Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation
The First Hundred Years, 1905 to 2005
In July 1905, at premises in Wellington Road, under the chairmanship of S Silverman, it was resolved that an advertisement should be placed for the engagement of a chazan/shochet/mohel to minister to the newly formed Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation. On the 1st September 1905 the Jewish Chronicle reported the first Friday night and Shabbat morning services at the Assembly Rooms, opposite the pier. Such were the humble beginnings. By 1911 sufficient funds had been generated to build a synagogue in Wootton Gardens. Mr Silverman was succeeded in that year by Aaron Cotton as the second President of the congregation, both these gentlemen being the first Trustees. They and the fifty or so original congregants had the courage and foresight to lay the foundations which have led to the remarkable growth and success of the congregation in its first one hundred years.
Throughout its history the congregation has been governed by lay leaders who have given devoted service, not only generously in time but also in their beneficence. Read on to learn more of them. Many were strong characters who have left their mark on the congregation, such as Hyman P Lorie, Joseph Hayman and Henry Solomon in the first half century. Their successors in the next half century did things ‘their way’, each imprinting his style onto the life of the congregation. In particular, John Kasmir and Sam Marks as Honorary Life Presidents remain prominent members of the congregation, both having given long service respectively as President and Trustee. Without their work, many of the congregation’s projects could not have been brought to fruition.
In 1963, the synagogue was extended to appear the impressive edifice it now is. This is our raison d’ être. The congregation is here to pay homage to and praise the Almighty. Religious leadership has been given to the congregation by many distinguished members of the ministry. Their stories are also told in these pages. The loyal and devoted service of Rabbi Jonah Indech and Chazan Israel Cohen dominated the last half-century and is worthy of special mention. Rabbi Indech presided over a period of substantial expansion of membership. His learning and spiritual leadership inspired and stimulated the congregation. Chazan Cohen imprinted his character upon all who knew him. His chazanut was admired way beyond the Dorset Boundary. His pastoral work and interest shown in all the congregants was superb. Their successors Rabbis Silberg, Benerroch, Lewis, Harris, Shisler and latterly Reverend Lionel Rosenfeld have all contributed in their individual styles. In particular, Rabbi Shisler and Reverend Rosenfeld have taken Judaism to the non-Jewish community through radio and by visiting schools, together with taking a special interest in inter-faith communication. The congregation’s present minister, Reverend Lionel Rosenfeld, has made the synagogue resonate in song. He has an international reputation. Sadly, within our anniversary year he is to leave us, having received a call to minister to Western Marble Arch Synagogue in Central London where he previously served that congregation as chazan. The congregation has been privileged to be served by its spiritual leaders throughout the past one hundred years, praising the Almighty in services that have been, as Frank Harris, the then President said in the brochure produced for our seventy-fifth anniversary, ‘second to none’.
Of course, others have not only served the congregation but have also played prominent roles in service in the non-Jewish community. In particular, one thinks of Murray Muscat who was one of the best solicitor advocates to appear in the local courts in the last century. His quiet and devoted work for the congregation is reflected in the three-storey extension built by the congregation, that includes the elegant Menorah Suite, classrooms for the synagogue’s Hebrew classes completed in 1973, and two flats, named for him.
Particularly, the last sixty years have been marked by the uninterrupted and devoted service of the congregation’s Senior Trustee and Honorary Life President, Harry Ellis. Harry has served for many years as President and the congregation’s Honorary Solicitor. I have no doubt that my contemporaries and predecessors as President of the congregation share my view that his wise counsel has done nothing other than benefit the congregation and its servants on numerous occasions. It is a privilege to discuss matters with Harry, such discussions always taking place in the right spirit (at least ten years old) and being laced with wonderful recollections of past congregational events, matters of law and the unlawful, judges and other miscellany of private practice. During his working years as a solicitor and senior partner in his busy solicitor’s practice and throughout his retirement, the congregation’s affairs and welfare have, after his family, been his priority. I am delighted to acknowledge and pay tribute to his devoted work on our behalf.
Whatever the needs of the congregation have been, those who have held office, be it as Trustee, President / Vice President or member of the Board/Executive Committee, have done their utmost to recognise and meet those needs. It is not possible in this introduction to name them all, but without their work the congregation would not have had the assets it now enjoys. Every President has conducted business in his own way, and made his own impact on synagogue affairs. The responsibility has sometimes been onerous; after all ‘there is no business like shul business!’ One would like to think, however, that those responsibilities and duties of office have nevertheless brought their own rewards. The business of the Executive Committee is not always easy, and sometimes fraught, but the decisions made have more often than not resulted in benefits for congregants. Those who have served have done so wanting to contribute to the congregation’s welfare, and I believe have done so. Present evidence shows that we are fortunate to have members who are capable of giving equally valuable service in the years to come.
I have referred above to the Menorah Suite, but there is also the original Synagogue Hall, now known as the Gertrude Preston Hall, in which the kindergarten and B.B.Y.O. meet, as well as being used for small functions, and the Bet Hamidrash and administrative offices within the complex. A mikveh was added in 1975. The building complex and all that happens in it is a living tribute to all those leaders of the congregation who, with the members, provided them for our benefit.
The congregation has been loyally served since its foundation by the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation Ladies’ Guild. Although the Guild is a separate charity, one of its objects is to support the congregation and this it has done generously, contributing to all the congregation’s major projects of improvement of facilities in the synagogue complex. Successive Trustees and Executive of the Guild have ensured that the welfare needs of congregants and others have been met. Unfailingly, the Guild has enhanced major congregational events by their catering for lunches and dinners, and especially the preparation of regular kiddushim. There is a short history of the Guild within. I am delighted to acknowledge our enormous debt to it. ‘Coffee and Keichels’ await members following a Shabbat service when the Guild are not providing. This is a recent innovation provided by new members. It has always been our good fortune to welcome members who have retired to Bournemouth following valuable service to their former congregations. These less formal kiddushim offer the opportunity for conversation and have provided a valuable service in helping those new members integrate into the congregation.
It is part of our tradition that education is a matter of prime importance. This has been the case throughout the congregation’s history. The Hebrew classes have seen much investment and, although numbers are not what they once were, the effort and ability now engaged in the teaching and running of the classes have not been bettered. My thanks go the Marilyn Dexter and her Education Sub-Committee who have put in prodigious work to improve standards.
There are also regular shiurim provided by Rev. Rosenfeld and Rabbi Alperowitz, and weekly Adult Education. The latter were originally started by Rabbi Shisler and cover all aspects of Jewish life, nearly all the contributors being members of the congregation. In the last few years the Adult education programme has been arranged and managed with enthusiasm and great skill by Zena Mazin.
Although Chabad House is independent of the congregation, it would be foolish and unfair not to recognise the contribution made to the congregation by Rabbi Yossi and Rebbitzen Chani Alperowitz. They have been willing to assist in all aspects of the congregation’s life when called upon to do so. Rabbi Alperowitz has served the congregation as Assistant Minister. His education programmes have enhanced the Jewish life of many of the membership from the youngest to the oldest. Rebbitzen Alperowitz has assisted with teaching programmes for the cheder. Their hospitality at Chabad House for all the congregation has been second to none.
Within the last ten years, thanks to the generosity of the Hilda and Sam Marks Family Trust and Marilyn and Stephen H White, the congregation has been able to develop its own cemetery at Throop. Although this is a facility we all hope not to have to use, the development ensures that the congregation will be able to regulate its halachic responsibilities in performance of the sacred duty throughout the next century.
Many congregants have involved themselves in public service and service to local organisations and charities, particularly Messrs Jaffe, Michael Filer and Benny Grower, Mayors of Bournemouth, and Barrington Myers, Mayor of Christchurch. Many have served as magistrates and councillors, and have worked in academia and the caring agencies. It is through the efforts of Michael and Ann Filer that Bournemouth is twinned with Netanya, showing the recognition, respect and consideration given by the town to the congregation and its affiliations.
The congregation is a living Jewish community. As such, it is no more than the total of its individual members, each with their own aspirations, but all with a common purpose that is to preserve and celebrate their Judaism, meeting their obligations to live a Jewish life. Judaism is a way of life. Our past century lays the foundations for the next, when we will continue to build on solid foundations, renewing and continuing our obligations as the wonderful congregation that I believe we are.
We are not immune to the difficulties and demographic pressure that in the last quarter century have impacted upon provincial congregations, but I would suggest that our congregation is sufficiently strong and confident to meet those difficulties and pressures. It is sad that many of the children of our members, after finishing training into the professions, seek to live in London. There to live a Jewish life in all its aspects, religious or not, is easier in being nearer friends sharing the same interests, and conveniences such as Jewish schools and opportunities to extend learning and cultural pursuits. The downside is the cost of living and an environment that cannot be compared to the benefits of being situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The challenge that faces the congregation in the future is to entice and persuade young people that there is life outside of London that presents a challenge but is one they should take on. It is my belief that the future well being of the Anglo-Jewish community as a small minority of the population necessitates there being strong and thriving provincial communities. It is necessary for the whole population to know and see Jews and the lives they lead.
Nevertheless, the last quarter century has seen a migration into Bournemouth of members who have been anxious to participate in all of the congregation’s activities and to serve it to the best of their abilities. In the penultimate decade of the last century, the newcomers were couples with young families who now provide many of the lay leaders and workers for the congregation. More recently, there has been a movement of active retired couples who have brought with them their own interests and ideas of what the congregation should be doing. This enriches the congregation’s well being, and proves it to be welcoming and inclusive. Visitors and country members who join us in our services are additional proof of that.
Of hardworking migrants to Bournemouth, Mrs Rosamunde Bloom is a classic example. Rosamunde moved from Leeds some nineteen years ago, taking the position of Secretary/Administrator to the congregation. She has given valuable service ensuring the congregation functions from day to day. Her interest in all our congregants is commended. Like her long serving predecessor Monty Weinberg, she has devoted herself to the congregation and I am delighted to pay tribute to her.
The changing nature of the congregation over the past one hundred years, from being predominantly members who have spent most of their lives in Bournemouth to a mix of newcomers from various parts of Britain, means that the congregation must adapt to suit the needs of a more diverse mix of members. To ignore the challenges that the future brings would be foolhardy, and much thought must be devoted to how the congregation should be served. The congregation cannot isolate itself from the direction that modern orthodoxy is progressing, by perceiving and persisting in attitudes of British Jewry that the young may not find attractive. ‘Middle of the road Judaism’ if it ever existed as a British phenomenon has no attraction for the young, who either lack religious commitment or alternatively have a far greater commitment than their parents’ generation. In addition, the demographic changes in society present challenges to which, following the impact of the Holocaust, the Jewish community was largely immune during the third quarter of the last century. Since that time, there has been an increase in anti-Semitism, and a greater feeling of insecurity affecting the Jewish community. The sympathetic alignment and support for Israel that the vast majority of the community displays is not supported by the media, or the vocal left in society. The line between anti- Zionism and anti-Semitism is a narrow one and, from the point of view of many, non-existent.
Increases in anti-Semitic incidents are a matter of record. The multi-racial mix of British society has not necessarily worked to our advantage. As other minority religious groups have expanded, the number of Jews has declined. We must be thankful that some of this can be accounted for by emigration to Israel, or to marry and work overseas, but other reasons are a migration from orthodoxy by intermarriage or more simply from the decline in religious belief that has affected Western society generally. Changes in the religious and cultural make-up of British society have impacted upon political thinking. The congregation has strong connections with Israel, and the members support many charitable causes for those in need there. This undoubtedly will continue, as it should, but this in turn raises the need for greater security. The congregation has always recognised this need, even when the threat has not been as great as it now is. World events show that it is not likely to decrease. The congregation acknowledges its debt to those who have served on its security teams and particularly those who are now serving. Andrew Kaye has given distinguished service, being responsible for the Southern Region, and now Melvin Millin who takes charge of the congregation’s team.
Hard decisions may have to be made as to whether the congregation should move from its current central position to a location nearer where the bulk of the members live. A review of how the congregation is financed will have to be seriously considered if demographic trends persist. To leave our beautiful synagogue and complex will not be easy, but it is now in an area that does not make it particularly conducive to visit at night. The centre of Bournemouth, like many town and city centres, reflects trends in society towards night clubs, bars and discos. Thus it may be for the future welfare of the congregation to contemplate such a move.
Four years ago I asked Stephen H White to lead a committee to prepare for this one hundredth anniversary. The result of their efforts is a stimulating programme of events that pays tribute to those who have brought us to this day, whilst also allowing us to celebrate with enthusiasm and hope to prepare for the challenges ahead of us as we enter the next century.
The preparation of this centenary book is the result of much hard work by Larry Kaye, Duncan Kaye and Keith Harris. Larry and Duncan have looked after the commercial side and Keith has designed the layout. It is a worthy publication to mark the anniversary, and a tribute to them. Our thanks go to them and to the editorial team, especially David Weitzman who gave a lot of his time to reading all of the articles to ensure that they read correctly.
It is with pride and enthusiasm that I look forward to the next year to serve the congregation as President. I hope that the congregation thrives and prospers in the next one hundred years as it has in its first century. Let the next year be one continuous simcha bringing happiness to us all, a year to treasure, filled with the Almighty’s blessing not only for the congregation, but for all Zion and the world. May we look forward to peace, happiness and contentment for all our Jewish brethren, and particularly Israel, in the next century. May we see true peace in our days, so that the word of the law will truly resonate from Jerusalem for the benefit of all.
Let’s celebrate the past and welcome the future!