Reform Judaism to terminate membership of its oldest shul, West London Synagogue

It follows a disagreement between the synagogue and the movement over fees


The oldest Reform synagogue in the UK is on the verge of being ousted from the Reform movement for alleged non-payment of membership fees.

In a joint statement sent by the synagogue and the Movement for Reform Judaism, West London congregants were told that its membership would be automatically terminated at a general meeting of the movement on Sunday.

WLS suspended its membership of the movement in February 2020, criticising MRJ for a lack of consultation over the announcement of a new code of ethics which it said was “unhelpful”. 

At the time, the synagogue was considering allegations of bullying that had been made against its designate joint senior rabbi, David Mitchell. An independent review headed by former High Court judge Sir Michael Burton subsequently found there were no grounds to block his appointment and Rabbi Mitchell took up his position that April. 

West London has historically been one of the largest contributors to the movement, remitting £127,000 in 2019.

In their joint statement, West London and MRJ said there had been amicable discussions. But in accordance with MRJ’s constitution, a synagogue would automatically forfeit its membership if it was two years in arrears in payments to the central movement.

However, WLS has disputed it owed money. Both sides said discussions would continue “to find a solution that will open the way to WLS resuming membership of MRJ if and when time is right”.

MRJ co-chair Michael Harris said, “Our Reform movement is a strong family of communities and an event like this affects us all.

“Of course, we are very disappointed that West London Synagogue will be leaving MRJ. We have both expended huge efforts to try and find a way for WLS to stay on. Now we need to move on.”

He added: “We are satisfied that our key activities will remain unaffected by this development. It must be said, though, we are willing and ready to welcome West London Synagogue back, at any time in the future.”

West London chair Andrew Stone said: “We are sorry that our discussions have not led to an arrangement that would have enabled West London Synagogue to resume membership of MRJ. We intend to continue our dialogue with MRJ in the hope that we will in the future resolve all differences.” 

A vice-chair, Richard Slowe, pointed out that “since 1840, when West London Synagogue was established as the first Reform synagogue in the UK, it has supported the wider Progressive Jewish community. It remains part of that community and will work with all its constituent members to sustain Progressive Judaism as a vibrant alternative to Orthodoxy.” 

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