Fears over closure of Bevis Marks

Members of Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks in East London, have protested over plans which they fear could be a prelude to its closure as an active place of worship.

Around 70 congregants and supporters attended a meeting on Tuesday to voice concern over Sephardi leaders’ reported plan to remove its rabbi.

A letter from the Mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, denying any move to close the 300-year old synagogue, failed to reassure them.

In a statement, the synagogue’s committee said that members understood that a decision had been taken by the Mahamad “without consultation, to dispense with the services” of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha, who arrived from Zimbabwe to be the synagogue’s rabbi last year.

The Mahamad confirmed that due to financial constraints, Rabbi Asmoucha had been “placed in a redundancy process”.

Jonathan Solomons, chairman of Bevis Marks committee, added: “We fear this decision could be the first steps towards the closure of the synagogue as a place of daily worship, and we are planning to meet the Mahamad as soon as possible to ask them to explain their reasons behind their decision concerning the rabbi and to understand what plans, if any, they may have for the future of Britain’s oldest synagogue.”

In a letter sent to members last Friday, members of the Mahamad declared that there was “no intention of taking any action that is likely to threaten the future of the synagogue and certainly not to close it”.

Last updated: 11:26am, July 9 2009