St John’s Wood synagogue prepares for centenary celebrations

Britain’s oldest and largest liberal Jewish synagogue, based in St John’s Wood, is gearing up to celebrate its 100th birthday next year.

Led by the UK’s first female senior rabbi, Alexandra Wright, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue will host a range of events to honour its centenary, starting with a service on February 5 to commemorate the first LJS service ever held in 1911.

One plan which will tie in with the celebrations is Project Renewal – a scheme to renew educational and social facilities for the community at the synagogue.

Rabbi Wright said: “The LJS’s centenary is an opportunity for our synagogue to re-evaluate its place in the Jewish world and in British society and to set out a programme for the next hundred years.

“We are about to embark on a major fundraising exercise to raise money for the refurbishment over the course of the next year.”

Since its inauguration, the LJS has courted resistance for its forward-thinking beliefs, combining Jewish tradition with contemporary values, which mark its departure from orthodox Judaism.

Spearheaded by two progressive thinkers, Lily Montagu and Claude Montefiore, who founded the Jewish Religious Union in 1902, liberal Judaism is based on dissatisfaction with the over-formal demands of orthodox Judaism.

Most Read

“Many Jews had lost the comprehension of Hebrew and felt disconnected from it,” said Rabbi Wright. “It was important for people to feel able to participate and that Judaism would have meaning and power for them.”

The first premises for the Liberal congregation was a chapel in Hill Street, near Marylebone station, but as the movement gained prominence, a larger space was found in the current building on St John’s Wood Road in 1924.

Today, the LJS has more than 2,000 members and is affiliated with the world’s largest synagogue organisation, World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The synagogue will hold an exhibition called The Dawn of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue next February celebrating its early history, while it is also planning to publish a book.