The First 40 Years
HISTORY OF THE WELWYN GARDEN CITY JEWISH COMMUNITY
The Community was founded in January 1939 when a group of Jewish Refugees from German concentration camps arrived in Welwyn Garden City under the auspices of a Committee of the Society of Friends led by the late R. L. Reiss.
In April of that year, Dr. D. Lewin, the Warden of the Sherrards Refugee Centre undertook the organisation of Religious Services.
In November a meeting was held at Lawrence Hall when the Welwyn Garden City Jewish Community was formally established under the Chairmanship of H. Spiers.
From 1939 until September 1955, services and religion classes were held in various venues, the most frequently used being the Friends’ Meeting House.
In 1949 a building fund was started by Mrs. L. Kleeman in memory of her husband Max who for a number of years was Honorary Treasurer of the Community. The main hall in the Synagogue is named the Max Kleeman Room in his honour.
In 1950, despite the membership of the Community dropping from a wartime level of 100 families to only 30, negotiations for a building site were started by Dr. Alan Cohen, Werner Lash and Louis Simmons and the purchase of the present site of the synagogue was completed in 1953.
A local architect, C. W. Fox, was appointed the following year and building commenced in March, 1955. In May of that year the foundation stone was laid by S. Lichtigfeld, the Service being conducted by Rabbi H. Rabinowicz assisted by our Reader, Rev. J. Kaufmann.
The Synagogue was opened for the first service by H. Rosen on the 3rd September, 1955 and on the 11th of that month the first marriage was solemnized. In this year, corresponding to the year 5716 in the Hebrew Calendar, the first High Holyday Services were celebrated by the Community in its own home.
The Synagogue was formally opened by Werner Lash, and consecrated by the Chief Rabbi, the Very Rev. Rabbi Dr. Israel Brodie on the 1st January, 1956 (17th Teveth 5716), in the presence of H. E. Col. J. A. Castellanos, Minister-Plenipotentiary and Envoy-Extraordinary to the Republic of El Salvador.
The first Bar Mitzvah in the Synagogue took place on the 7th January 1956 when Michael Feldman celebrated his religious majority.
On the 17th November of the following year a service of consecration for the stained glass windows in memory of the victims of Nazi persecution was conducted by Dayan M. Steinberg in the presence, among others, of the Chairman of the Council, Cllr. S. R. Collingwood, the Chairman of the Development Corporation R. G. Gosling, and Lord Strabolgi.
In order to maintain the standard of religious education, it became necessary to provide additional teaching space and with the encouragement and leadership of Louis Simmons, a further classroom was added. To mark the Community’s appreciation of the untiring support of one of its founder members, it was named the Louis Simmons Room. The consecration of the classroom coincided with the 21st Anniversary of the Community, both events being celebrated on the 31st January, 1960 (2nd Shevat 5720).
The Silver Jubilee of the Community was marked by a Service held on the 11th October 1964 (5th Cheshvan 5725). Among those present were Dayan M. Steinberg and S. Avizemer, the Israeli Consul, Messages of congratulation were received from the Chief Rabbi, the Very Rev. Rabbi Dr. Israel Brodie; the Chairman of the Council, Cllr. A, E. Page; the Chairman of the Development Corporation, C. Gordon Maynard, and Sir Keith Joseph, Bart.
The next milestone in the life of the Community was the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the consecration of the Synagogue which took place on the 18th May 1975 in the presence of Mrs. Helene Hayman, M.P.
The Community has now been in existence for over forty years, for twenty-five of which we have had our own home providing a focal point for our activities. Since the retirement of the Reverend Jacob Kaufmann in 1968, the Community has been unable to support a Minister and we are fortunate in having the services as Lay Reader of Jack Harris, assisted on occasions by Max Dias and his son Stephen.
The present membership is approximately 70 families.
Services are held every Saturday morning and on the High Holydays.
Religious classes take place every Sunday morning.
Social and cultural activities are arranged several times a year by the Ladies of the Community.
The Community stretches from Hitchin in the North to Hatfield in the South, and from Hertford in the East to St. Albans in the West.