Rabbi Romain to leave Maidenhead Synagogue after 44 years

He will be concentrating on his new role as convenor of the Reform Beit Din


Rabbi Jonathan Romain welcomes local MP, then Prime Minister, Theresa May and her husband Philip to Maidenhead Synagogue

One of Britain’s best-known rabbis, Dr Jonathan Romain, is to retire from the pulpit in summer after more than 40 years as spiritual leader of Maidenhead Synagogue.

The author of 19 books and a regular voice on broadcast media, he will take up his new position as convenor of the Reform Beit Din at the end of July, before he turns 70 the following month.

His successor will be Rabbi Dr Rene Pfertzel, who has led Kingston Liberal Synagogue for seven years.

While the congregation was founded in the 1940s, Rabbi Romain was its first rabbi when he arrived in 1980.

Explaining his career path, he said “Normally newly ordained rabbis, as I was back then, start with a small community, move on to a larger one and then progress accordingly. But the congregation here began to grow rapidly and I found myself looking after an ever increasing shul and I stayed with it.

“We had the lovely problem of constantly outgrowing our building and have had to either move or rebuild four times, with Prince Edward coming to open our current premises.”

He attributes the congregation’s huge growth during his tenure, from 72 households to 947, to the rebranding of the synagogue from a house of prayer to a community centre.

“I honestly don’t care if people come to services on a Saturday, the film evening on a Sunday or the walking group midweek,” he said. “It’s coming that counts and being part of the community in whatever way they feel comfortable.”

He was a pioneer in outreach to mixed-faith couples, encouraging communities to find ways to welcome rather than exclude them, and was recognised with an MBE in 2004.

He has written on Anglo-Jewish history, Reform Judaism and — the theme of recent books, Confessions of a Rabbi and The Naked Rabbi — his rabbinic experiences. For more than 20 years, he has contributed to the JC’s Rabbi I Have a Problem column.

His TV appearances include one Songs of Praise filmed at the synagogue.

Beyond the Jewish community, he is chair of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns to legalise assisted dying, and has chaired the Accord Coalition, which believes faith schools should admit pupils from other religions than their own.

His fundraising for the RNLI has included a sponsored jokes event and a sponsored “non-sermon”, when people in the High Street had to donate to stop him offering them a sermon.

More recently, he has been involved in finding homes and organising help for Ukrainian refugees.

Rabbi Pfertzel said, “It is an honour and privilege to follow in the footsteps of a rabbi of the stature of Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain. I am very much looking forward to joining the thriving and vibrant community of Maidenhead, and to add my stone to this beautiful edifice.”

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