The pair acknowledge they are in for a long haul. Their list of synagogues - which they will visit on Shabbats and festivals - is based on congregations which have a building, paying members and at least one sefer Torah, and covers the full range of religious denominations.

Danny, a member of both Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue and North Western Reform Synagogue, said: "It will take a while. We estimated that if we only did one review every six weeks it would take us about 44 years. We had to develop some criteria because there are so many informal minyanim around the country."

Joshua, a member of Sutton Synagogue in south London, said: "We hope people will be welcoming, especially if they know their shul is being reviewed. We are cautious about upsetting people, so we will be quite careful and polite.

"What's good is that in London we can cover more than one shul each Shabbat."

Danny said: "Lots of people have a connection with their shul, even if they only go a few times a year. Jewish life in Britain is largely based around shuls rather than community centres or other areas, as may be the case elsewhere in the diaspora."

Read Daniel and Joshua's first review in JC On Campus later this month.

    Last updated: 1:06pm, September 22 2011