West London reflects on a leading role in equality


The role played by Britain's oldest Reform synagogue in advancing religious equality for women was celebrated at a special 175th anniversary Shabbat service.

Valerie Bello recalled being the first woman at West London Synagogue to lead the morning service up to the Torah reading in 1967. "175 years ago today, I certainly would not have been standing on the bimah," she said.

Its first minister, the Reverend David Marks, had been a pioneer in his day, introducing Jewish education for girls, as well as boys, back in 1842.

But it took a while for other reforms to be introduced. "When Rabbi Harold Reinhart, a great champion of equality, proposed in the '30s that women could read the haftarah," Mrs Bello said, "council strongly objected but conceded that they could serve on committees and be trustees and treasurers - but not wardens".

The first woman warden did not take her seat until 1985. The first woman chair took office in 1987.

Rabbi Jackie Tabick became Britain's first female rabbi at West London in 1975. But she was known as "Mrs Tabick" while education officer at the synagogue, Mrs Bello recalled, and was not addressed by her rabbinic title until appointed assistant minister.

Separate seating for men and women for the High Holy-Days was retained until the late 1970s.

West London's senior rabbi, Baroness Neuberger - one of three women in its ministerial team - reflected on its record in fighting racism, promoting interfaith relations and aiding the poor and vulnerable.

"If we examine our history closely," she said, "those periods when we flourished most and when our relationships with other Jewish denominations and other faiths were at their strongest, were when we were brave and principled".

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