The History of the Willesden and Brondesbury Synagogue
by Rabbi Dr. Bernard Susser
A remark by Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser earlier this year set in motion preparations for our Synagogue's Diamond Jubilee functions. We are further indebted to him for his research and effort that have gone into the production of this historical review.
This booklet traces the history of our Congregation and describes how it has become what it is today. As we are contemplating redevelopment in the near future it will be an invaluable memento for future generations.
Further thanks are due to so many members and former members, too numerous to mention, who have provided us with extensive memorabilia.
May I thank the Honorary Officers for giving me this opportunity on the Diamond Jubilee of the Willesden and Brondesbury Synagogue to record its history.
My wife and I have only lived in the vicinity of the synagogue for some three years. We have been warmly welcomed and greatly honoured. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being newcomers. One looks at the scene with a fresh eye, unembarrassed by old disputes or rivalries, but lacking personal knowledge one has to rely much on hearsay evidence. Mr Bernard Frey, a former Secretary of the Congregation with an almost photographic memory of events which took place when he was here, has given me invaluable help. So, too, have many correspondents, not least of them Mr E. Willer, who, together with Mr Bernard Frey and Mrs Ingrid Sellman, have carefully checked the manuscript and made numerous helpful suggestions.
This history has been written in a short six weeks. To do the history of the Congregation justice, at least a year should have been spent on its writing, but at least a start has been made. My own original research has unearthed the Minute Books at the Greater London Record Office of the Willesden Green Federated Synagogue, ironically filed under United Synagogue papers. I have concentrated on the early years of the unified Congregation, the recent past will be known to readers.
One cannot write about every individual and his or her contribution to Congregational life, nor do justice to every organization or group which meets on the Synagogue premises. For the most part I have avoided mentioning names because comparisons are odious, and it is only too easy to miss out important figures from the past and the present. I have tried to put the work of the Congregation into the wider perspective of Anglo-Jewish history. If I have succeeded then I am pleased to have repaid the honour bestowed upon us by the community. If I have failed, then apologies to anyone whom I have offended by acts of commission or omission - I will make amends, D.V., by starting sooner and trying harder next time at the 75th!
If there is any merit in this work, the community's thanks are due to my wife for a lifetime's devotion and support. Without her self-sacrifice this book would never have seen the light of day.
(Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser Tevet 5755/December 1994
WILLESDEN and BRONDESBURY SYNAGOGUE 1934 - 1994
A Diamond Jubilee History
The foundation of eighteenth century Anglo-Jewish provincial communities has been well documented. A Jewish pedlar, at a time when pedlars were an essential part of the countryside retail network and were often men (& women! of substantial economic fortune, went out of London and passed through a market town. He was joined by others who would meet together in an inn which was known to cater for Jewish pedlars, keeping their pots and pans in a locked cupboard. They would pay one of their number a day's wages so that he would stay in the inn on Friday, shecht a fowl if he had a shochet's licence, and cook for all of them over Shabbat. On Sunday they would all set off on their travels, the cook writing with chalk his name and the name of that week's sidrah in Hebrew script, so that the Jews who came next could see that the utensils had not been used by the innkeeper. After a while, one of them might open a shop in that market town (often looked after during the week by his wife while he travelled around the area. If he thrived, he might finance or provide stock for other not so-well-off pedlars, on condition that they returned the following Friday, paid their debts, and helped to make a minyan on Shabbat.
Opening a new shul in London, except where it began with a public controversy, is usually much harder to document. It is clear that Jews began to migrate west of Aldgate in the eighteenth century (see A. Barnett, The Western Synagogue through two centuries, 1761-1961, and arrived in North-West London in substantial numbers towards the third quarter of the nineteenth century.
Just about the time when the old Ashkenasi congregations were considering amalgamation to form the United Synagogue, a letter was published in the Jewish Chronicle, 3 April 1868, signed by 'An Earnest Jew' claiming that there is 'a very large Jewish population in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park, Hampstead, St John's Wood [and] Haverstock Hill'. A temporary building was erected in 1876 which, in 1882, became the St John's Wood Synagogue. Ten years later, a group of Jews drawn from the United Synagogue, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and the Berkeley Street Reform Synagogue who hoped to found a community whose services would combine the best traditions of all three bodies, met together. In 1892, most of this group founded the Hampstead Synagogue, under the aegis of the United Synagogue, and accepting the authority of the Chief Rabbi, which was applied very lightly (see R. Apple, The Hampstead Synagogue, 1892-1967).
The catchment area for the Hampstead Synagogue originally included Kilburn and Brondesbury, but the large numbers of Jews in North-West London made it uncomfortably overcrowded.
Jews began to move into Willesden proper in ever increasing numbers. In all probability, however, its earliest Jewish residents were those who settled there permanently, the United Synagogue having opened its Willesden Jewish cemetery in 1873. At that time Willesden was in 'the country'. This was, however, just when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were improving access to their estates, 'Chamberlayne Road linked Kilburn Lane with the new Kensal Rise station Salusbury Road opened up the other end of Kilburn Lane to the Avenue'. From the 1860s there were railway stations all over the area, amongst others Harlesden, Kilburn High Road and Edgware Road at Kilburn (now called Brondesbury), the various lines all meeting at Willesden Junction, a new station born in 1866 - 'a maddeningly confusing complex of high and low level platforms'. Len Snow, a recent chronicler of the district, in his Willesden Past alleges that 'the station was haunted by the ghosts of passengers who had died trying to find their way out'.
From 188· Metropolitan trains ran to Broad Street every quarter hour. Omnibuses ran from Praed Street to the Spotted Dog Pleasure Grounds at Willesden Green in 1870, the fare was 1s. 6d., no small amount in those days. In 1900 an omnibus ran from Brondesbury Station to the Law Courts. There was a horse-drawn service to Fenchurch Street every 6 or 7 minutes - fare 6d. all the way. On Sundays the run was extended to Whitechapel, and must have provided the overcrowded Jews of East London an opportunity for a day out in the country, and given them the chance to see a part of London to which they would later migrate in their thousands.
One of the first Jews to settle in Willesden was Solomon Barnett, a property developer and builder who lived in Brondesbury Road. He was born in Poland about 1845, and had become a naturalized British subject. His wife Florence was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1852. Her father, Joseph Joseph, had been born in Redruth, Cornwall, in 1802, and was a silversmith and mineralogist.
Barnett developed many roads in Willesden, modestly refraining from naming any of them after his own name, but calling them after towns in the counties of birth of his wife and father-in-law. He played some part in local politics, unsuccessfully contesting a seat on the Middlesex County Council in 1889.
THE BRONDESBURY SYNAGOGUE
In 1900 Barnett called a meeting of local Jewish residents at his home, and it was decided to build a synagogue in the locality. A Committee was set up, he sold it a plot which he owned in Chevening Road below its cost price, and the Brondesbury Synagogue was opened there on 9 April 1905 by Sir Marcus Samuel (later Lord Bearsted) and Lionel de Rothschild.
For the next two decades the Brondesbury Synagogue satisfied the needs of Jews who lived in Cricklewood, Willesden, Willesden Green and Brondesbury. Too many Jews, however, settled in the area to be accommodated in just the one synagogue. The Brondesbury Synagogue itself realized this, and in November 1920 opened a branch of its Religion Classes. The experiment, for various reasons not least of which were financial considerations, was not successful and was abandoned the following year. As B.B. Lieberman in his history of the Cricklewood Synagogue puts it, 'The underlying hope that a branch of the Brondesbury Synagogue would be established in Cricklewood was thus stifled at birth, and the local residents were thrown back on their own resources.'
THE CRICKLEWOOD SYNAGOGUE
Nonetheless, a meeting in 1923 of residents at the Crown Hotel, Cricklewood, decided to build their own synagogue under the name of the Willesden Green and Cricklewood Synagogue, the name it retained until it became a Constituent Synagogue of the United Synagogue in 1931, and was called the Cricklewood Synagogue. This synagogue was built in Walm Lane at a cost of nearly £40,000.
The Congregation immediately began to search for a Minister. The United Synagogue at that early date wanted a Regional Ministry with a Senior, an Assistant and a Junior Minister to serve the needs of Brondesbury, Cricklewood, Harlesden, Gladstone Park and Wembley. Sir Robert Waley Cohen strongly urged the nascent community to adopt this course, but the Cricklewood Board of Management rejected it. Had they accepted it, the whole course of the history of this part of North-West London might have been very different. Forty years later, a brave communally-minded soul, Mrs Ingrid Sellman, made the same plea in the Pesach 1972 edition of Hamelitz, a successor journal of the Willesden Synagogue Review, for the then four synagogues in the area to abandon parochialism, and instead work together with one News Letter and a Functions Committee for the benefit of everyone. Alas, as she then feared, it was to remain but a pipe-dream.
In spite of the imposing Cricklewood Synagogue, with its magnificently designed stained-glass windows, Jews who lived in the vicinity of High Road, Willesden, and in the roads which now form the Stonebridge estate, began to meet for a Shabbat minyan in private houses. Two distinct groups emerged, one of which was to become the West Willesden Synagogue affiliated to the United Synagogue, and the other which ultimately was to be called the Willesden Green Federated Synagogue, which was to be affiliated to the Federation of Synagogues. These two Congregations were like two rivers, each arising from its own source, which from 1939 became one united river, assimilating in 1974 and 1988 many of the members of the Brondesbury and the Ohel Shem Synagogues when these were closed by their parent bodies.
THE WILLESDEN UNITED SYNAGOGUE
Let us begin our story of the Diamond Jubilee of the Willesden Synagogue by beginning with the group of Jews in about 1926 which began to worship on a regular basis in the home in Stonebridge Park of Samuel Weinstein. The numbers attending the minyan gradually grew, so that after some two years they could no longer be comfortably accommodated in a private house. They then moved to a Scout Hut in the grounds of the Jesus and Mary Convent in Crownhill Road. At this stage they called themselves the Harlesden Hebrew Congregation and Talmud Torah. Mr I. Clapich of Stanmore has a copy of its balance sheet for 1930. The auditors were J. Weinstein, who later became the Honorary Solicitor of the Willesden Synagogue, and I. Kisberg. Its members probably conducted their own services because a chazan's fees were only eight guineas for the year, and the total budget for the year was £42. The Treasurer was M. Clapich and Secretary was I. Michaelson. The Congregation had plans for the future, and to discuss these a public meeting was called for 2 November 1930. The meeting was addressed by Dayan Lazarus of the Brondesbury Synagogue, which no doubt at that time felt little threatened by a Harlesden Congregation.
Here, too, they stayed for some two years, and then, according to the first surviving Minutes of this Congregation dated 2 November 1933, held temporary services at Park View College which was 'hired for Saturday mornings and evenings at 10s. per week'.
In best Jewish tradition the Congregation organized Hebrew Classes even before it had secured for itself a permanent place of worship. A letter survives from October 1933 (it was brought to my attention by Mr Bernard Frey, a former Secretary of the Congregation, who provided me with much additional material informing members that the Classes had been 'entirely reorganized and greatly enlarged with the Reverend M. Spira B.A. as the Principal'.
The catchment area covered by the Congregation was too large to allow the children to meet in one centre. Accordingly, children from the West Willesden area met at 5.30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays at Chamberlayne Road School (corner Okehampton Road), whilst those from the Harlesden district met at 5.30pm in the Furness Road School. Fees of 1s. to 2s. a week were payable. The Principal was living at 23 Kenneth Crescent, his telephone number was GLAdstone 3230. The GLAdstone telephone exchange will surely revive some nostalgic memories.
In November 1934 Revd Spira became the Congregation's Minister at a salary of about £4 per week. There was a Collector who collected the members' contributions for which he was paid £12 for the year. The Congregation's income just about matched its outgoings at £266. The Talmud Torah account shows outgoings of £95, with a shortfall of £2.15s.3d. But there was also a Building Fund account with a healthy balance at the bank of £172, and an investment in 3.5% War Stock of £290.
THE COLLEGE ROAD SITE
The end of November 1933 marked another milestone in the history of the Congregation - it rose from the status of an Affiliated to a District Synagogue in the hierarchy of the United Synagogue. A site in College Road, on the corner of Herbert Gardens, had been acquired, and by the end of 1933 the United Synagogue's architect had presented plans for a synagogue which were agreed, by and large. The main point of disagreement was the United Synagogue's plan, adopted by the architect, to erect shops and flats on the site. This would have led to congestion on and around the site, but on the other hand, it would have made the scheme in large measure self-financing. The local community won this battle.
The first part of the Building Scheme presented to the public was a Communal Hall with a seating capacity of about 500. At the time it was regarded as 'the largest Hall for Jewish Social and Literary functions in North-West London' and was also designed to 'afford accommodation for Religious Services and Hebrew Classes'. Mr Stockley, the then Chairman, and his Committee pursued the interests of the Congregation with vigour. In January 1934 a public meeting at the Cavendish Rooms, 42 High Road, Willesden, raised £200 from a comparatively few people, and a letter was sent 'to the large number of Jewish residents in the Willesden area' seeking to raise a further £800 which was needed before building work commenced.
It was hoped to lay the Foundation Stone before Pesach but, in the event, invitations were sent out for 'Laying the Foundation Stone of the Willesden District Synagogue [as it was now to be known], Communal Hall & Classrooms by Harry Yager Esq on Sunday, 13 May 5694 - 1934'. The Chief Rabbi, Dr J.H. Hertz delivered an address, and the service was conducted by Dayan H.M. Lazarus, Revd A. Elfand and Mr S. Amstel with his Choir, all of the Brondesbury Synagogue, and Revd M. Spira. The first wardens were Messrs A. Stockley, S. Weinstein and D. Buchman. The Hon. Sec. was Mr Weinstein's son, J. Winston. A part-time Chazan, Mr J. Goldstein (later Grant was appointed in February 1935.
Building work continued apace in those pre-computer days and by 13 September 193¥ the classrooms were ready for the new term. Now they could be held in one centre, and moreover classes could now be held on Sunday mornings from 10.30 to 12.30, as well as on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5.30 until 7.00. The Congregation was operational in its new synagogue and was soon bursting at the seams. It was clear that it would soon outgrow its premises, but there was no room for expansion. Furthermore, it was becoming clear that the bulk of the membership was not coming from the Kensal Rise and Harlesden areas, but from the newly built estates in Willesden Green. A new site was therefore acquired in Dobree Avenue, and plans were made to build there. Before these could be put into operation, however, there was opposition to the site from the head office of the United Synagogue, an almost ready-made synagogue became available in the ideal location. How this came to pass is set out in the following paragraphs.
AN ALTERNATIVE MINYAN
Parallel to the development of the Willesden United Synagogue another group of Jews in the then even more Jewishly, densely populated part of Willesden was gradually putting down roots. From 1933, and possibly earlier, services were held in the Kipernick home at 46 Park Avenue. Eleven men came to a meeting in the Mehlman home, 27 Kenneth Crescent, on Guy Fawke's Day 1933, and decided that there was a need for a synagogue in that locality. Messrs Kesilefsky, Kipernick, Mutterpearl (or Mitterpearl, as he is later called and Sobell were elected the Founder Members of the small congregation which numbered 29 paying and 16 nonpaying members. A Mr Tehillim of 78 Park Avenue was elected Collector at 10s. per week. They decided to seek affiliation with the Federation of Synagogues. They suffered early disappointments. The Federation required a minimum of 40 paying members before it would take the nascent congregation under its wing; it was not to take members from the Gladstone Park Congregation; its premises were to be at least three miles from that Congregation. The premises which were first contemplated opposite Willesden Green Station, however, were found to be unsuitable. Undeterred, they pressed on.
THE HEATHFIELD PARK SITE
On 31 January 1933 the meeting was informed that a house at 17 Heathfield Park was available, and a deposit of only £200 was needed. £74 was raised immediately, including £5 from a Mr Weinstein (Mr S. Weinstein from the West Willesden Synagogue?). In less than a week, Louis Solomons & Sons, Architects, had inspected the house, which was freehold with a large garden, valued at £1,900, and declared it a suitable site for building a synagogue. Within the next few weeks a Bank Loan of £1,700 at 4.5% was arranged with 6 guarantors, £140 was repaid to Mr Marks Leigh, who was the first Treasurer of the Congregation and who had lent it £190, and an offer of 60 feet of land owned by the Tennis Club, which was situated between Heathfield Park and Brondesbury Park, for £112 was accepted, and 26 school desks for the Congregation's Hebrew Classes had been purchased from the local Council.
THE WILLESDEN FEDERATION SYNAGOGUE
By April 1934, Mr S. Esterson was appointed Collector and Teacher with permission to live on the premises, and the Congregation had acquired its quota to enable it to be affiliated to the Federation of Synagogues. The building work to convert the house to premises suitable for a shul was granted to the firm of P.W. Roberts. An option was taken to buy a piece of land fronting Brondesbury Park belonging to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Talmud Torah had two classes and Revd H.I. Alexander was appointed Headmaster and Secretary.
The house was soon converted and on Sunday, 29 July 1934, Dayan Lazarus officially opened the shul. The first services in the new building had been held over that weekend which was Shabbat Nah.amu. Due to the layout of the house, the Ark did not face east. The Sassover Rebbe was consulted, and he ruled that it could face elsewhere.
In spite of the fact that there were 36 children on the roll, and that the Committee was contemplating building a hall on the site capable of seating some 400 people, the Congregation could not gain sufficient new paying members to maintain the momentum of its growth. The Willesden Federation Congregation was in fact squeezed geographically between the Cricklewood and West Willesden Synagogues. Its membership was composed of Jews who were in the process of anglicizing themselves, and, in their Jewish and secular culture, were indistinguishable from the members of the other two Congregations. The result was increasing financial strain.
The fourteen strong Committee realized that their Congregation needed to be enlarged. They set themselves a target of 200 members. In April 1935 they only had 110 paying members. It was thought that if they had a proper synagogue their Congregation would grow naturally. They called in an architect who drew up plans for a synagogue on the Heathfield Park site which would cost some £10,000. They were even losing members, and this was attributed to the fact that their shul had no chazan. A Jacob Lepkivker was brought over from Liege and appointed Minister at a salary of £182 per annum, but the arrangement lasted just a few months. In spite of his chazzanut, new members were not attracted and by November he left, and one of the shul members, Mr Kesilefsky, was appointed Chazan at £1.10s. per week.
The financial pressure increased. The small membership could not sustain the weekly outgoings, five minyan men were employed, besides the Secretary, Mr Bookey, at £1 per week, and the Collector's commission. Not only could they not meet their weekly outgoings, they could not reduce their overdraft, and outstanding solicitor's fees relating to the purchase of Tennis Club land had become a pressing burden. The Federation, moreover, was demanding the return of a loan of £750 it had made to effect the conversion of the house. By the end of 1935 the Committee was earnestly discussing a merger with the Willesden United Synagogue, and had scaled down its plans for a new synagogue to cost between £1,500 and £2,000.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. There seem to be in every community men, and one uses the masculine advisedly, who are determined to build large buildings, whether follies or for the use of the public, as monuments to their own egos. In spite of the parlous state of their finances, in January 1936 the Committee reverted to its grandiose plans. F.J. Landauer, a German Jewish refugee architect, in collaboration with Wills and Kaula, prepared new plans for a synagogue for a fee of £400. Pitchers, the builders, gave an estimate of £7,133 for building it, a sum which included an extra £50 because they would not be allowed to work on Sabbaths or Festivals. The Committee proposed to raise the money:
MARQUEE IN HEATHFIELD PARK
In spite of the grandiose plans the daily life of the Congregation had to proceed. A marquee was erected in the grounds of the house in Heathfield Park for High Holyday services. The Federation was pressed to give an answer to the request for a loan. An assurance Company was approached for a £5,000 loan on the life of Mr Zeidman's son. Informal discussions were held with the United Willesden Congregation on the prospects of amalgamation, and a 64-year lease at £10 per annum on 143 Brondesbury Park was bought. In May 1937 Chief Rabbi Hertz laid the Foundation Stone of the new synagogue. Soon after, the Revd A. Behrman of Glasgow was appointed Chazan for five years at 8¸ per week, a men's choir was engaged for the High Festivals, the new synagogue was reported to be very successful, but, ominously, there was a poor response for new members.
It would seem that part, at least, of the reason for the poor response was the reluctance of local Jews, who had for the most part migrated from the chevrahs of the East End, to be associated with the easy going ways of a Federation shul. Pre-War Jews who settled in Willesden were upwardly mobile, and preferred to join the United, membership of which was regarded as a status symbol. To try to redress the problem Mr Julius Jung, Secretary of the Federation, came to the Willesden Green Federated Synagogue, as it was then known, and laid down the law to the Committee and Honorary Officers. He demanded:
The Congregation soldiered on. The rise of Nazism in Europe had an increasing effect on the Anglo-Jewish community. Rabbi E. Weisenberg was invited to preach, as were other distinguished scholars. Mr Creditor, later to achieve fame as the father-in-law of Hugh Gaitskell, started a weekly shiur which was to carry on for many years. Mr Buskey was invited to be the Choirmaster at a salary of £70 per annum. But in spite of their best efforts the Congregation just could not persuade local Jews to join, many of the 512 seats (196 of which were for women) were empty. As the adage has it: When Poverty comes in at the door, Love flies out of the window. The serious financial situation affected members' attitudes to one another. Tempers were raised. A suggestion that the architect's name be added to the dedication panel effected the response recorded in the Minutes: 'Mr Mitterpearl hearing the name of the architect flew into a temper as long as he was alive that name should not appear on the tablet'. When it was moved that the Secretary be re-appointed, '... uproar ensued converting the committee room into a bear garden'.
A UNIFIED CONGREGATION
The end of the Federation Congregation was in sight. In June 1938 there were £11,000 of debts, including £3,200 still outstanding to Pitchers, the builders. The latter issued a writ, first against the Trustees of the Synagogue, later adding the individual members. In spite of Counsel's opinion, Neville Laski KC was called in to advise, that members were not individually responsible, many people cancelled their membership. An Extraordinary General Meeting in July 1938 raised the pitifully small sum of £35. With the exception of one person everyone promised to remain a member if the United Synagogue took over, and a resolution was passed to approach the United Synagogue. Messrs Wingate (he was later to become an Honorary Officer in the hierarchy of the United Synagogue and Rossen formally met Sir Robert Waley Cohen and Mr Gledhill of the United Synagogue to discuss a merger. Sir Robert persuaded the builders to postpone their action, and on 11 August 1938 the 40 members of the Federation Synagogue present at a meeting held for the purpose were told:
The Honorary Officers of the United Synagogue recognize the grave danger of injury to the Jewish community which would result from a public scandal in these days and a resolution to join the United Synagogue was passed nem con. The path was prepared on the part of the Willesden District Synagogue which passed a resolution moved by Mr D. Buchman at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 13 November 1938 that
The Honorary Officers of this synagogue establish under the auspices of the United Synagogue, as a Constituent thereof, a Place of Worship at Heathfield Park close the premises in College Road and surrender them to the United Synagogue.
A letter was sent to all members of the Willesden Federated Synagogue on 10 February 1939 informing them.
The new Congregation, henceforth to be known as the Willesden Synagogue, was in operation.
Public buildings grow and contract according to their needs. We are indeed fortunate that the plans of the first Willesden Federated Synagogue have survived, as they were published in the Architects' Journal on 14 April 1938. On page 617 of the Journal the building's problems are set out. The street frontage in Heathfield Park is only 20 feet. The building had also to serve as a communal centre with classrooms for children.
Looking at the building in Heathfield Park the synagogue is unchanged except that there were a pair of wrought iron gates with a WGF" motif worked into them. The large window to the Jeff Lemer Hall has an iron security grille with the verse, 'This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven' (Gen. 28;17 in Hebrew characters incorporated into the grille. This verse has amused wags from time immemorial. The Midrashic comment on it is that when our Father Jacob fled from home he went to sleep and dreamed of the angels ascending and descending the ladder to Heaven. He took some stones to make a pillow for his head. In the night the stones quarrelled, each one wanting the righteous man to lay his head upon it. A miracle occurred - by morning all the stones had coalesced into a single stone, and Jacob declaimed, '[Where all the stones quarrell this must be the house of God!' Truly our Sages declared that what happened to our forefathers is an omen of what happens to us. Synagogues, even United Synagogues, are, alas, no strangers to internal dissension.
Entering the synagogue from Heathfield Park there was an office/classroom on the left, which is now the Zalman & Golda Bloomstein Beth Hamedrash. Going into the synagogue, one was faced with a central block and two side blocks of forward-facing seats, a central Bimah, with a forward-facing Wardens' Box in front of it, and an open space flanked on each side by two more blocks of seats facing inwards. Behind the Almemor and the Ark on the one side was a Rabbi's robing room, and on the other was a spare room. Upstairs was a hall and classroom, now divided into the Jeff Lemer Hall (which could be opened up into the Ladies' Gallery to offer additional temporary ladies' seating), with a meeting room/classroom to the left, now the Rose & David Chodick Library & Committee Room, and a Ladies' toilet accommodation to the right. Entering the shul gallery there were two rows of ladies' seats facing the ark, and three rows on each side. Behind the Ark was a choir room.
According to the text of the Architects' Journal:
CONSTRUCTION: The walls are brick; gallery floors reinforced concrete; and the roof is of timber with a vulcanite covering. The stone cornice is capped with Spanish tiles and stone pinnacles.
INTERNAL FINISHES: The Ark has gilt doors with lattice work containing the (first) Hebrew words of the Ten Commandments; and curtains of a deep bluish green velvet, with gold embroidery. The platform of the Ark [the Almemor] is finished in heather brown tiles. The walls of the synagogue are plastered rough texture, and finished a broken greenish-grey colour. The ceiling, including the beams, and joinery are stained a greyish-brown. The main floor is of birch blocks, the gangways being covered with a deep red carpet. The ten electric light chandeliers are of polished brass; the wrought iron railings and other electric fittings are gilt.
HEATING: By electric tubes and radiators, thermostatically controlled.
When the (West) Willesden United Synagogue took over the building it was manifestly clear that the 500 or so seats available would not be sufficient for the new unified Congregation. The United Synagogue accordingly built on from the then end of the shul at the Brondesbury Park end. This effectively doubled the seating capacity by providing an extra 500 seats. A retrograde step, later to be rectified, to increase the seating capacity, was the removal of the central Bimah, and the necessary enlargement of the Almemor, so that the services, including leining, could be conducted from the Ark area.
Two more small chandeliers were added. From a photo of a wedding celebrated in the synagogue which appeared in the "Victory" copy of the Willesden Synagogue Review, September 1946, the men's seats went forward almost to the pulpit, and the Wardens' Box was placed on the right hand side of the synagogue, facing inwards, at the front of the first of the two inward looking blocks.
The office was probably now brought to the Brondesbury Park end of the shul.
Further changes to the internal layout of the synagogue were made. After the Second World War the Anglo-Jewish community lurched to the right, and it has polarized to an increasing extent ever since. The pre-war 'Reverends' were now becoming 'Rabbis', they turned round their 'dog-collars' and wore ties. In spite of the mixed choir at the Hampstead Synagogue, a suggestion to have one in the Willesden Synagogue, even for the non-statutory wedding service, was flatly rejected. In many synagogues rabbis refused to wear 'canonicals', the very term redolent of church terminology, a step which raises temperatures to this day. The Anglo-Jewish pre-War practice of joining the Bimah to the Almemor was regarded as anathema in orthodox circles. The Ryhope Road, Sunderland, community as well as the Golders Green Synagogue, amongst others, replaced the Almemor with a central Bimah. In 1950, the Bimah was restored by the generosity of the Leboff family to its traditional place in the centre of the Willesden Synagogue, and the Wardens' Box was placed in front of it.
An additional chandelier - larger than but with the same design as the existing chandeliers - was placed over the Bimah, giving more light over the Bimah as well as enhancing the dignity and beauty of the synagogue. There is a plaque affixed to the Bimah which reads, 'The above chandelier, a replica of one in the Rashi Synagogue, Worms, was presented by Mr Samuel Kaner and his children in loving memory of his wife and their mother, Mrs Kresel Kaner'. The reference to the Rashi Synagogue is somewhat puzzling inasmuch as an old lithograph of the Rashi Synagogue published in the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1905, shows no chandeliers at all!
At the end of the War, the need for an adequate communal hall and classrooms (classes had till then been held in a house adjoining the synagogue in Brondesbury Park had become urgent. Eventually, it was decided to demolish two houses in Brondesbury Park which belonged to the shul, and work commenced on the site in the summer of 1959. Largely due to the fund-raising efforts of Mr Jack Cinna, the generosity of the Faiman Family and the co-operation of Asher Wingate, then Treasurer of the United Synagogue, the Max Faiman Hall, a Children's Synagogue and the Annie Lee Classrooms were dedicated by Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on 29 May 1960.
The architects were Shaw and Lloyd. At the time of writing (1994), the Children's Synagogue and classrooms are used as offices by external Jewish organizations.
It is a great pity that no Foundation Stones or other permanent memorials of the College Road Synagogue were transferred to Brondesbury Park or seem to have survived. Careful research has unearthed photographs of its exterior (on a Chatan Bereshit Certificate presented to Mr S. Weinstein in 1935, and a photo in the possession of Mrs Barbara Kaye whose father, Nat Solomons, rented the building from the United Synagogue to use it as a wholesale warehouse). The building was eventually demolished and a public house built on the site). Unfortunately, no photograph of the interior seems to have survived. In these more conservation and preservation minded days, it is important that these memorials of the hard work of a previous generation should not be bulldozed away and consigned to the scrap heap of history. A community with a past can better build for the future.
Fortunate is the Congregation whose lay, administrative and religious leadership work together in harmony with one another. One of the success stories of North-West London in this regard has been the Willesden Synagogue.
A great number of the members of the Congregation have played a leading role in directing its affairs. The names of its Honorary Officers are recorded on Boards of Honour placed in the synagogue's vestibule, and are reproduced in the Appendix. Unfortunately, the names of those who were involved in the early days of a congregation's activities and what they did are often lost in the mists of antiquity. In all too many cases, they moved from the district, died, and left no family to recount their praises.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that some played their part at vital moments: at the formation of the Congregation, or during the upheavals of war, or at the peak period of growth in the two decades after the War. At those periods the strain must be very great. One is aware of certain towering figures in the past, Mr Jack Cinna, for example, or Mr Simon Kritz and Mr Mark Kosky, who were involved in virtually every facet of Congregational life for several decades and worked body and soul for the welfare of the community. There are many, many, whose names do not always even figure on the Boards of Honour, but whose tireless activities for the benefit of the community have left their mark on the fabric of the Congregation.
The Willesden Synagogue has always had devoted staff, often serving for long periods. Its first Secretary was Revd Spira who acted from 1933 until 1943, when his Ministerial duties became too onerous to allow him to act in both capacities. A. Hizer took over the office for two years and was succeeded by E. Neumann who left in 1947 to join his family in the USA. Bernard Frey came to the Synagogue in July 1947 and put his outstanding memory to the service of the Congregation until February 1979. He was followed by a number of Secretaries who served for short periods, and eventually replaced in 1981 by Mrs Elvira Ferdinand, joint Secretary at the Cricklewood Synagogue for a time, and she in turn was replaced by Mrs Jacqueline Questle at Rosh Hashanna 1989, who ably serves the community to the present day, acting as Secretary for Marriages, amongst her many other duties.
An important office in the Synagogue is that of the shammash, more usually pronounced shammas, the beadle. Whereas the rabbi and cantor occupy an office of leadership which tends to distance them from the ordinary worshipper, the beadle is close to him both physically and metaphorically. He sets out the prayer books and h.umashim for each service. He shows the untutored the place, and helps mourners who have not previously attended weekday services to put on their tephillin and to recite kaddish at the appropriate times. The first beadle of the Willesden Synagogue in 1939 was Mr Maurice Millam, who also acted as Choirmaster when a choir was needed. The shammas most outstanding in the memory of present congregants was undoubtedly Mr Woolf Barnett, whose memory is perpetuated by a plaque in the vestibule which testifies that he 'served this Synagogue with devotion as Beadle from 1940-1970'. After his retirement the shul had part-time shamosim acting in an honorary capacity. Amongst others there were Lawrence Myers (whose father, Harry, was a tower of strength to the local AJEX and whose mother, Freda, is still an active communal worker), Michael Schwartz and Brian Gedalla. Mr Joe Shuster, ever helpful and enthusiastic, who puts heart and soul into the welfare of our services, is currently our shammas.
A large building requires a chazan with a powerful voice, and an intelligent, Jewishly educated congregation needs a chazan knowledgeable in Jewish law and lore, as well as in chazzanut and nusach ha-tefillah. The Willesden Synagogue has been well served in all respects by its chazanim. Its first Chazan came with the building, so to say, from the Federation Congregation. He was Rev A. Behrman who stayed with the Congregation until he went to the USA in August 1947. He was followed by the sweet-voiced, white-haired though still young, Revd P. Faigenblum, who 'competed', as the way of choosing officials was then conducted, with Revd Freilich who later went to the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue. Rabbi Barry Woolf of Minneapolis, a former pupil of the Willesden Cheder, recalls,
[Revd Faigenbluml had a large tenor voice and I still have a recording of a Selichot service in 1950 with the London Jewish Male Voice Choir which was one of the glorious events of the United Synagogue. He had three sons, and I remember vividly on the Yamim Noraim and other occasions each of the boys sang solo with his father, what a very moving experience for all who were present. In June 195¹ he moved to the Cricklewood Synagogue, and many of us followed him because we were used to his traditions.
In December 1959 the Revd J. Landenberg became Chazan and thus began a long, and distinguished career in Willesden. By the time the Congregation celebrates its Diamond Jubilee in December 199¥ Revd Landenberg will have completed 30 years of devoted service to the Congregation. Blessed with an outstanding dramatic tenor voice, with a deep understanding of the prayers and nusach, it is no wonder that professional choirmasters in other synagogues when they can get away from their own duties take a busman's holiday and come to listen to him. Since his retirement he occupies his post in a supposedly part-time capacity, but as the only Minister to the Congregation he fulfills his duties beyond the call of duty.
From time to time on an ordinary Shabbat the chazan may be indisposed, or even on holiday, and members of the Congregation are called upon to help out. There was a time when the shul was not only packed at the High Holydays, but overflow services, in conjunction with the Cricklewood Congregation, were held at the Grosvenor Rooms, and temporary officiants were needed. The list of those who helped is very great, and not all can be mentioned. In recent years there was Mr A. Brody and his son Revd M. Brody, Revd J. Sugarman and Revd Solomon Shine. Most notable, perhaps, has been the Revd Malcolm Weisman, who not only steps in to conduct services but also preaches from time to time, as does Rabbi Susser. Currently, Mr Reiss helps out, and the Congregation is exceptionally fortunate to have Revd Samuels, a most expert Baal Koreh, who also conducts services. For many years, the Congregation also had the services of Mr Oskar March, a Hungarian gentleman of Hasidic stock, as Baal Tekiah. 'When he intoned the blessings and blew the shofar', remembers one congregant, 'I was transported to Eastern Europe'. It was due to the initiative of Oskar March that a mikveh for immersing new utensils was built at the side of the synagogue.
When the War ended, a choir was again formed to assist Revd Behrman. The Choirmaster was Mr P. Baumberg. He left in 1946 for the Central Synagogue. He was succeeded by Mr S. Taylor who left in 1947, and he was followed in rapid succession by Messrs J. Rosenberg, J. Halter, J. Silverstein and D. Clyne. Some stability was established in 1951 when Mr Martin White, the conductor of the London Jewish Male Voice Choir, was appointed. He remained until 1957, when he was followed by Messrs L. Shoot, S. Fixman (conductor of the Ben Uri Orchestra), Max Diggan and J. Rosse, whose death in 1990 brought the choir to an end.
Just as there have been only three full-time chazanim, so there were just three rabbis. Revd M. Spira, scion of a local family - his parents were Rabbi Yankel and Rebbitzin Gittel Spira living in St Gabriels Road - came first to the Willesden Synagogue when it was in College Road, as Headmaster of the Cheder. He was appointed Minister in November 1934, and came to Heathfield Park in 1939. In a personal memoir, Rabbi Woolf recollects,
Rabbi Spira came from a Chassidic background and had studied in the great Yeshivot of Europe before coming to England, and he brought the traditions and nusach of Galicia to Willesden. Because of him, Willesden became known as the 'Shtiebel' of the United Synagogue, we said more piyyutim than in any other United Synagogue. He gave his Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat HaGadol derashot in Yiddish. He had a pleasant singing voice, and when I officiate I still use the nusach and customs I learned from Rabbi Spira at Willesden.
Rabbi Spira arrived as a bachelor. His marriage in March 1951 to Rachel, daughter of the Trisker Rebbe, Rabbi J.L. Twersky, was an outstanding event, introducing many of the staid members of the United Synagogue to the exuberance of a Hasidic wedding. At the most recent wedding celebrated in the Willesden and Brondesbury Synagogue, Amanda Jesky encircled her groom under the chuppa, and the custom raised no eyebrows. In 1951 when the bride, Rachel Twersky, walked seven times around Elimelech (Marks Spira it was the talk of the town!
As to Rabbi Spira's scholarship, let Rabbi Woolf reminisce:
I would say that I learned as much from Rabbi Spira as I learned at Etz Chaim Yeshivah and Jews' College. Though small of stature, he was an intellectual giant. I remember one time in particular. Rabbi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel, attended a shiur by Rabbi Spira, and pronounced, 'Yoõ are blessed with a great Rav in Anglo-Jewry'.
Rabbi Spira retired in December 1968, having led the Congregation through the move from College Road, the difficult war years, and the expansion of the community. With his family he settled in Jerusalem, where he died in June 1983 in his 80th year. "It all depends on luck", says the ancient Hebrew proverb, "Even which Sefer Torah in the Ark [is used, depends on luck]". The more than 30 years which Rabbi Spira spent in the service of the Synagogue is nowhere marked, no tablet to his memory nor even his name inscribed on an Honours Board. But then the Talmud Yerushalmi had envisaged such a situation long ago, 'The righteous need no memorial, their words are their monument'.
The Willesden Congregation's second rabbi was Rabbi Dr A. Melinek. He had previously ministered to the Brondesbury Synagogue, and when that Congregation went into a serious decline he came to Willesden in April 1969. Here he had the opportunity to continue the good work which he had either initiated at or found at Brondesbury. He introduced to Willesden, for example, the weekly kiddush which was a strong social event at Brondesbury, and he resuscitated in a smarter format the Willesden Synagogue Review under the name of Hamelitz. He retired in October 197· to continue to serve the wider Jewish community as a lecturer at Jews' College, editor of the prestigious journal, L'Eylah, and educationist.
At long last the dreams of Sir Robert Waley Cohen could be realized. The Brondesbury Synagogue closed in 1974 (bestowing some of its members as an inheritance to the Cricklewood Synagogue and its name and some of its members to the Willesden Synagogue), and the time was ripe for the appointment of the first Regional Minister in the North-West of London. The hour brings forth the man, and the man chosen was Rabbi Dr Harry Rabinowicz, then Minister of the Dollis Hill Synagogue. Rabbi Rabinowicz, well known as an expert on Hasidic life and literature, and an ardent bibliophile, was appointed Regional Minister to the Cricklewood and Willesden Synagogues. He served in this capacity until 1988, when he restricted himself to the Willesden Synagogue. He retired in the summer of 199± to devote himself to his very considerable literary output. Since then Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser officiates by invitation from time to time.
'And all thy children shall be learned of the Lord'. A properly constituted community has to ensure its posterity by educating its children. The Willesden District Synagogue and the Willesden Federated Synagogue combined their children to form one set of Classes (or Cheder, or Talmud Torah), however one wishes to call it from 1939. No sooner had they done so than war broke out. Children were evacuated, and the provision of Jewish education became a very difficult task.
With the end of the War came rapid expansion, and a number of Headmasters were appointed in succession, including Revd M. Brody, Mr A.I. Brown, Revd E. Freed, Mr A. Freedman, L. Gordon, Mr Lebrecht and Rabbi M. Roberg, to organize the greatly increased roll. In 1945 the roll was 140 with an average attendance of 104. From 1951 until 1961 there was an average roll of 202 children, and an average attendance of 153 children.
Mrs Kilimnick joined the teaching staff in 1950 and has happy memories of the decade and a half that she taught there. She remembers that classes were held on Sunday, 10am - 1pm; Tuesday & Thursday, 4.30pm - 6pm. The weekday attendance was poor. Most Bar Mitzvah boys dropped out soon after their great day. There were occasional outings on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps to Metroland, as it then was, or to Chessington Zoo, as well as Sports Days.
Children coming straight from school were given tea. A copy of the programme and list of prizes at the annual prize giving on 12 March 1961 has survived in her possession. There were eight classes and 40 class prizewinners. In addition Michael Kesztenbaum and Jonathan Sklar received prizes for Children's Service attendance, Vivienne Kilimnick for attendance, and the Jews' College School Certificate Examination was passed by Melvyn Ohrenstein and Marion Freedman. There was a talent show for parents and children. No doubt there was much excitement, a lot of hard work by the organizers, and the day was probably duplicated that year, and in other years, in hundreds of Jewish centres up and down the country. But it was, and is, the very warp and woof of Jewish educational endeavour: many of the children whose names appeared on that programme have gone on to become leading lights in their present communities.
In 1962 classes in the Willesden district were reorganized on a regional basis to form the West Middlesex Region, seniors coming to Willesden and juniors going to Cricklewood and Dollis Hill. About 1970 the latter two centres closed and, perhaps because of superior facilities, Willesden alone carried on. By 197· there was an average attendance of only 31 children and the classes were discontinued.
Judaism is a religion neither of paediatrics nor of geriatrics. Study is part of the daily prayers, and adults, too, must continue their studies. Reference has already been made to the Gemara shiur instituted by Rabbi Spira between Mincha and Maariv on Shabbat. This was continued by Rabbis Melinek and Rabinowicz, and in a different format by Revd J. Landenberg. Weekly shiurim were given by Mr Creditor and Mr Diamondstein. Shiurim were also given by, amongst others, Rabbis M. Frydman and A. Kon, as well as by Messrs M. Lehrer, S. Kritz and A. Wingate. National study programmes such as the Halukkat Hamishnah, instituted by Prof. Cyril Domb, were organized locally by Simon Kritz, Hayyim Rubin and Ziggy Kon.
CHILDREN'S & YOUTH SERVICES
These were conducted over a period of many years by a large number of people. Some of the names which stand out were Revd M. Brody, Mark Kosky, Cecil Sklan and Dr Lionel Kopelowitz. There were, doubtless, many more.
THE LADIES' GUILD
The 'Herring and Kichel Brigade', as Ladies' Guilds are affectionately known throughout the Anglo-Jewish community, are an integral part of any Jewish Congregation. Without a 'baala bosta' offering her home and providing hospitality, there would have been no committee meetings and nascent services in the Willesden area.
Throughout the six decades of the Willesden and Brondesbury Synagogue's existence the Congregation has been underpinned and supported by its Ladies' Guild. They work quietly and efficiently, without bureaucracy (they keep no Minutes), replenishing the fabric of the synagogue and refreshing the inner man. Look at any Annual Report of the Congregation and yoõ will see a tribute to the work of the Ladies' Guild, whose workers work so quietly that their names are hardly known outside their own ranks. The earliest plaque in our Synagogue bears the name of the Ladies' Guild. It is on the Hebrew version of the Prayer for the Royal Family, and lists the officers of the Guild when the plaque was presented in September 1937. They were Mesdames J. Kippernick, H. Mitterpearl, I. Markovitch and J. Coleman. But the shul was not here in 1937. Indeed, it was the Ladies' Guild of the Federation Congregation.
There are three reports of the work of the Ladies' Guild which reflect its work through the years. In the Willesden Synagogue Review, 1946, the officers of the Guild are Mesdames J. Wynick, M. Benjamin, A. Behrman and J. Cinna. That year the ladies made Social afternoons to raise money for various good causes. The Guild's main work was 'collecting food and clothing for our brethren in Europe'. They met every Tuesday afternoon for this work and had sent off 180 sacks of clothing, 150 food parcels, 20 cases of Hebrew books and parcels of tools. The ladies who helped on a regular basis were Mesdames Sietta, Wingate, Tropp, Rich, Senenzieb, Charkham, Weiseman, Barnett, Hudis and Cutner.
The Annual Report of the Congregation for 1953/4 lists some of the same names, naturally enough, with the addition of Mesdames Longworth, Schwartz and Selby. The activities were similar to 1946, but now the clothing parcels were being sent to Israel. The Guild also provided new curtains and lino for the synagogue hall (presumably the hall which was later to become the Jeff Lemer Hall). The Ladies' Guild that year, as it always does, provided a weekly kiddush, looked after the Succah, and decorated the synagogue with flowers at Shavuot. That year the Guild provided a Chumash for each Bar Mitzvah boy, there were 12 of them, as well as defraying the cost of parties for the children at Chanukah and Purim.
According to the Willesden Synagogue's Review, Hamelitz, for 1973, the Ladies' Guild officers were Mesdames B. Frey, G. Steele, H. Kosky and M. Weisman. The Guild continued to provide the weekly kiddush for all congregants which was recognized to be a valuable 'social get-together'. It also provided continued support for various charities, and sent parcels to patients in Mental Hospitals.
The recent chairladies have been Mesdames Bruna Cowan and Sheila Hart. At the time of writing the Ladies' Guild continues its by now traditional activities, adding to them trips to Ladies' Day at Ascot. Its presentchairlady is Mrs Herta Graham who says that the greatest compliment paid to her and her band of ever willing ladies is when some stranger after a special kiddush asks, 'Who is your caterer?'
THE 459 COFFEE GROUP
In 1967, Mick Abrahams (Warden in 1969 suggested to his niece Marilyn Sylvester and Ingrid Sellman that they should establish a small group of young mothers who would meet together on a regular basis. Armed with a clip board they walked the streets, so to say, of the Dobree Estate knocking on doors with a mezuzah. The first meeting of what was to become the 459 (from the Telephone Exchange Coffee Group was packed with young mothers and their infants. The noise. The hubbub. The Coffee Group soon became established in the area. The hostess changed each meeting, new mothers were sought out and welcomed, new arrivals to Willesden were invited to meet their Jewish neighbours. Soon it became apparent that woman lives not by coffee and cake alone, and those who met one another regularly looked for more mental stimulation. Danusia Rosmarin (now Aartzi), and Sheila Pevovar who latterly shared the administration, invited guest lecturers.
By the early 1970s it was becoming apparent that fewer new Jewish residents were moving into Willesden, the need for a morning Coffee Group being no longer so great, it closed. In its comparatively short life, however, it had accomplished much. It had created many new friendships, it had welcomed otherwise isolated mothers and their toddlers, and, most important of all, perhaps, it was the forerunner of the Willesden Discussion Group, which to this day provides a lively, cultural and yet social background for local and former residents to meet each other.
THE WILLESDEN DISCUSSION GROUP (WDG)
In 1969 the Young Families Discussion Group began life in the home of Irene and Malcolm Gee, in Tiverton Road. The first meeting was convened by Rabbi Dr Melinek, who was keen to found a cultural society in the area, and he spoke on 'Jewish Family Life'. He gave a series of lectures in the first two years, members of the 459 Coffee Group swelling the numbers. As more and more people came to the lectures 'outside' speakers were invited.
As the years passed the title 'Young Families' became less and less apposite. So for a time its name was changed to the Willesden Synagogue Discussion Group, but this was felt to be too parochial, and it is as the Willesden Discussion Group it is known today, welcoming all interested parties, no matter which shul they attend. Such is their loyalty to the Group that even when members move to other localities they still support its monthly lectures.
It would be quite impossible to list every lecturer. Members who have attended over the past 20 years will remember with nostalgia:
Rabbi Arkush, Alan Keith (of Radio 2 fame), Geraldine Auerbach, David Kessler, Dr Alfred Bader, Alexander Knapp, The Bishop of Willesden, Ronnie Landau, Dr Margaret Brearley, Rev Dr I. Levy, Harriet Crawley MEP, Edward Lyons MP, Judge Feinstein, Phineas May, Reg Freeson MP, Lady Doreen Miller, Martin Gilbert, Janet Moonman, Ann Harris, Monty Moss, Ben Helfgott, Tudor Parfitt, Michael Heppner, Rosalind Preston, Arthur Jacobs, Dr Prieskel, Lady Jakobovits, Aubrey Rose OBE, Revd Graham Jenkins, Clive Sinclair, Dr Sharman Kadish, Len Snow, Julian Sorsby,
as well as a large number of Congregational Rabbis and members of the Group who have happily taken their turn to talk on their own specialities.
Organized by Mrs Ingrid Sellman for the past 20 years, the WD« now holds its regular meetings at the newly refurbished Jews' Temporary Shelter, 5 Mapesbury Road, NW2 at 8.30pm, usually on second Mondays in the Winter and Spring months. There is also an annual cultural excursion by coach. In 1993 it was to the D-Day Museum, Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Synagogue, in 1994 it will be to Historic and Jewish Richmond, with a tea at the Richmond Synagogue to celebrate the Group's Silver Anniversary.
In 1943 a great number of appeals for financial help both for organisations as well for individuals came flooding in. The Synagogue's Board of Management decided to establish a Charity Fund to raise and distribute money to those worthy causes. By so doing the Board was acting in line with a long tradition of Congregations which established charitable bodies with either a general or specific purpose to help the needy.
Cecil Roth informs us that the Great Synagogue, London, established its Burial Society in 1695/6, a Talmud Torah in 1732, and a Hevrat Hachnasat Berith (a society for assisting the poor to make arrangements for the circumcision of their children in 1745. In 1748 a Hevrat Gidul Yetomim (an Orphan Aid Society came into operation, and a Hevrat Refuat HaNefesh, something on the lines of a Friendly Society with its own physician, in 1753. Other Societies organized within the Great Synagogue provided clothes for the destitute, dowered poor brides, and ransomed slaves (Jews taken captive in the Mediterranean by the Barbary pirates and barbarously used - hostage taking by Arabs has a long history!). Most eighteenth century provincial Jewish Congregations had rules obliging those called to the Torah to make not only an offering to the Synagogue, but also to the Poor Fund.
The Willesden Charity Fund became known as the Willesden Combined Aid Fund and its first chairman was Mr Sam Boxer. He was succeeded by Councillor Harold Stern. Eventually the Committee was taken over in 1952 by a group of local Jewish businessmen, not hitherto necessarily involved in the running of the Willesden Synagogue. It then became known as the Willesden Combined Charities, and its chairman was Mr Harold Lee, later joined by Mr Arthur Marks. A report of its activities in the Congregation's Annual Report for 1953/4 illustrates the extent of its work. A Dinner & Ball at the Grosvenor Rooms raised over £4,000. Among the more substantial donations made in that year was the purchase of a tractor for a Bachad settlement in Israel, and large sums to the Jewish Blind Society, North West London Jewish Day School, the General Jewish Hospital, Jerusalem, Youth Aliyah and many Yeshivot in Israel. Rabbi Spira was the investigating officer for the Committee and many individuals were helped and also received food parcels for Pesach.
The Congregation took out loans to complete the Children's Synagogue and Classroom extension. The repayment of this loan was very difficult, as at that time the membership began to dwindle. To help raise the necessary funds, the Willesden Aid Committee was formed. The first chairman of this committee was Mr Harry Myers, who was followed by Mr Mick Abrahams and Mr David Colover. In the course of time this committee took over the Willesden Combined Charities.
THE HEATHFIELD COMMITTEE
From 1972, the Heathfield Committee chaired by David Sellman and David Morein - and more recently by Morris Jesky & Gerald Hart - became the fund-raising arm of the Willesden & Brondesbury Synagogue. Monies were raised for the Hebrew Classes, shul equipment and renovation, and in 1990 and 1991 respectively, the Committee organised Testimonial Dinners for Rev. J. Landenberg and Rabbi Dr H. Rabinowicz.
Recent emigrant. Russian pianist Michael Schreider was given an early opportunity to display his considerable skills, and many fund-raising events were organised benefitting individuals and charitable causes. The Golden and Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations have also been the responsibility of the Committee.
JOINT ISRAEL APPEAL (JIA)
The needs of the Jewish community in Palestine, as it was called until 1948, have always had a special niche in the charitable affections of diaspora Jewry. The tiny Jewish community of Penzance operated a Jerusalem Fund in 1830. The first bequest in the will of an 1832 cholera victim, Meyer Jacob Cohen, a Polish Jew, whose estate was under £100 was one guinea to be sent to the poor of Jerusalem. Chief Rabbi Adler made an appeal to British Jews following the great famine of 1854 for the Famishing Jews of the Holy Land. For centuries emissaries from the Holy Land have travelled the world seeking support from diaspora Jewry especially for the poor and needy of the four holy cities, Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias.
Zionist endeavour has always been part and parcel of the Anglo-Jewish community. In Willesden, long before the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a JNF fund. In 1945/6 the Willesden Regional Mizrachi was addressed by Rabbi J.J. Unterman and Rabbi Kopul Rosen, as well as by Dayan J. Jakobovits and the Revd (now Rabbi Lord I. Jakobovits. There was also a Willesden Regional Women's Mizrachi whose honorary officers were Mesdames M. Schiff, S. Boxer, A. Behrman, J. Cinna, A. Silverstone, I. Sietta and A. Rosefield. They were engaged upon raising funds to provide a religious education for all War Orphans and to educate in Palestine some 3,000 of the 13,000 children brought there by Youth Aliyah. There was also a Barcai Zionist Society and a Willesden Women's Zionist Society (WIZO whose honorary officers were Mesdames D. Buchman, A. Singer, I. Sklar, A. Behrman, H. Sellman, M. Benjamin and Edith Lloyd-Lyons.
In 1946 Mr Jack Cinna founded the Willesden branch of the JIA, then called the Joint Palestine Appeal (JPA). He continued to head it for the next thirty or so years, achieving a widespread reputation as an indefatigable fund raiser. At its peak the Willesden JIA raised in excess of £40,000 in a year. He was succeeded by Mr E. Willer who was later joined by Mr H. Cowan as co- Chairman. The Committee was strengthened by newcomers from the Ohel Shem and Brondesbury Synagogues. The JIA does good work to this day, ever mindful of Israel's needs as it takes in Jews from the former Soviet Union and all over the world.
THE ISRAEL SOCIETY
This Society was founded in 1968 and flourished for eight years. It was founded by Mr and Mrs E. Willer on their return from an AJEX mission to Israel (the group included Mr and Mrs Harry Myers to celebrate Israel's victory in the Six Day War. Monthly meetings were well attended by some 70 people. Speakers from the Israeli Embassy as well as national figures kept everyone up to date with events in Israel, and all aspects of Zionist activity was represented. The Committee also raised funds for the orphans of the Munich massacre and for the Laniado Hospital, Netanya, amongst other beneficiaries.
ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH EX-SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN (AJEX)
In the same way as the Anglo-Jewish community felt the need to commemorate the part played by Jewish soldiers in the First World War, so it did after the Second World War. Perhaps more so. The Jewish people had been the victims of a gruesome conspiracy of genocide. Hardly a Jewish family in Britain had not lost one or more of its members in the Holocaust. The Yishuv was fighting for its life against a hostile Mandatory Government, and Jews world-wide were not prepared again to be led like lambs to the slaughter. In this country Oswald Moseley was attempting a comeback of his Fascist party, and in these circumstances Jews felt the need to strengthen their public image and defence work. AJEX was founded in 1929, and Jewish ex-servicemen and women flocked to its standard when they returned home after WWII.
The Standard of the Willesden Branch of AJEX was consecrated in December 1949. It was laid up in May 1976, and a new one consecrated. The members of the Branch still take an active interest in the affairs of AJEX, particularly at Remembrance Day Parades and at services of commemoration in Gladstone Park.
THE BRONDESBURY & WILLESDEN FRIENDSHIP CLUB
The Friendship Club was founded in 1949, catering for the older members of the Brondesbury and Willesden Synagogues, the joint Chairmen were Rita Sklar (representing Willesden) and Hannah Hames (representing Brondesbury). Its Secretary was Mrs Sophie Dean. It first met in the Willesden Synagogue, but as its numbers grew too large for the shul hall it met at the Bachad House, in Willesden Lane. After the Max Faiman Hall was built the Club came back to the shul premises.
This Club is now the oldest in the Association of Jewish Friendship Clubs. Its present officers are Mesdames S. Dean, L. Reiss SRN, G. Lazarus, F. Lee and F. Myers.
Under the aegis of the Friendship Club, Mrs Dean pioneered 'Jewish Friendly Circles' which catered for those unable to attend afternoon sessions. The inaugural meeting was in the Willesden shul, and was addressed by Miss Miriam Moses. This movement has now spread throughout London and the Provinces.
SCOUTS, CUBS & BROWNIES
Until recent years the 27th Jewish Scout Group (the Scoutmaster was Mr Leo James) was attached to the Synagogue, and was a highly successful Group. So were its Cubs and the 2nd Brondesbury Brownies & Guides. Mrs R. Bourne was Brown Owl for more than eight years.
HANDICAPPED CHILDREN'S AID COMMITTEE
Following his family's involvement with the 2nd Brondesbury Brownies and Guides, which met in the Synagogue hall, Mr Harry Bourne launched the Handicapped Children's Aid Committee in 196± for the benefit of disadvantaged children. This Committee, to date, has raised £3m.
Many other groups met on the synagogue premises at various times. Bnei Akiva and Jewish Youth Study Groups were just two of the many Societies which had a beneficial influence on the youngsters who attended them, thanks to the hospitality afforded them by the Congregation.
The Congregation has survived the war years. Indeed, it flourished. Ivan Clapich remembers returning to the shul on leave from the Forces and finding it packed. Even after the war, new members continued to join the Congregation in large numbers. New societies sprang up, for example, Muriel Goldman, now of Ramat Eshkol, remembers a Dramatic Society which was part of the Willesden Centre, a senior club, which waxed and waned over the years. The Willesden Jewish National Fund Commission had 1,051 Blue Boxes in 1953 placed in local Jewish homes.
In 1953 the 27th Willesden Jewish Scout Group was one of the largest in the Borough, and was flourishing to such an extent that it had a waiting list for its Cubs' Section. It staged a Musical Revue in the Anson Hall which was attended by over a thousand parents, relatives and friends.
The Friendship Club catering for the older members of the Brondesbury, Willesden and Ohel Shem Synagogues, was so busy in 1953 when it met at the Bachad House that its membership was closed and it had to establish a waiting list. That year 200 members went in no less than six coaches along the royal route to see the Coronation lights and decorations.
The April 1946 Willesden Synagogue Review welcomed 40 male and 4female new members. So great was the inward flow of Jews to the area that the Federation once again could consider establishing a Congregation. Accordingly, in 1945 the Ohel Shem was founded. It became a Constituent of the Federation in 1946, this time with Federation Trustees. Its Rabbis included: Rabbis P. Shebson, G. Lopian and Mordecai Singer, and Reverends Menahem Goldstein, Bernard Koschland and G. Glausiusz. It was also served by Chazan Kacenellenbogen.
It is not easy to analyse the reasons for the decline of a community, or putting it another way, to explain why Jews leave a pleasant and wholesome locality. In 1886 Aryeh Rubenstein writing in Hamelitz (the Russian Journal, not the Hamelitz printed by the Willesden Synagogue for Russian Jews expressed his bewilderment that his brethren remained in Russia when they could come to England's green and pleasant land. One understands why Jews were anxious to leave the East End, it is not so easy to see why they moved on from Willesden to Stanmore, Edgware, Bushey and other districts. A small number went overseas, a number of former members went to Israel. Perhaps nice houses were too expensive for the children of members when they grew up and married, and the houses occupied by the older generation were too large for them once their children had left home. Whatever the reason, by the 1970s Jews began to leave the area in ever increasing numbers.
The once thriving Ohel Shem Congregation closed in 1988, and its worshippers came to the Willesden Synagogue. Revd Glausiusz, now the Minister of the Cricklewood Synagogue, remains Honorary Minister and Hon. President of the Ohel Shem Synagogue which survives in name only. The last Shtiebel in the area, Finklestein's, closed on Yom Kippur, 1988, and thus followed the Premishlaner in Minster Road, Rabbi Yehudaleib in Fleetwood Road, and Leiner's in Willesden Lane, sic transit gloria. The Cricklewood Synagogue was converted into sheltered flats, and its Congregation moved into the refurbished hall. The Dollis Hill Synagogue has reportedly been sold, and it, too, has plans to move its shul into its much smaller hall.
The Willesden & Brondesbury Synagogue, also, has redevelopment plans to take cognizance of its diminishing membership. There is still much life in it, however, and the sound of prayer and study is still heard within its walls. One of our members, Mr N. Kesztenbaum, has just been elected an Elder of the Synagogue. If the perennial migrations of the Anglo-Jewish community bring back Jews to Willesden in substantial numbers it will be there to serve them in the future as it has in the past. It has served well as the nursery of generations of young Jews who have gone out to lead the community in other areas, and it well deserves to bask in the glory of having achieved its Diamond Jubilee.
Be strong and of good courage to celebrate the Centenary.
Willesden & Brondesbury Synagogue
Office holders - 1994
Board of Management
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