The 85-year-old start-up and the new person in charge

The 85-year-old start-up and the new person in charge

This year Rabbi Mark Goldsmith joined a new synagogue – EHRS. It has given him a lot to think about. Here, he reveals his new year plans

Tots and Torah
Tots and Torah

There are two ways I could talk about Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue (EHRS), of which I became Senior Rabbi in June.  One is as the caring, innovative and ambitious start-up campus synagogue that was founded in January 2017 with 3,800 members, making it the largest Progressive synagogue in Europe.  

The other is as the child of two synagogues that merged their rich and valued traditions of Jewish life stretching back, in the case of Edgware and District Reform Synagogue, to its foundation in 1935 and, in the case of Hendon Reform Synagogue, to 1949.

The new EHRS is both a local and a ‘destination’ synagogue. More than half of our members live within a couple of miles of the synagogue, but our community also reaches members throughout South Hertfordshire and north-west London. I’d say that makes the synagogue demographically balanced.

There is not an age decade with fewer than 200 members at EHRS, except for one – we have only seven cherished members aged over 100! This means that our Nagila Kindergarten is full, with 35 children and  Jewish Care Edgware and Harrow Day Care Centre, which is located on our campus, is full of life and friendship for the very elderly.

Membership starts young!

The challenge that I am set as Senior Rabbi is to work with a great team of rabbis, synagogue staff and volunteers to build and sustain a community that constantly enhances the Jewish lives of its members, creates lifelong friendships, and makes a positive difference to our wider community.

I joined EHRS from my post as Principal Rabbi at Alyth Synagogue in Temple Fortune, where transformation to 21st century Jewish life helped it to grow and thrive. My years of experience have led to two lessons that mark my style of rabbinate.

First, a synagogue that intends to grow Jewish life cannot stand still. It must continuously build on its traditions and not only venerate them. Second, never do anything as a rabbi that lessens community participation.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith

A synagogue is not a business dedicated to efficiency. It is a place of personal and community growth, of fulfilling relationships and the mutual care that derives from them.

We have a strong and dedicated team in so many areas with education for all ages, informal youth work, welfare and support of all the shul’s work. Above all, there is a remarkable spirit of volunteering in the EHRS community, whether it be the generous individuals who ran our homeless shelter this year, the many Shlichei Tzibbur (leaders of prayer) who enhance our services, or the volunteers who greet and provide security on a Shabbat morning.

Our major work for the coming years is to transform how we work with young people and their families.  In common with most local synagogues a change has taken place over the past 10 years, with a majority of our children now attending Jewish day schools. The synagogue, therefore, needs to find new ways to build relationships with their families and make multi-generational community life meaningful. We have already had our first Tots and Tea, which brought a group of under fours to the shul for a lovely Sunday afternoon together; upgraded our weekly family services and found a new way for parents and children to learn about Jewish life together on Sunday mornings called Magic Moments with Your Child.

EHRS aims to be as open as it can to interfaith couples and plans to run a seminar based on the Movement for Reform Judaism’s ‘I’m Jewish my Partner Isn’t’ initiative. We want to be open to our neighbours.  Our cub scout group, for example, is about to enjoy a joint meeting with the young people of our local Stanmore Islamic Centre.

Community dog walk

One of my major tasks is getting to know the community, but also, as a start-up community we want members to enrich friendships with each other.  We have been holding weekly meetings in members’ homes, a day trips for adult Jewish learning and even led a community dog walk for the Jewish New Year for animals.

Granted, it is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity and an honour to be Senior Rabbi of EHRS. Hillel said: “Never separate yourself from your community.” (Mishnah Avot 2:5)   The corollary to his statement is “always find opportunities to bring your community closer together”. I look forward to this new Jewish year of 5780 and this holy task.

read more: