Muswell Hill synagogue celebrates its centenary

A century ago a small group of Jewish men met upstairs in a house in Coniston Gardens, Muswell Hill, to pray.

A century ago a small group of Jewish men met upstairs in a house in Coniston Gardens, Muswell Hill, to pray.

Among them was Barnet Milstone, a tailor who had recently moved to the area with his wife and children from Stepney in East London.

A committed Jew, on moving house in 1911 he had immediately written to the Jewish Chronicle to ask if any other known Jews lived in Muswell Hill as he wanted to found a shul (synagogue), but needed at least ten adult Jewish men to do this.

He soon established regular services and brought a distinctive Yiddish culture to a corner of north London not previously known for its Jewish population.

A century later, and what began as a small prayer service in a terraced house has grown into the vibrant Muswell Hill Synagogue which celebrated its centenary last weekend with a tea and dance party for its members.

Among the guests was Bob Segal, 99, the grandson of Mr Milstone who had travelled from Brighton to mark the occasion.

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Recalling his grandfather, Mr Segal said: “He was a kind and loveable English and Yiddish gentleman. He really was a man you could admire and love. He was the height of integrity and a man to be proud of, and I was.

“He left behind a family of wonderful sons and daughters, and I am proud of belonging to the Milstone family.”

The number of Muswell Hill Jews wanting to pray together swelled during the 1920’s and soon became too many to meet in one house.

Several prominent members of the community made large donations to help set up the Atheneum in Fortis Green Road – where a large Sainsbury’s store now stands.

This was the home of the Jewish community until 1965, when they moved to the newly built Synagogue in Tetherdown, where the centenary celebrations were held on Sunday (September 11).

Ian Binder, 81, a member of the synagogue since 1962, said: “The synagogue means a great deal to me. I didn’t go very regularly when we first moved her, but my parents died in 1964 and that was when I started to come regularly.

“I have grown up with this community, have known all the rabbis and become friends with every one of them.

“It is a comparatively small community but it is very close knit.”

Rachel Anticomi, 43, who runs the Sunday school, said; “Being part of a community, whatever that community is, is very supportive and makes people feel connected to each other and their faith.”