Name of Synagogue: Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue (EHRS)
Address: 118 Stonegrove, Edgware HA8 8AB
Denomination: Movement for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Rabbi: Rabbi Daniel Smith; Rabbi Steven Katz; Rabbi Neil Kraft; Rabbi Emily Jurman
Size of Community: [Information for EDRS and HRS separately, pre-merger: EDRS = 1500-1900 member households and HRS = 500-750 member households]
I’m going to begin this review by quoting my seven-year-old daughter. Indeed, I could probably save myself the time it takes to write the entire review, and the time it takes you to read it, by simply repeating what she said as we were putting on our coats to leave Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue. At the end of our visit, she looked me in the eye and said, "Mummy. Please can we come here again?"
To put that in context, my daughter is not the greatest fan of shul. (Which seven year old is?) And she has never, ever, asked to revisit a synagogue, let alone done so before we’ve even left the building. But from the minute we arrived at EHRS, we were both made to feel so welcome, and our visit was so positive, that she was already thinking about another visit before we’d finished this one.
A number of factors contributed to our experience. The first was the warm welcome we received when we arrived. Now, many shuls I’ve visited over the past year have been welcoming. But what made EHRS stand out was that the welcome we received was not limited to a friendly face on the door by a designated volunteer, vital though that is. What made EHRS different, was that we were made to feel welcome by a number of different congregants, none of them acting in any official capacity, and who checked in with us a couple of times during the course of the service to make sure we were still okay and had everything we needed.
When we entered the prayer hall and sat down towards the back, a female congregant approached us, and asked if we’d prefer to go to the family service. She then led us through the building to a side room, where a group of children were eating snacks, and chatting to a young woman. She introduced herself as Rabbi Emily Jurman, and my daughter was immediately brought into the children’s conversation by the other kids. Within minutes, my naturally shy child was happily chatting to the other children, who ranged in age from three to 13, and who I have to say were among the most friendly and inclusive I’ve ever met. I stayed with my daughter for a short while, but the other kids made her feel so at home that I was soon able to go back to the main service, while she stayed with Rabbi Emily for a sing-song service with guitar accompaniment.
And so, with my daughter happily entertained, I was able to enjoy the service without distraction, barring the odd check-in to make sure she was still happy to stay where she was.
EHRS is a community formed by the merger of Edgware and District Reform Synagogue and Hendon Reform Synagogue, neither of which I visited independently before their amalgamation. To the first-time visitor, the only discernible effect of the merger is that there do seem to be a lot of rabbis. In addition to Rabbi Emily, there were a further three rabbis running the main service.
The prayer hall at EHRS is very large and brightly lit. The ceiling is shaped like a pyramid, with hundreds of large spot lights that brought to mind the interior of Dr Who’s Tardis. There are tall illustrated window panes along the walls, in a slowly evolving spectrum of colours. And the curtain in front of the ark is a striking design in shades of orange and burnt reds.
The service itself was pleasant enough, although, if I’m honest, it dragged a little bit towards the end. (It began on time at 10:30, but was still not finished by 12:45.) That said, on the morning of my visit the synagogue had much to celebrate.
There was a joint Bar Mitvah of twins, the Aufruf of a couple about to be married, and a baby girl, just a few months old, who was in shul for the first time and who was welcomed by name by Rabbi Neil Kraft during his sermon. There was a palpable warmth with which he referred to each of these separate celebrations. And which was at rather comical odds with the fire-and-brimstone recitation of the Haftarah portion, delivered by a congregant in a theatrically booming voice reminiscent of Billy Graham.
For reasons that I couldn’t fathom, the choir, made up of 15 or so singers, was sitting at the back of the synagogue, quite a distance away from Rabbi Daniel Smith who led the service. This meant that the choir leader had her back to the rabbi, and had to repeatedly look over her shoulder to see where he was up to, then turn back again to conduct her singers. It made as much sense as putting the orchestra of a musical at the back of the stalls, next to the audience but away from the performers.
But a service that over-runs and a choir that’s inexplicably positioned fade into insignificance when the overall experience is so positive. And it was a very positive experience. My daughter joined me in the main prayer hall for the final 15 minutes of the service, accompanied by her new-found friends, and then we both made our way to the Kiddush hall.
The synagogue clearly hadn’t had time to replenish its food stocks after Pesach, so the Kiddush was still largely made up of Passover fare. But there were plenty of dips, matza crackers and fishballs to tempt us before we went home. And as we left, and my daughter asked if we could come again, we were once again approached by Rabbi Emily and another congregant, reminding us of the kids’ activities taking place in the coming weeks. And I’ve absolutely no doubt that if it were up to my daughter, we’d be there.
Warmth of Welcome 5*
Read our first 21 reviews, of Cockfosters and North Southgate, Finchley Reform, New London Synagogue, Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, West London Reform, Radlett United, Kol Nefesh Masorti, Wimbledon Reform, St John's Wood Liberal, Dunstan Road, Lauderdale Road, Lubavitch of Edgware, Oxford Jewish Congregation, Kinloss, Brighton and Hove Reform Mill Hill United, Ilford, Shomrei Hadath, Woodside Park, Alyth and Barnet United. And read her end-of-year awards for 2017 here.