Six hundred people crowded on Sunday into the synagogue where 100 years ago, the architects behind the Balfour Declaration were members.
In a ceremony to mark the centenary, held under the auspices of the United Synagogue, Rabbi Moshe Freedman, minister of Bayswater’s majestic New West End Synagogue, recalled that not only was Chaim Weizmann, the future president of the state of Israel, a member, but also Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner of Palestine, and Walter, the second Baron Rothschild.
It was, of course, the November 2 1917 letter to Lord Rothschild from the then Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, which paved the way for the modern state of Israel to come into being.
Baroness Ruth Deech read out the echoing words of the Balfour Declaration, that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
And in a prophetic reply, the then Chief Rabbi, Joseph Hertz, described the Balfour letter as “an epoch in Jewish history… a spiritual lodestar of Israel’s wanderings”.
The present Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, steered the congregation through the history of the Jews preceding the Balfour Declaration, their exiles and returns. Throughout, he said, “we never lost touch with our land”.
In impassioned remarks the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, paid tribute to Britain for the Balfour Declaration and the legacy it had bequeathed to Israel of freedom and democracy. The importance of Balfour, he said, “was not that Britain gave us the right to a homeland. Its importance was that it recognised that right”.
Balfour was a “historic document and part of a chain of events, a milestone on the path to Jewish independence and sovereignty.” Britain had “played a crucial role” in helping to create the Middle East’s only democracy, the ambassador declared.
Further readings were given by two young members of the synagogue, Alex Miller and Gabi Silver.
Musical accompaniment for the service came from Chazan Jonathan Ben Garcia with the New West End Synagogue’s choir, Mosaic Voice, conducted by Michael Etherton.