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When the comfort blanket needs to be changed

Daniel Finkelstein reflects on his decision to move shuls

    My family home wasn’t the only home I said goodbye to last year.

    A few months after my mother’s death, an evening was held in her honour in Hendon Reform Synagogue. It was a memorable night for all sorts of reasons.

    Many of our close family friends were there, many lovely things were said about Mum, and George Osborne, who had much admired Mum and who she admired in return, spent the evening with us discussing politics and answering questions.

    And one other memorable aspect. It was the last time I would be on the Bimah in Danescroft. Hendon Reform was about to merge with Edgware Reform.

    In 2000, I moved to Pinner and we started having children. We needed a synagogue close to home, where our new family could be part of the community. So we joined Northwood and Pinner Liberal. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, or at least it would be if I’d actually made it. But it was actually my wife who picked it. I was too busy dithering about leaving HRS, even though the family logic was obvious.

    I’d been a member of Danescroft all my life. I’d been to cheder there, had my barmitzvah there, and we were married there. I remember going there when I was tiny and when they announced that Kiddush would be in “the adjoining Kingsley Fisher Hall”, I knew Kingsley and Fisher but puzzled over who “Adjoining” might be.

    It was — as people often say when talking about their synagogue choice — what I was used to. The songs on Kol Nidre, putting the fruit up in the Succah and pulling it down, the half-chocolate-half-not biscuits in the Kiddush, knowing exactly when to stand and when to sit down again. It was nice to see people whom I had known when I was a child and grown up with. I knew the wardens, I knew the chairman. I knew exactly which things in the service I could use to make my sister laugh.

    It seemed like too much of a wrench to leave.

    I also associated it strongly with my parents, particularly my dad. The first image HRS brings to my mind is sitting next to my father twirling the tzitzit on his tallit until he got fed up with it and gently told me to stop. One of the first times that I properly appreciated that he was ageing was watching him come down the bimah steps after reading the Haftarah. He was devoted to Hendon Reform.

    Its services were comforting, too, stately and traditional, tuneful and decorous, enhanced by Rabbi Steven Katz, who, with his rhythmic tones, could deliver a mesmerising sermon laced with jokes so dry you didn’t see them coming.

    Ideologically —although that might be a slightly heavy word to use — it was probably a little bit too conservative for me (I mean in religious terms), at least by the time I became an adult, but this was trumped by the fact that it was familiar and it was, for want of a better word, mine.

    So I was resistant to change. I hovered over it, in fact for more than a year and ended up being a member of two communities for a while. But, in the end, it was obvious that change was essential. We now live 40 minutes away from Danescroft. If we wanted the children not merely to go to cheder but make synagogue friends, it wasn’t realistic to stay part of a community in Hendon. It might be mine but it wouldn’t be theirs.

    So, with a heavy heart, we left. And it turned out to be the correct decision. We were rewarded for doing the tough but right thing by becoming a strong part of a vibrant, local community in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if we’d stayed.

    Which is a parallel to the decision that Hendon Reform itself has had to make. The changing demographics of the Jewish community and the financial implications of that change made staying in Danescroft impossible. Or at least only possible if decline and decay were accepted. So the community has taken the decision to join with Edgware.

    It must have been a wrench. All that change. All those memories. But if our own experience is anything to go by, sometimes sentiment has to give way. And you don’t regret it.

     

    Daniel Finkelstein is associate editor of The Times

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