Name of Synagogue: Kol Nefesh Masorti
Address: Leonard Sainer Centre, Jewish Care, Rectory Lane, Edgware, Middx HA8 7LF
Denomination: Masorti Judaism
Rabbi: Rabbi Joel Levy
Size of Community: c100 members
In some ways, Kol Nefesh Masorti isn’t really a synagogue at all. It doesn’t own its own building. It has a part-time Rabbi. And the community is made up of just a hundred or so people, who meet in the Leonard Sainer Jewish Care home in Edgware. Finding the building is far from easy. Whether this is a ploy on CST advice, given the current security situation, I’m not sure. But the building is accessed via a hidden, unpaved slip road behind a parade of betting shops and fried chicken restaurants. Hardly the most uplifting start to a morning of prayer.
Whatever misgivings the approach to the building may have raised, these were immediately allayed by the sheer warmth of welcome my partner and I received the moment we arrived. Two adult congregants, accompanied by a sleeping baby and a toddler, twirling in the way only three-year-old girls in Shabbat dresses can twirl, greeted us at the door. After an effusive "Shabbat Shalom", we were escorted towards the service via a narrow corridor. As we walked, our guide asked whether we’d like to stay for the pot luck lunch, if either of us would like to be called up, and if we would like a tallit.
This last question was quite pointed, since the synagogue is a break-away from the larger Edgware Masorti Synagogue, situated just a few hundred yards across the road, itself accessed via a hidden, snake-like path. Although the two synagogues are both members of Masorti Judaism, and both require Ordnance Survey map-reading skills to locate the front door, there are a couple of crucial differences between the two, not least of which is the issue of tallit. Or, to be more precise, women wearing tallit. (In Kol Nefesh they do. At Edgware Masorti they don’t.)
Whatever acrimony might have led to the creation of this break-away community, there was no sense of it in the service that we attended. The singing was jolly. The sermon was thought-provoking. The atmosphere was warm. Oh boy, was it warm! There is a palpable heat that seems to be a requirement of all care homes for the elderly, and the Leonard Sainer Centre is no exception. It was like praying in the palm house at Kew Gardens. In a duffle coat.
Not only does Kol Nefesh enjoy the heat of an old-age home, it also shares that standard issue furniture-for-the-infirm. My partner and I sat in the wide, cushioned, ergonomically-designed arm-chairs that you only ever see beside hospital beds, and I suddenly realised that the wooden, straight-backed, narrow pews that grace most synagogues, and about which I repeatedly complain, actually serve a purpose. They keep you awake. Without the dull pain that slowly spreads up from your coccyx when sitting flat against a wooden board, and without the hinged book rest constantly knocking against your lap and threatening to ladder your tights, there is nothing to jolt you to attention and keep you awake. I am ashamed to admit, that I nodded off.
Now, I’m not the first to fall asleep in shul. It happens all the time. And in a larger building, would not have presented much of a problem. But in a service like Kol Nefesh, falling asleep is problematic. Firstly, the room used for prayer is very small so there is no hiding. Secondly, and more importantly, when the singing finishes, the room falls silent. I don’t mean the room is quiet but for the low hum of whispered chatter. I don’t mean quiet for kaddish and kedusha. I mean totally and completely silent. All. The. Time. I’ve never experienced decorum like it. When the chazan or congregation is not singing, you can hear a pin drop. Or a visitor snore.
After a gentle prod from my partner I woke to find that Mussaf was in full swing. The repetition of the Amida was incredibly melodic, expertly led by Jaclyn Chernett, the female chazan, who brought an enthusiasm that was a real joy. Whilst there were only a handful of people present (30 at most), the atmosphere was participatory and inclusive. Even the sermon, delivered by a lay member, included a discussion thrown out to the floor. (We didn’t dare contribute. Kol Nefesh has some very learned congregants.)
Whilst I was dozing my partner put his head round the door of the children’s service. He was met with two teenagers and three kids around eight or nine who were sitting in a side room. One was reading; the others were kicking a sponge ball about. So, no formal service to speak of, but a chance to spend time with peers on a Shabbat morning. Not a terrible way to start the weekend.
After the service there was a small Kiddush. A very small Kiddush. A bowl of olives that had seen better days, a cake that I can only assume had been cut – and partially eaten – by one of the children, and a plate of crisps. Not a bowl of crisps. That would require a volume of crisps that was not offered here. A plate of crisps. But there was also single malt whisky in abundance, so my partner was delighted. And whatever may have been lacking in nutrition, was more than made up for in the friendly atmosphere in the room. Which, I think, goes a long way to proving what many people who work in synagogue management know. It’s not about the building, or the size of the membership, or even the number of fish balls in the Kiddush. It’s about the warmth and friendliness of the community. (And maybe a thermostat to control the room temperature.)
|Warmth of welcome||5|
|Kiddush||1* (and only because 0 would be churlish)|