Although less than a mile away from the JFS and Sinai schools, Kenton Synagogue no longer operates a cheder.
But although there are few barmitzvahs, minister Rabbi Yehuda Black reports no shortage of simchahs. “We have plenty of golden wedding anniversaries.”
The US congregation is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2018 and Rabbi Black, who joined in 2004, maintains that it is thriving.
“On paper we have lost quite a lot of members,” he concedes, “either through people moving or passing away. But there is always so much going on in our community.
“If you walk into my shul, you will be overwhelmed by people saying ‘hello’ and making you feel at home.”
Shabbat services regularly pull in around 120 congregants and the shul maintains three daily minyanim.
“There are hardly any communities of our size that are doing that and we are able to sustain it,” Rabbi Black adds proudly.
The synagogue has been based in Shaftesbury Avenue since 1959, prior to which services were held in a “shed” in a residential garden.
At its peak during the 1970s and 80s, it boasted some 1,200 families, with more than 1,000 children using its cheder and teenage centre. Current membership is 600.
Many eminent rabbis have presided over the community, among them Cyril Harris — later Chief Rabbi of South Africa — who was married in the shul.
Kenton chair Irene Leeman says it has a history of innovation. “We were the first of the US shuls to have batmitzvah ceremonies and our rabbis have always been very supportive of women in leadership roles.
“We also led the way in adult education with weekly evening programmes with several classes running simultaneously. Our Shabbat Kodesh programme has been running for 26 years and is now a model for other shuls.”
Joyce King, editor of the shul’s annual magazine, moved to the area as a teenager with her parents. Both her sons and two grandsons celebrated barmitzvahs in the synagogue. “My father was one of eight and all of his family lived in Kenton at one time or another,” she recalls.
“Although we have less members now, we are very, very active and there’s always something happening. People from further afield say we have more going on than in some of the bigger shuls.”
A year of celebrations will conclude with a gala dinner. There will also be lectures, concerts and reunions, the latter indicative of a desire to involve former members.