Finchley Reform synagogue's rabbi to leave after 18 years

Rabbi Miriam Berger will move into the wellness industry


After 18 years at the helm of one of the Movement for Reform Judaism’s flagship synagogues, Rabbi Miriam Berger has announced that she will be stepping down next July – and taking a different career path.

Rabbi Berger joined Finchley Reform Synagogue in 2006, and under her leadership, its membership has more than doubled in size from 500 to 1,000 households.

On her departure, Rabbi Berger will be combining her rabbinical skills with her strong interest in mental health to set up a wellness centre, which will incorporate a mikveh.  Wellspring, which Rabbi Berger is opening with psychiatrist Dr Mark Berelowitz, is due to launch in 2027. It will offer healing through talking and complementary therapies, alongside the Jewish ritual of immersion.

Speaking to the JC, Rabbi Berger said that her feeling was “one of double emotions. I love my job and the community and feel genuinely sad to be stepping down, but I am also excited that I can now give the concept [of Wellspring] time to go into fruition.”

Since joining FRS, Rabbi Berger, 44, has overseen the transformation of the shul’s cheder. “When I became a congregational rabbi, one thing I was really concerned about was that cheder shouldn’t be something that our kids had to endure, but that it should be something they should enjoy and would open another door into Jewish life.”

Instead of conventional classroom learning, pupils now sign up for a different activity each term, such as cooking, drama or sport, which is used as an educational tool. “They all learn the same topic but in a different way since there isn’t one thing that suits each child.”

Other initiatives she feels proud of are the ways the community responded to Covid restrictions. “In the first lockdown, we organised a drive-in Rosh Hashanah service and then again, during Chanukah. The following year, we held our High Holy Day services at Saracens Rugby Club, with the congregation in the stands.

“What endured throughout was Judaism. It showed that, as a community, our Judaism was able to respond to whatever situation we found ourselves in.”

The idea for her new venture, Wellspring, was inspired by a visit to a mikveh in Boston. “My husband and I already had our son, and we were trying for a second child. But it got to a point when we needed to stop trying. Sometimes you get into a situation when striving for something you want can be damaging to the life that you already have.”

The visit to the mikveh enabled Rabbi Berger to “reclaim my body and say that this was the end of a chapter. I had a realisation that there were lots of people who could find [mikveh immersion] healing.”

Synagogue chair Jenny Nuni said that Rabbi Berger would leave FRS “in a position of strength, having brought inspirational leadership, compassion and commitment”.

She added that Rabbi Berger’s tenure at FRS had been “absolutely incredible, groundbreaking and innovative. Her leadership of our community has been integral to our growth, helping to make FRS a flagship synagogue of the Reform movement. 

“We wish her much success in launching Wellspring, a project which she has been passionate about for many years.”

In the meantime, the synagogue’s council will “consult with [their] membership” to launch the process of finding a new rabbi.

"Our exceptional clergy team, Cantor Zöe Jacobs, Rabbi Deborah Blausten, and Rabbi Howard Cooper will continue to guide our community with care, energy, and dedication, and they will play a key role in the consultation process,” said Nuni.

Rabbi Berger, who will carry on attending the synagogue after stepping down, said: “I may no longer be a member of FRS’s professional team but […] FRS will continue to be the synagogue to which we belong and where we come to pray, just like the other 14 rabbis and cantors in our membership.”


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