CWbNAWmWwAArpOyThe Prince of Wales joined Muslims and Christians to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Britain’s oldest progressive synagogue last Thursday. 

The heir was among 400 guests at service marking the conclusion of West London Synagogue’s birthday celebrations, before meeting some of those helped by the community’s drop-in facility for asylum-seeking families.

It is believed to have been the first visit by Prince Charles, a close supporter of the Jewish community and particularly of Kindertransport refugees, to a Reform shul.

Senior Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, who has known the Prince for many years and welcomed him to the community with a warm embrace, said: “The fact he wants to be defender of faiths rather than purely the Church of England is a great compliment to Britain as it is today. He met a lot of people; he was particularly interested in our volunteers and people who come to our asylum seekers drop-in.”

The shul was the second reform community to establish a drop-in facility providing clothing and a hot meal as well as space for children to play and social care. It also runs a winter night shelter for the homeless in partnership with six local churches.

Aaron Christo-Leigh from Sierra Leone, one of those helped, said a voucher provided by the shul was crucial towards covering his transportation and communication costs as he worked on his successful asylum application. He has now completed a course in emigration law and hopes to help others fleeing to this country.

Salih Salih, who spent a night a week sleeping at the shul for four months after arriving in the UK from Sudan, said he was happy to meet the Royal. He said he had never met a Jew before encountering the shul: “I hear about Jewish people in the news but when I meet them I see them as nice people,” he added.

During the service, the Prince of Wales tapped his foot to the music after Rabbi Neuberger urged congregants to “rock in the aisles”. Among the many dozens of guests he spent time talking to during the 90-minute visit were Reggie Gourgey, who discussed their experiences of serving in the navy. “We always pray for the royal Family and to have him here in person is a great honour for the synagogue,” he told the Jewish News. The Prince offered his congratulations on the 101st birthday of Gourgey, who was called up to the Torah during the service, two days later.

101 (on Saturday) year old Reggie Gourgey tells Prince about time in navy after reading from Torah

101 (on Saturday) year old Reggie Gourgey tells Prince about time in navy after reading from Torah

Muslim interfaith activist Julie Siddiqui also spoke from the bimah, saying she was “humbled” to be asked to address an event “with fellow peacemakers striving for a better world”. At a time when some tried to divide communities, she said. it was more important than ever to do more together.

Also among the guests were broadcaster Esther Rantzen, who discovered while taking part in Who Do You Think You Are? that her relative was one of the founders of West London. She said: “To have Muslims, Church of England here is really important. This congregation is visionary because Julia Neuberger is a visionary.

“When you see so much bad news about religions who are involved in conflict, civil wars, it’s terrific to see religions holding out hands to each other. It makes me proud.”

West London shul chair Jill Todd said they were greatly for such a “public declaration of confidence in our work”. She added: “This synagogue has played a leading role in the great Reform movement of British Judaism: educating women as well as men, feeding and supporting the hungry and oppressed, recognising gender equality and working with other communities and faiths to accept our differences and achieve harmony.”

Rabbi Neuberger said of the Royal visitor: “I’ve known him for a long time. We have a great relationship. He met my husband for the first time, who he was convinced didn’t exist as he’s never manage to get to the events I’ve been at with him.”  Prince Charles was presented with a mezuzahand prayerbook and flowers from Rabbi Neil jane’s daughers.