Brilliance in Bournemouth

by Jonathan Marriott

As some of you may know, we have been privileged to experience an extraordinary and inspirational three months in Bournemouth Shul (aka BCHC) with the presence, leadership and passion of our good friend, the indefatigable Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld (and his equally spritely wife Natalie). They returned to Bournemouth after 18 years to “fill-in” in between the retirement and departure of Rabbi Adrian Jesner at the end of October and the arrival of Rabbi Alan Lewis who is returning to Bournemouth this week.

Apart from his extraordinary energy in leading the davening every Shabbos morning, preceded by a 20-minute shiur; delivering the most expressive leyning I have ever heard; regaling us week-after-week with one on-message derasha after another; and working the room in our weekly kiddush, R’ Lionel treated us to a musical Havdalah every M’shabbos, following Ma’ariv in the beis hamedrash, broadcast simultaneously on Zoom, with pre-recorded piano accompaniment by the talented Stephen Glass (residing in Toronto). A video of the havdalah is in the link below. If that was not enough, this was followed by a couple of meaningful songs from YouTube which he introduced and narrated, encouraging everyone to gather round the bima to see the images on the screen. (click the picture below for photos and video of the Musical Havdalah)

You get the picture, so far, of a typical high energy shabbos. But that was only part of the experience.

The first “special event” took place on 10 December, when the shul hosted Anne Filer’s mayoral civic ceremony for a second time (her first term as Mayor was when Rabbi Jesner was the Rabbi in the early 2000s). Unique as a civic couple in Bournemouth and probably any other UK council, Anne’s husband Michael was the Mayor in the mid-1980s, when the Benarroch’s were Rabbi and Rebbetzen. The Filers are regular Shabbos-morning attendees at BCHC.

It was an extraordinary afternoon, in a beautiful setting with such rich colour and colours. R’ Lionel’s unique ability to hold the room and sing with such expression, mixed with the quintessentially English dignity of the occasion, created a truly palpable atmosphere which was made all the more poignant and powerful by bringing non-Jewish councillors and officials into our shul and making a true kiddush Hashem, connecting us all to Israel at such a desperate time for Israel and world-Jewry. I am only sorry that I did not record the heartfelt speeches. No one who was there will ever forget that special afternoon. Videos of the musical parts and general photos are in the mayoral link below.(click the picture below)

It was also fourth night Chanukah, so of course there was candle-lighting, doughnuts and tea and scones in the Menorah suite following the ceremony.

The second “special event”, which followed a busy winter holiday season in Bournemouth, took place on 7 January, when together with his good friend Chazan Jonny Turgel and accompanied live on the piano by the Shabbaton Choir musical director Stephen Levey, R’ Lionel entertained us to a most personable and energetic concert in support of and salute to Israel, our chayalim and of course those taken hostage and still suffering such unimaginable horrors. No one who was there will ever forget that special afternoon either. All the music is in the concert link below. (click the picture below)

R’ Lionel and Natalie left this past Sunday to head home to Jerusalem but I thought I’d share with you my reflections on these past three months, just to give you a taste of the whirlwind that was. If you want just a glimpse, watch song Nos. 4 and 6 from the concert and witness the incredible energy and hear the strongest voice of the youngest 81-year old you’ll ever meet (sorry, but present company included).

In contrast, I also point you to song No.11 – the most moving rendition, by Ch. Jonny, of Bring Him/Them Home (from Les Mis). Just listen to the painful poignancy of the words, sung with such heartfelt beauty.

Back to R’ Lionel. In amongst all that activity, including (sadly) several levayahs, shivas and stonesettings; a trip back to Israel; a concert in Manchester; leading the Bournemouth community delegation at the 100,000 strong march in London; a one-hour silent vigil for the hostages at the entrance to Bournemouth pier; giant chanukiah lighting by The Royal Bath Hotel and a public Tu Bishvat tree-planting ceremony at which, I believe, he shlepped bags of soil to the planting area (to name but a few of his exploits), he still managed to visit Auntie Hannah three times during their brief sojourn. Quite incredible.

As the shul chairman said in his farewell remarks on Shabbos, we’ll need a couple of months to recover from what the community has just experienced.

Carpe diem was very much the order of the past 60+ days, both for the community and for R’ Lionel and Natalie – a unique experience that was embraced by all who were lucky to have been around at this time. Our thanks too, to the shul executive, trustees, administration and several members for facilitating, encouraging and supporting this wonderful opportunity. A true partnership.