Leading Reform synagogue chooses cantor rather than a rabbi to be its new head

Cantor Zoe Jacobs selected leader of Finchley Reform, while Rabbi Golan Ben-Chorin is to become principal rabbi of Alyth


Cantor Zoe Jacobs

Two of the biggest Reform congregations in the UK have announced their new spiritual leaders.

Alyth in Golders Green have turned to a third-generation Israeli Reform rabbi, Golan Ben-Chorin, to be their principal rabbi, while Finchley Reform Synagogue (FRS) have asked Cantor Zoe Jacobs to be head of their clergy team.

Cantor Jacobs, who grew up at FRS and has been cantor there for 15 years, is believed to be the first in a Progressive congregation to be appointed leader of a clergy team. She will succeed Rabbi Miriam Berger, who is leaving to launch the Wellspring project, and will lead a team that includes Rabbis Deborah Blausten and Howard Cooper.

FRS chair Jenny Nuni said, “FRS has a legacy of bold and innovative choices. Appointing Zöe to lead our clergy team positions both FRS as a community and Progressive Judaism as a whole in the vanguard of change, showcasing a commitment to spirituality, creativity and new ways of thinking.”

Cantor Jacobs, who will take up her new position in July, said. “FRS has always been my spiritual home. For the last 15 years, I have worked alongside an inspirational friend and colleague in Miriam to build a new model of collaborative spiritual leadership. I am so honoured and motivated to now follow in the footsteps of my extraordinary predecessors to continue our rich tradition of social action, deep relationships and musical engagement.”

Cantor Rachel Weston heads Sinai Synagogue in Leeds, where she is the sole minister, and Rabbi Gershon Silins, who was Liberal Judaism’s first cantor, leads Elstree Liberal Synagogue.

Cantor Jacobs, who was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Jewish Religion in the USA, was the first progressive person to earn the qualification to serve a British congregation.

FRS has doubled its membership in two decades and recently moved into a new, purpose-built building.

Rabbi Ben-Chorin arrived as interim rabbi at Alyth (North-Western Reform Synagogue) at the beginning of the year after Rabbi Josh Levy left to become chief executive of the Movement for Reform and see through the union with Liberal Judaism as co-lead of Progressive Judaism.

He is a well-travelled rabbi whose previous pulpits include Rosh Pina, Israel’s most northerly Reform community, Temple Judea in Florida, USA, and the Peace Synagogue in Tbilisi, Georgia. He has also been director of Israel programmes for the Leo Baeck College.

Rabbi Ben-Chorin said: “I am deeply honoured and delighted to transition into the role of principal rabbi, with gratitude to our uncompromisingly committed lay leadership, dedicated rabbinic team and devoted staff. In the words of the traveller’s prayer ‘May You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps to fulfilment, and help us reach our desired destination with vitality, joy, and peace’.”

Synagogue chair Justin Wise added: “We are thrilled to begin this new phase in Alyth’s life, in a year that will also see the opening of our beautiful new building.”

The synagogue’s rabbinic team also comprises Rabbis Hannah Kingston and Elliott Karstadt.

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