This week New London Synagogue marks its fiftieth year.
What have we achieved?
We are here.
For fifty years we have come together in prayer, in study, in support and in celebration. For our members we have been a Jewish home from home and a mikdash, a physical manifestation in which God’s divine presence can dwell within us. Week after week, year after year and generation after generation we have been here.
We are a sanctuary.
I regularly am approached by refugees from orthodox imperialism; couples who have been denied marriage licences, Jews who have been deemed ‘insufficiently Jewish,’ sincere and serious conversion candidates who desperately want to belong to the Jewish people, but have been turned away for reasons too often too flimsy. More than that I often come across stories of welcome afforded by my Rabbinic predecessors here throughout the fifty year history of this community. The Talmud tells of a day when the gates of the great Study Hall of antiquity were opened to all and relates of the abundance of creativity that the simple act of opening doors begat. We have been a place of open doors.
We are a beacon.
New London was always supposed to be a bastion for the vibrancy of combining a love of the tradition; traditional liturgy most especially, with an open minded and open hearted attitude towards the world and sources of truth wherever they may be found. In an Anglo-Jewry that often gave up one pole or the other, we have shown not only that it is possible to care about both tradition and modernity, but also that through committing to both Jewish life can flourish.
We have stood on the side of justice.
In the earliest years of the Synagogue a housing trust was launched to respond to the desperately poor social housing available at the time. That trust, the Newlon Housing Association, now owns or manages over 7,500 homes. The Dalai Lama spoke at New London on his first visit to London after his exile from Tibet. We have shown a tremendous support of Israel supporting especially the work of UJIA in the Northern Galillee and we have campaigned on behalf of the under-class in this country.
We are building for our future.
There were years of decline, but New London Synagogue today is both growing and getting younger. Wherever you look the demographic indicators of the Synagogue are positive. We are doing twice as many weddings as we are doing funerals. We have three times as many three year olds as we have thirteen year olds. We are welcoming new members all the time.
We have inspired others.
There is a movement; New North London, Edgware Masorti, St Albans Masorti, Hatch End Masorti, Buckhurst Hill Masorti, Stoke Newington .... but there is something more than that. There are Rabbis from other movements, there are Synagogues with no direct connection to New London and there are Minyanim and points of Jewish connection that, all taking inspiration from our story – and largely let it be said, that of our founding Rabbi – and forging their own path, emboldened by the notion that Judaism can be lived without fear and without compromise.
What have we yet to do?
We have not transformed all of Anglo-Jewry. For a while it felt as if we might, but there are still many, both congregants and Rabbis, in more traditional Synagogue movements who really should be part of our Masorti world, but aren’t.
We have not transformed all of our members. We have members who are deeply and passionately committed to Halachic engagement, study and compassionate acts, but frankly not many. The jibe that we represent a ‘lite’ option for those who didn’t want ‘proper’ Judaism is closer to the truth than I feel comfortable admitting.
We have not proved that our future is secure. I’m not sure how a Jew ever could, but I wish I could stand before God and be confident that we have done enough to prepare another generation of those prepared to commit, engage, fight and celebrate in the ways of those who founded this Synagogue.
There is still much to do.
But for this week, we deserve to toast our successes.
To all of us who have played a part in this past fifty years, particularly to our founding members and those who have given hugely to support this community in so many ways, thank you.
Here is to our future.