Belsize Square Synagogue’s 70th anniversary service was a family affair with the thanksgiving address delivered by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, grandson of Belsize Square’s first minister.
Rabbi Wittenberg, who heads the New North London Synagogue, drew on memories of growing up in the German-Jewish refugee community, recalling that the refugees had arrived destitute and disoriented.
But they had been welcomed by the Liberal Jewish movement and had thrived through acts of chesed (kindness), and by giving each other a helping hand.
Although viewed as enemy aliens, they had gone on to make a vibrant contribution to society through their “wit, humanity, determination and faith in God”.
The first service of the then New Liberal Jewish Congregation was held in a house around the corner from the current premises nine days after Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia. The familiarity of the services provided comfort and a sense of continuity at a bleak time.
Shul chairman Tom Nathan presented Rabbi Wittenberg with a framed copy of the synagogue’s portrait of his grandfather, Rabbi Dr Georg Salzberger.
Among the guests was Camden’s Mayor-elect, Councillor Omar Faruque Ansari, who was impressed by the sense of community. “This is what we need so much, people moving forward as a group, preserving their identity and integrating into general society,” he said at the subsequent kiddush.