We must mobilise again to save Bevis Marks

Here’s how you can lodge your objections with the City of London


Bevis Marks Synagogue (Photo by Dan Dennison/Getty Images)

May 13, 2024 10:57

Whenever I find myself in a new city, like many Jewish tourists I find myself drawn to its synagogues, particularly those that are very old and speak to the quirks of Jewish history.

Each one tells a tale of a Diaspora community; both its highs and lows. Take the Touro synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, America’s oldest shul. It was founded in 1763 by Sephardic Jews most likely from the West Indies, a witness to the birth of the United States and to the changing make up of the country’s Jewry over the generations.

There’s the fascinating Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, or the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Myanmar, visiting which was a rare treat. Closer to home, that the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam is still standing and conducting services today is a remarkable feat. This community withstood the horrors of Nazi occupation and after the Second World War, regrouped and kept on going.

Around the same time the Dutch Sephardi community established their synagogue, Jews had just been allowed back into Britain after 400 years of exile. The new British Jews knew they needed a synagogue that would stand the test of time, so they established Bevis Marks in East London – a tribute to its Dutch cousin.

Across the diaspora, these houses of prayer are home to so much more. They are the site, not only of our memories, but of the memories of those who went before us. I got married under a chupah in Bevis Marks. My parents and sister did too. I treasure the candlelit High Holiday services I attend there and remember the simchas and funerals. And I know that so many of us have shared this too.

They are not just repositories of individual memories but of collective memory. This special building on a tiny street in East London, among the gleaming towers of the City, is part of our story, and the story of modern Britain too.

Back in 2021, I led the legal team that helped saved Bevis Marks from a development next door. A large office building had been proposed that would have shrouded the building in darkness and destroyed its historic character.

At the time, I reflected that it felt like a David and Goliath moment: the City of London virtually never rejects applications of this type. Perhaps this would be the turning point where they recognised that our heritage needed to be protected alongside plans for the City’s development. Perhaps the crown jewel of Anglo-Jewry would be seen as a crown jewel of our capital city too.

Yet, just three years later, we are going to have to fight again. This time, a new, bigger scheme threatens the synagogue. We must mobilise again to fight, to safeguard our heritage for generations to come – so that our children and grandchildren can trace their past and what it means to be a Diaspora Jew through this building that means so much.

Bevis Marks isn’t just a synagogue, it’s a living monument to the remarkable success story that is Anglo-Jewry. It sits in the heart of our nation, thriving in the face of adversity. It’s been holding services continuously for over 300 years – even through the Blitz. It is the embodiment of a community that arrived as refugees, fleeing persecution and nevertheless established itself in the heart of British life. Its stability is our stability.

I have joined the Synagogue’s Rabbi Morris and its lay leaders to fight to save the Synagogue once again. But for us to have any chance of succeeding, we’ll need your help too, in lodging objections with the Planning Office at the City of London ahead of the formal May 15th deadline (although objections will still be considered if sent in by the end of the month).

It may not be your Synagogue, but its place in our Jewish narrative matters. Synagogues around the world tell the Diaspora story and keep it alive. Let’s make sure there’s a next chapter for Bevis Marks.To have your say, write here. Or write to the case officer, Anna Tastsoglou, at

May 13, 2024 10:57

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