Obituary: Raymond Goldman

Raymond Goldman: born March 20, 1930. Died April 24, 2017


The Reform Synagogues of Great Britain’s first executive director, Raymond Goldman, who has died aged 87, was instrumental in the leadership and development of RSGB, which laterbecame the movement for Reform Judaism, supporting some 40 growing congregations throughout the UK.

He was connected with Alyth Gardens Reform Synagogue in NW London from the age of five, since his parents Alfred and Minnie Goldman, its founder members, had moved to the area from Stoke Newington. His earliest memory is of a Shabbat service when the shul was at Hawthorne Hall in Bridge Lane. And more poignantly he recalled the ceremonial arrival of a singed Sefer Torah rescued from Berlin after Kristallnacht, and handed to Alyth Gardens in 1938.

In 1941 Goldman joined the 11th Golders Green scout troop, was barmitzvah in 1943 and in 1945 became assistant cheder teacher. His future with Reform Judaism seemed assured when he was invited by Rabbi Dr Werner van der Zyl to represent Alyth youth at the first YASGB (Youth Association of the Synagogues of Great Britain) summer school in Hawkshead, Cumbria.

He later taught at the school and chaired the Alyth Jewish Fellowship, an 18 plus group. In 1950 he was elected chair of YASGB at a Yorkshire summer school where he met his future wife Joy Cohen, then hon secretary of West London Junior Membership. The couple married in 1953, and had two daughters, Karen Shoshanah and Deborah Ruth.

In 1956, as junior warden he conducted one of three Rosh Hashanah services — the last occasion when Leo Baeck attended synagogue before he died. In 1958 Goldman became senior warden at West London Synagogue. Between 1959 and 1966 he held various honorary offices, including his appointment as professional general secretary of RSGB. In 1963, with Eva Graham and the Ben Uri Gallery he mounted an Israel Arts Week, featuring an orchestral concert, lectures and an exhibition which included over 100 art works by 90 different Jewish artists. He was appointed youth representative on Council and remained a Council member until 1966.

Throughout the 60s and 70s he toured the country helping to build a movement of committed Jews who could play an influential role within Anglo-Jewry. He was invited to conduct services in many new congregations but devoted much of his time to Finchley Reform. In the late 1960s he was a key member of the YASGB commission, chaired by his friend Neville Sassienie, which produced its report Towards the Seventies. It recommended appointing aYouth Development Officer.

In 1966, he relinquished a directorship in the family coat-making business to accept RSGB’s first professional position as General Secretary, and in 1979 became its first Executive Director based initially at Seymour Place, then Swiss Cottage, and finally at the Sternberg Centre in Finchley in 1981, in whose acquisition he played a major role. In 1982 he established the movement’s education department with Asher Amir as its first director. Having joined Alyth’s choir, in 1983 he helped found its choral society. Between 1983-1995 he and the lay leadership helped develop the movement’s philosophy and religious ethos and introduced three new prayerbooks. He also produced a report on its future. In 1997 he was Alyth chair until 2000.

Two important ingredients in Goldman’s success were his ability to work with council members and synagogue representatives, and his patience and tact. In 1995 professional leadership was handed to Rabbi Tony Bayfield, who described Goldman’s role as “midwife to a burgeoning expression of living Judaism and Jewish living.” He added: “On retirement, Raymond not only welcomed me into office by handing on a Torah scroll at the Induction Ceremony but supported and encouraged me in the next step of building a major religious movement on the foundations he had laid. “

Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner recalled “his drive for excellence, learning and achievements,” and his “outstanding professionalism and unique deep voice, which resounded through our conferences and services.” David Jacobs, former Director for Synagogue Partnership for the Movement for Reform Judaism and a lifelong family friend and colleague said: “Raymond served the RSGB and the wider Jewish community with great distinction and an absolute dedication. He was the consummate Jewish civil servant with a passion for the development of Reform Judaism.”

Goldman moved to Israel some years ago to be close to his family in Rehovot and later to a retirement home near Jerusalem. He is survived by his wife Joy, two daughters and three grandchildren.



Raymond Goldman: born March 20, 1930. Died April 24, 2017


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