Every city is unique, each with its own climate, ebb and flow, culture and pace. As a rabbi, it is important for me to understand a place’s character so that I can better actualise its potential. London is of course no different, and it is not surprising that it took some time for me to get used to its winters. Dark mornings and early evenings mean reduced sunlight, and the end of year ‘holiday break’ seems to span a month. Still, I found my first winter at Bevis to be very beautiful, and infused with a different kind of energy – with its own possibilities. The long nights mean that people are looking to connect with one another, and for interesting events to attend. Personally, I very much enjoyed an evening at Mansion House, hosted by the Lord Mayor of London for the City’s clergy and officials.
I spent much of the fall acclimating to London and focusing on our core community. Since then I’ve also begun to look outwards. This winter we relaunched our ‘Culture in the City’ initiative, which essentially showcases midweek events focused on enriching the lives of the City of London’s many Jewish workers. We ran a monthly signature event, typically including some sort of learning/culture, coupled with a drink and refreshments. We hosted Hanukah and Tu Bishbat celebrations, a pre-Passover wine pairing event, and most successfully an ‘After-Dark’ behind the scenes tour of a candlelit Bevis Marks, followed by eighteenth century drinks. We typically enjoyed attendance of upwards of 100 people, often selling out well in advance. We believe that Bevis Marks can be a second home for many of London’s Jews. In fact, over 150 people attended our megillah reading on Purim evening, while in the recent past attendance was more around 50.
The winter months also saw the launch of a monthly history series. The series looked at the fateful meeting between Oliver Cromwell and Manasseh ben Israel in 1655-56, and the events surrounding the readmission of Jews to England. It was a very successful series, and so for the summer we are running a three-part series which looks at the years from 1656-1701, tracing the growth of Anglo Jewry to the building of Bevis Marks.
Our morning minyan also continued to pick up. Attendance in the fall ranged from 7-12 men each morning, though in the winter we saw an uptick to 9-14. What that means is that any morning when a man shows up who doesn’t usually attend, we are guaranteed to make minyan. I do hope that the summer will see the final surge which will ensure we never miss a minyan again. We pray each morning at 7:15, and on Sundays at 8:00, always followed by an English breakfast and some words of Torah. Who can say no to that?
As we turn to summer, I turn my attention to strengthening our shabbat mornings. Our Friday nights continue their strong showing, often attracting ‘young professionals’ and visitors, with our regular post-service kiddush and meals. I’ve now identified 50 young people living in the general area of Bevis. I look forward to connecting them with the core Shabbat morning members of Bevis, as well as reconnecting those with roots in Bevis as part of our ‘Back to Bevis’ initiative. We are also working on ways (food, hotels, tours, etc) to better facilitate the ease with which visitors can spend Shabbat at Bevis and enjoy its mesmerising and historic services. Last but not least, we’ve also started a weekly Shabbat afternoon class, which culminates with Arbit and Habdalah.
The summer promises lots of excitement and ever more new initiatives at Bevis, especially as we utilise our charming hidden outdoor courtyard. There are so many ways in which we are looking to grow that I sometimes need to prioritise and focus myself. Still, I’m hopeful that we will soon roll out several new ventures that will further strengthen Bevis Marks as a fully functioning synagogue, able to enrich the lives of Anglo-Jewry throughout the week and Shabbat. Along those lines. we are now submitting an application for lottery funding to further develop the visitor experience at Bevis, which will include better access, and archival display.
We welcome new members and those that would like to support what we are trying to accomplish at Bevis and for Anglo/World Jewry. Please become a part of the great history of Bevis Marks as we build our future. We hope you will consider membership, or become a ‘friend’ of Bevis Marks. Information on the various membership levels can be found on our website, or you may contact me for more details. Most importantly, please continue to join us and keep up to date with all that is happening at England’s founding synagogue. Like us on Facebook (we’ve surpassed 500!), sign up for our emails, and regularly check our website for upcoming events. We are having a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing you soon at Bevis Marks Synagogue!