Werner M. Lash
(Published in the Synagogue magazine, Malka, in 1972)
True to the pattern of our chequered history, sadness is always followed by joy, destruction by reconstruction, extermination by renaissance and persecution by salvation.
When one reviews the history of those first Jews to come to Welwyn Garden City, one can observe that this pattern has been faithfully maintained and repeated.
Whilst on the Continent a mad-man raved and shook his fists against the Jewish people, slaughtering millions, some of us by the Grace of God survived. Twenty four of those survivors, many of them just released from concentration camp, arrived on a January night in 1939 outside a house in Applecroft Road to be greeted by members of the Applecroft Refugee Committee, a private group of people of whom only one was a Jew.
Apart from a hot meal being provided, warm words of welcome were spoken by the Chairman of the Committee, the late Captain E. Reiss and by the man who worked hardest to collect the group from the inferno – William van Leer.
When recalling those days it behoves us to remember these men and the hundreds of local residents who, by their financial contributions and their immeasurable kindness, helped us not only to live again but to renew our faith in humanity. The welcome splashed across the front page of the “Welwyn Times” acted as wonderful medicine for sick minds.
It is, perhaps, interesting to recall that those actions of human kindness, transcending religious differences and overcoming linguistic barriers, were directly responsible for the establishment of the Welwyn Garden City Jewish Community about which more will be said in future editions.
Soon the clouds of war gathered to initiate the inferno which, to most of us, will remain an unforgettable memory. With the beginning of the war, evacuation from London began. Fortunately, for us, Welwyn Garden City was declared a Reception Area.
With the official evacuation came Skinners School from North London, with many Jewish girls, and they in turn, encouraged parents and relatives to leave the bombarded metropolis for the tranquil, beautiful and compact Garden City with only 15,000 people.
Newcomers, in spite of other pre-occupations, soon discovered the absence of any Jewish religious and social activities and it was late in 1940 when a meeting of Jewish residents was called one Sunday through an advertisement in the “Welwyn Times”. Nobody knew exactly how many Jews lived in the town, less still how many would be interested in identifying themselves and being organised into a Community.
To everybody’s surprise, that Sunday afternoon the Lawrence Hall in Applecroft Road held a capacity crowd. As at all good Jewish meetings, arguments were interminable as to whether the congregation should be affiliated to Reform or United Synagogue, whether one should and could hire a permanent hall for Saturday Services or whether Friday night Services should be attempted and – worst of all – whether such a hall (even before it was available) should be sought on the East or West Side of the Town.
Finally, the organisers realised that the Garden City had more Dramatic Societies, Youth Clubs and denominational activities than halls. The Galuth was re-enacted here, with Services held at one time or another in every single hall in the town.
To find a meeting place for Saturday mornings was comparatively easy, thanks to the tremendous help and understanding we received from the Society of Friends. To find a place for Friday evenings was less easy, but when the Yamim Neraim fell on Sundays, the task was almost impossible. So much so, that one Rosh Hashanah the first day, a Saturday, was celebrated at the Friends Meeting House, and on the following day, the Chairman and Secretary could be seen in the streets carrying a Sefer Torah to the Parkway Restaurant!
Thinking back over 30 years, it is not always advisable to mention individuals for fear of omissions, but there are a few names which this Community should not forget. Our first chairman, was the late Mr. H. Spiers, an ex-warden of Cricklewood Synagogue. Our treasurer for a number of years was the late Mr. M. Kleeman who was imbued with a great sense of Jewishness and generosity. There was also the local “doc”, the late Dr. K. S. Richard, enthusiastic and beloved by all.
The spiritual leadership was given by Dr. K. Lewin who as an ordained Rabbi and himself a Refugee from Germany took up his appointment after having served as warden of a Refugee Childrens’ Hostel at Sherrards, Welwyn. Dr. Lewin was a power of strength who, right from the inception of the Community decided not to rest on his rabbinical laurels. He visited most people regularly, canvassed for new members, organised religious withdrawal classes from all local schools, collected weekly contributions and conducted Services with great efficiency and dignity right through the war years.
The Congregation branched out into various activities and committees. We brought into existence a very strong JNF committee under the untiring direction of Mr. Harry Shine who devoted all his life to Israel. He is now residing there and has a synagogue in Jerusalem named after him.
Chanukah and Purim parties, prize distributions and Third Sedarim were organised annually and attracted large numbers of parents and children. One remembers packed houses at Public Meetings in the Guessens Court Hotel with Mr. A. L. Easterman of the World Jewish Congress and at the CherryTree with Sir Wyndham Deedes, where considerable amounts of money were collected for Israel, as well as at Dances held at the Cherry ‘Tree Ballroom packed to capacity.
Shiurim were given in private houses and Hebrew Classes were started, all run by our own members voluntarily, who then numbered 120 families, living in the Garden City.
One lived the words of the prayer “KOL YISRAEL CHAVERIM” (all Jews are friends). Anyone joining or visiting us for our many functions became immediately aware of this spirit of friendship, which is known to this day.
The fighting finally ended but not without taking its toll locally. One of the refugees from Germany, Mr. H. Sternheim, joined the British Army and was killed in action in Burma. It was only after the end of the war that other refugees received official confirmation of the tragic deaths of many of our near and dear ones.
With the end of hostilities, many of our friends started the trek back to the Metropolis, where Jewish life began in new centres and so, the once formidable membership of 120 families dwindled to about thirty.
It was then that those who remained. realised that there were only two alternatives left to the Community – either to close down or to make a heroic effort to start again – this time with an eye to the future. Hence my title “And if not now, when?”.
To many it seemed either foolhardy or at best unrealistic to think of erecting a synagogue, however modest, at a time when membership was at its lowest. But such men as the late Mr. L. Hamburger, Mr. L. Simmonds, Mr. W. Strauss, and, a few others would not be deterred. Mr. Simmonds, then Chairman of the Community worked day and night to raise monies. In this he was helped by a handsome contribution from Mrs. Kleeman in memory of her late husband and bythe generosity of the late Mr. S. Lichtigfeld. A grant of 10% of the building costs was received from the United Restitution Office in recognition of the Community having been made up largely of ex-refugees and the United Synagogue promised a 50% loan in order to prove their concern for small communities.
Hand in hand with such efforts, negotiations with the local Council, the Development Corporation and the Council of Churches were conducted by Dr. A. Cohen as Chairman and the writer as Secretary of the appropriate sub-committee.
As it would have been impracticable to appoint a Jewish architect from London, we were recommended to approach the late C. W. Fox who proved a most fortunate choice. He entered into the spirit of the concept, making several visits to London Synagogues in order to get the right atmosphere, without impeding the use of the building for social purposes. It is perhaps interesting to record that the Ark, reminding us of the floating tabernacle in the wilderness, is meant to show no visible support.
Once the site was marked out, it became a focal point of weekly pilgrimage for almost all members. Bricks laid during the week were counted, progress was charted and the inevitable “Eytzes” were supplied freely. Soon we reached the stage where details of the Foundation Stone ceremony had to be discussed. Who should be honoured with performing the actual ceremony? Which Rabbi would come out here to officiate? Where should and could a reception be held?
MAH TOVU OHALECHA YAAKOV
Having fixed the date for laying the Foundation Stone, for 25th May 1955, the choice of the person to be honoured was an easy one. Mr. S. Lichtigfeld was the obvious and unanimous one. He was a Warden and a man of great generosity. He was orthodox and, with his two sons, a regular “shoolgoer”. Rabbi H. Rabinowitz of the Dollis Hill Synagogue, who had been Minister in St. Albans and was well known to the community, graciously undertook to officiate, together with our Rev. J. Kaufmann. Impressive invitations were printed and sent out to all past and present members.
The day eventually arrived when we assembled on what looked like a ruin – a rough concrete floor with a few walls reaching to a height of some three feet. Not very impressive, you might say. But to those who had toiled and racked their brains to produce this, it was like being at the Western Wall, we could, of course, have waited a few more weeks so that our visitors could have gained a better impression of our Holy Place, but the impatience and excitement became unbearable. It had to be the 25th May and not a single day later!
Although we were small in numbers, we wanted to show how such an event should be celebrated. We welcomed among many old friends, the Chairman of the U.D.C. and Mr. R. Gosling, the Chairman of the Development Corporation, who had been a great help to us throughout the negotiations. We were also pleased to have with us Mr. A. H. Silverman, the then Secretary of the United Synagogue and a number of other dignitaries.
The event was divided into three parts. Firstly, there was a short prayer and the Foundation Stone, forever taking a place of honour in the Synagogue, was well and truly laid.
Secondly, when that mitzvah had been performed, ,we went across to the Barn Theatre where a Mincha service was recited. In the Drashah, Rabbi Dr. Rabinowitz, thanked the Almighty. for having provided such a small community with the foresight, courage, generosity and recognition of its primary religious duties to establish this edifice to the glorification of God.
After the religious part of the Foundation Stone laying ceremony, transport was arranged for some 150 people to proceed to the gymnasium of Sherrardswood School, where a London caterer provided tea. The community was honoured in a number of speeches and it was gratifying to hear from the Chairman of the U.D.C. and the Social Administrator of the Development Corporation in what high esteem individual members of the community were held and to know that prejudice was non-existent here.
Such an attitude was largely due to the unwritten law we had right from the start, that in such a small community our duties should be two-fold; firstly, we wanted to incorporate into our kehillah all Jews, irrespective of their nuances and to form as broad a basis as possible to allow everyone to contribute to our communal life in his or her particular field. Secondly, we wanted to look outwards and to integrate (but not to assimilate) fully in the life of the wider community. Our contacts with the Society of Friends are, of course, well known and remembered. We also had representatives on the Save The Children Fund, the Community Trust and the Standing Conference of Women’s Organisations. We gave talks to almost all Church groups and Youth Clubs and the then famous Youth Club “The Ring” had a Jewish Chairman at one time.
And so the praises showered :upon us on this first public showing of the community were well deserved – even if we say so ourselves! The ceremony was an outstanding success and proved a forerunner to several major functions celebrating high spots in the life of our kehillah.
The foundation stone laid, we few thought we could now take a breather and recover from our efforts, but no such luck! We were determined to have our Synagogue ready for the Yomim Neroim, an absolutely mad notion! Who ever heard of building being completed in four months.
It is one thing to have an architect and a builder designing and putting up four walls but another matter to fill a building with the necessary detail to make it a home.
It was left to us to find a cabinet maker to construct the Ark in the time available. The lamp shades for the hall and classrooms were collected from Stevenage and the light fittings on either side of the Ark were chosen and fitted on the day before the opening. The curtains were made up by Mrs. Pollak and the various fittings for the kitchen and cloakrooms were either bought or made by members of the Community. Don’t forget, the ‘Machers’ in those days at that time were ‘Yekkes’ which meant that everything, but everything, had to be ready on the appointed day.
At every meeting we discovered that something else was required for which we had not budgeted. This meant that more money was needed, all of which was somehow found. Although mentioned previously, the names of those who made the greatest efforts, Mr. Simmonds, Mr. Hamburger and Mr. Strauss, should never be forgotten. They preached and quoted from the well-known song ‘Uchsheani atzmi mah li?’ (If I am concerned only with myself, what am I?). Fired with their enthusiasm, people from far and wide listened and responded with open hearts. Brochures, brick-selling raffles, tea afternoons, every method was employed to raise the necessary funds.
To make absolutely certain that everything would be ship-shape for the Yomim Neroim, we fixed the day on which we would hold our first service in our new home for the third of September 1955. The doors were opened by the late Mr. H. Rosenbaum, a Warden of the Synagogue, and for those of us who had dreamed of this day for fifteen years, and who for the past twelve months had toiled so hard, this was the most moving moment in the history of this remarkable Community. To have a spiritual home again, to be independent of others, however helpful, and to be able to fix functions without depending on the availability of premises, was as if the Meshiach had already arrived.
A quotation from Psalm 122 inscribed in our Golden Book gives expression to our feelings –
I was glad when they said unto me
Let us go into the House of the Lord.
As previously mentioned, we fixed the Opening of the Synagogue for the 3rd September, 1955. This was not a haphazard choice being the anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities 16 years before.
Guided by the famous motto : PER ARDUA AD ASTRA (Through difficulties to the stars) and, having just lived through a nightmare which nearly wiped our people from the face of the earth, we wanted to demonstrate symbolically that the remnants of our people had not lost faith in the Almighty. We were anxious to create a centre where we could gather as Jews.
Having already related the efforts made in the collection of funds, it is befitting at this stage to record the tremendous amount of organisation and preparation which went on behind the scenes. This was almost entirely directed and carried through by Mr. Achim Pollak, our untiring Secretary for many years who, because of his vast energy combined with great administrative ability, proved a tower of strength.
The Opening, though a tremendous achievement did not mark the end of our members’ involvement, nor did we consider this event finality in itself. Knowing that a House of God required sanctification, we decided to hold a proper Consecration Ceremony.
In spite of our feeling of success, we questioned whether we were sufficiently strong – spiritually and materially – to consecrate our building so soon after its opening. Our members’ answer was affirmative.
And so, the 1st January, 1956, which coincided with the beginning of the Tercentenary Celebrations of Anglo-Jewry, was chosen as the date for the Solemn Consecration, a full description of which will appear in the next issue.
Prior to relating details of the Consecration ceremony, it is befitting that, in the framework of such reminiscences, MALKA should record the various gifts from our members which have largely contributed to make our synagogue the showplace it is :
The Readers Desk – Dr. K. S. Richard
The Eternal Light – Dr. E. Jacobs
One Silver Pointer – Mrs. I. & Mrs. U. Michaelis
Ten Commandments – Mr. & Mrs. M. Dias
The Magen David – Mr. & Mrs. M. Dias
Silver Breast Plate & Bells – Mr. Julius Kaufmann
The Menorah – Mrs. L. Sacki
One Silver Pointer – Mr. E. Michaelis
The Parochet – Mr. & Mrs. A. Pollak
Two Wardens Chairs – Mr. & Mrs. S. Lichtigfeld
Sefer Torah Mantles – Mrs. I. Richard, Mrs. B. Kaufmann, Mr. Sinai & Mrs. Gina Lichtigfeld, Mr. & Mrs. L. Simmonds
Cupboards & Bookcases – Mr. & Mrs. B. Feldman
Electric Clock – Mr. & Mrs. D. Gluckstein
One set of Parochet – Mr. & Mrs. L. Platman
Sefer Torah Appurtenances – Mr. & Mrs. R. Kober
Readers Desk Cover – Mr. & Mrs. E. Lewis
Prior to relating details of the Consecration ceremony, it is befitting that, in the framework of such reminiscences, MALKA should record the various gifts from our members which have largely The List speaks for itself. The generosity of those members together with a number of our friends who made handsome, monetary contributions is well worth recording.
It is not too late to say “SHEKOACH” again.
“Mizmor shir chanucath habayith”. Psalm 30
(A song of the Dedication of the House)
I think it is quite fair to suggest that the Consecration of our Synagogue which took place on the 1st January, 1955 imposed on our small community a gigantic task which really gave expression to the immeasurable fervour and pride of its members in their achievements.
There are many memories which come pushing in upon those who were part of this endeavour. Firstly, the date hailed the beginning of Anglo-Jewry’s Tercentenary celebrations and we contributed to the event by consecrating yet another Synagogue in a free and tolerant country. Secondly, in the choice of our honoured guests we could not have aimed higher. We had the courage to invite the then Chief Rabbi, Sir Israel and Lady Brodie, and we were pleasantly, surprised at their gracious acceptance. Our other joint guest of honour was Col. Castellanos and his wife. The Colonel was then the San Salvadorian Ambassador to Britain – but during the holocaust he had helped several thousands of Jews to escape the furnaces of Auschwitz by providing them with exit visas to his country. As our community at that time was founded and largely maintained by ex-refugees, Col. Castellanos’ presence was especially welcomed.
A brochure had been printed in which the community expressed its thanks to the Almighty for the benefits bestowed on its individual members and the Kehillah as a whole. The brochure contained messages of goodwill from the President of the Board of Deputies, the Hon. Officers of the United Synagogue, the Chairmen of the W.G.C. Urban District Council and the Development Corporation.
When the day arrived, a glittering array of notables, both Jewish and non-Jewish assembled and were greeted by members of the Board attired in top hat and morning suit. The Synagogue was festooned with flowers and the side-doors had to be opened to allow all our friends to participate in the Services which were conducted by the Chief Rabbi. His theme was the achievement of Anglo-Jewry during the past three centuries culminating in the successful and very often courageous establishment of new centres in small towns like Welwyn Garden City. Rev. Kaufmann gave as usual of his best. Members of the Jewish Male Voice Choir helped to make. the Service even more impressive. At the conclusion of the Service, the clergy and the members of the Board unveiled the board commemorating the presence of the Chief Rabbi and the official consecration.
I have no doubt at all that members who joined the Synagogue since that day – and even outsiders – can only express admiration for the foresight of those Habonim many of whom are no longer with us.
Crowning glory was given to this Community when, two days later in the Chief Rabbi’s broadcast celebrating the Tercentenary, he specifically referred to the Welwyn Garden City Jewish Community as living proof for the confidence of Anglo-Jewry in the tolerance of this noble country towards her Jewish subjects.
All of us were filled with a tremendous feeling of pride and humility and once again “Shehecheyanuh” was the appropriate blessing.
The great secret of keeping a small community alive is to expect from its members continuous efforts towards the achievements of its aims.
It is unfortunately not possible to convey in these notes adequately the split that prevailed here some twenty-five years ago.
All of us realised that the almost impossible had been achieved, yet many strived for perfection. It took considerable time, money and effort to embellish the building; to install efficient heating necessitated many committee meetings; we debated endlessly whether the name “Hebrew Congregation” should be shown on the outside; was it necessary to invest in a shed; could we afford to build a Succah? Apart from these material items we were forever anxious to improve education and amenities for our children,
The time arrived soon when our ex-refugee members wanted to express their gratitude for their salvation and it was decided to install stained -glass windows in close proximity to the Aron Hakodesh, thus beautifying the Synagogue and at the same time exhorting future generations not to forget the loss sustained by our people during the Nazi persecution.
In November 1957, we followed the pattern of the Consecration. We invited the late Dayan Steinberg, who had also escaped from the continent and Lord Strabolgi, a great friend of the Jewish people, together with Messrs. S. R. Collingwood and. R. S. Gosling, respective Chairmen of the Council and the Development Corporation. And on this occasion again, we gathered a most remarkable bevy of dignitaries from all walks of life to demonstrate our feelings. The Vice President of the Board of Deputies, B. B Liebermann and Dr. W. Rosenstock, the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees addressed the meeting.
Other organisations would have been physically and materially exhausted but not us! We wore looking for yet another opportunity to show our Community at its best and we decided to celebrate our Twenty First Anniversary in January 1960, not simply by a Service of Dedication and Thanksgiving and a reception. Having felt for some time we were getting short of space for classes, committee meetings and the activities of the Ladies Guild, our friend Louis Simmonds, – by then an emigree – encouraged us to extend the building by what has rightly become known as the “Louis Simmonds Room” in grateful acknowledgement of his services to our Community. The necessary money was collected somehow and almost exactly four years after our consecration, we were again assembled en masse praying, giving thanks and enjoying the fruits of our labour.
You may not believe it, yet another Dayan, this time Dayan Lew, came and our guest of honour was none other than the late Sidney Silverman, M.P. Again we were honoured by the Chairmen of the Council and the Development Corporation, Messrs. J. McKnight and P. Maynard together with representatives from the St. Albans and Luton Congregations with whom we worked in close contact. A reception with congratulary speeches was held at the Applecroft School which concluded a very pleasant and successful afternoon.
Our Golden Book containing the names of some thirty Barmitzvah boys is worth browsing through, particularly by newcomers. A number of these “boys” are, I am happy to say, married men, many are successful in business and the professions, a few living in Israel, one in South Africa, yet two more have become proud fathers.
In 1960/61 we celebrated six Batmitzvaoth which, I feel sure, the young ladies, three of whom are married, will always remember with pleasure.
We have a yiddish saying “Auf Simches” and it is in that connotation that I would like to record two more celebrations.
The first was the 25th Anniversary on which Dayan Steinberg made a welcome return visit when our Guest of Honour was the Cultural Attache of the Israeli Embassy. On that occasion, the Community felt it necessary to combine this function with a farewell presentation to my wife and myself in the form of a beautiful Psomim-box and a silver dish which remind us weekly anew of the pleasant times we enjoyed living among good friends in the Garden City. To us the twenty-five years was time well and satisfyingly spent for which we cannot thank too much the community as a whole.
Having said that, I can no longer claim to be an authority on the Welwyn Garden City Congregation.
Yet there was that occasion on which we returned and to which reference must be made and which, in a way amounted to a Re-Consecration. I refer of course to the Golden Wedding celebration of our dear Rev. J. Kaufmann and his late wife at which the community excelled itself. True, anything one did could only be regarded as an infinitesimal recognition of what these two noble people created here. But one must also place on record that, as always, this community of ours was not found wanting. The preparations, speeches and presentations showed once again what can be done provided the cause is a worthy one and its members combine in amity to perform a worthwhile task.
And so I conclude with two thoughts in my mind :
To live and participate actively in the life of a small community can be as rewarding, if not more, than that in the great metropolis with all its apparent benefits.
And secondly it behoves us all to be humble and thank the Almighty for the opportunity of making our small contribution towards the formation and maintenance of a truly “Jewish Community”.
Max L. Dias
(Malka, Volume 2, Issue No. 6 – March 1973)
During the past year we have been intrigued and entertained by the articles covering the beginnings of the Welwyn Garden City Hebrew Congregation. Perhaps we should ponder on the background of our able Chronicler, Werner Lash, who himself played such an important part in the establishment of our Synagogue, but who, modestly, omitted to mention it.
Werner arrived in Welwyn Garden City in 1939, a young man who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. He soon settled down and busied himself in communal affairs – not just of the Jewish Community, but those also of Welwyn Garden City. For many years he was Secretary of the Community Trust and as such was associated with a number of social and charitable projects in the Town. It was largely due to his work in this capacity that the good relationship between local Jewry and the population was established.
Werner was Chairman of the Board of Management for more than twelve years and it was during his period of Chairmanship that the Synagogue opened in 1956 and the Louis Simmonds room was added and inaugurated.
Behind every great man there. is a woman and this case is no exception. His wife Lotte was a diligent member of the Ladies’ Guild and ably controlled the decorum of the ‘ladies gallery’ during the High Holy day services.
Their children Anthony and Judy were born and brought up within the Community and many of us remember that Shabbat Bereshit when Anthony became Barmitzvah. Judy was married last year and went to live in the U.S.A. where she is reading for a degree and also writing for a local newspaper in Seattle. Anthony, always an able Shamash at our services, now lives in Israel and is engaged to be married to an Israeli.
It was with some sadness that we bade farewell to the Lash family when they moved to Kingsbury in 1964 but it was appropriate that this happened during the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Community which coincided with the Silver Wedding of Lotte and Werner. We were able to endorse our gratitude to a couple who have served us so well. Werner was made an Honorary Vice-President of the Congregation and since that time has represented us on the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Werner became a member of the Kingsbury Synagogue and it was not long before his organising ability and willingness to work were recognised. He was made treasurer of the Community and subsequently Warden.
Welwyn Garden City is still his place of employment, he is always concerned with the wellbeing of our Synagogue and its members and ready with advice and help whenever it is required.
He richly deserves ASHEKOACH from us all.
IN PRAISE OF OUR SYNAGOGUE
(Malka, Volume 9, Issue No. 1 – October 1979)
A few days ago I brought some Israeli friends to look at our “shul”. They were simply delighted and much as I love it, I saw it again with new eyes.
The grounds are beautifully kept. I don’t know whether one of the members is responsible, if so, he deserves the thanks of the congregation and I send him mine as make-weight.
Even before we planned a synagogue I used to look with admiration, touched with a little envy, at the Friends Meeting House giving out an air of serenity and peace in a beautiful setting. When it came to agreeing on a site we were offered several and I absolutely refused to contemplate any other but its present one. On one point I was frustrated, we were offered the ground which now includes the houses at the back but the cost of the lot, freehold, was £500 (we were treated with remarkable generosity) but we were desperately scraping around for money and it was decided against my wishes to settle for a half-plot for £250. With hindsight, I am glad I was beaten down. There are times in the past when an area of that size. would have deteriorated to a jungle.
Now it has blended into a harmonious whole with its surroundings, in a way keeping itself apart from the eyesore of the Barn Theatre and I am certain is in the pleasantest setting of any “shul” in the country. Most of them are set in a bed of concrete with a few decrepit, miserable looking shrubs and trees around that are constantly being mangled by the young members of the Hebrew classes.
It is so many years since a tiny group of us, representing in all a – membership of 25 families, had the chutzpah to set out to build our own home. We were told it was unheard of, impossible, we must be mad to think we could ever achieve it or really need it, or continue to maintain itself, and whenever I come to see you I am still thrilled with pleasure to see a congregation holding together, in spite of inevitable problems, and giving its children guidance, a sense of continuity, a pride in their Judaism and encouraging them to develop a sense of leadership and responsibility.
That is what it is all about and I wish you all well for the future.
WERNER M. LASH – AN OBITUARY
Max L. Dias
(Malka, Volume 12, Issue No. 1 – October 1982)
On Saturday evening 11th September, 1982, Werner Max Lash was killed in a car accident a few yards away from his home. His wife Lotte who was sitting beside him escaped with superficial injuries.
Werner came to Welwyn Garden City in 1939 as part of a group rescued from Nazi Germany by the combined efforts of a Dutch Jew, Mr Van Leer and the Quakers of this town. The group which formed the nucleus of our Jewish Community were housed in Handside Lane, found jobs and settled down as Welwyn Garden Citizens. They worshipped in various local buildings but principally in the Friends Meeting House thereby further enjoying the hospitality of the Quakers.
Werner soon proved his natural organising ability and his gift as a speaker becoming Chairman of the Congregation. He was always anxious to project the image of Jews as full members of the wider community. He became Secretary of the Welwyn Garden Community Trust and became involved in the local political scene to the extent of being invited both to join the Council and to stand for Parliament, both invitations which he declined. He spoke to many local groups on the subject of Judaism and the Synagogue.
In 1956 after much hard work on his part and that of many others, Louis Simmonds in particular, the Synagogue was completed and then consecrated by the then Chief Rabbi, Dr. Brodie. The Congregation was thus established and Werner remained Chairman until he left the town in 1964 to live in Kingsbury.
Werner’s dedication to work for others blossomed in London where he soon became a Warden of his Synagogue and National Treasurer and finally President of B’nai B’rith. At the time of his death he was engaged in a special activity on behalf of that organisation. His sincere belief that B’nai B’rith should become more involved with the secular community was to have found expression in the presentation of an award for humanity later on this year at a nationally supported function.
Whilst he was with us in Welwyn Garden City, he organised the memorial service to dedicate our Windows commemorating victims of the Holocaust where the name of his own Mother appears amongst those relatives of so many of our founder members.
I am sad to reflect that so many of our present members will not have known him and would not be aware of his contribution to the status of the Jews in this Town. In the near future your Board of Management will need to consider a lasting memorial to his name that will associate him with this Community for as long as it exists and I hope it will be strongly supported. In the meantime, the present standing of the Congregation, the Synagogue and the continuation of the Services are themselves a fitting memorial to a much loved and respected humanitarian.
We who knew and loved him share the deep loss felt by Lottie, Anthony and Judy and this Community conveys its sincere condolences to them.