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    End of an era at Bayswater

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in The Jewish Chronicle (London) on 28 December, 1984.

    The former Bayswater Synagogue

    My five years of ministry at Bayswater — on its original Chichester Place site — brought me unresistingly under its spell. It is not that the building was so big or magnificent. It was a modest edifice that, even in its heyday, lacked the ornate opulence of its daughter, the New West End.

    But for all its physical modesty it was beautifully proportioned and it had a mellow historic charm that transported one’s mind’s eye to the mid-Victorian age.

    One had no difficulty in seeing the silk-hatted gentry entering sedately to hear services conducted by the “melodious and impressive” Isaac Samuel and the “harmonious and impressive” Raphael Harris, and to be instructed and inspired by the legendary Hermann Adler.

    Bayswater, and before it Great Portland Street, was the outcome of a long struggle between the City synagogues and the Jewish residents of the West End. So Jewish an area was the West End that one JM of Bayswater wrote to the “JC” in February, 1863: “The Jewish community is steadily and constantly increasing in this part of the modern Babylon. Yet we are without a Jewish butcher.

    “It is very inconvenient to send into the City; and it constrains some, perhaps involuntarily, to purchase their meat off Christians. Why does not some enterprising East-ender open a branch in Bayswater?”

    Those who knew Chichester Place in more recent times will find it hard to credit that the site chosen for the synagogue was in a fashionable area. A United Synagogue report of 1873 states: “The locality in which that synagogue is situated contains but an infinitesimal percentage of poor, and the class of houses in the district is of a much higher character than is that of houses contiguous to any other constituent synagogue.”

    The original membership list contained name after name of prestige in the councils of the community — Asher, Benjamin, Cohen, Franklin, Goldsmid, Jacobs, Jessel, Lucas, Montagu, Moses, Myers, Phillips, Rothschild, Samuel.

    The structure of communal organisation was still in its infancy, and Hermann Adler’s sermons, as his successor, Hermann Gollancz said, “frequently set in motion some of those new departures in communal action which have now become hallowed by time and usefulness.”

    It was also the period at which the English “establishment” form of Judaism was being moulded and when the power of the pulpit was reaching its height under the influence of Nathan Marcus Adler, the father (or grandfather) of the Anglo-Jewish pattern of preaching.

    At Bayswater the ways of the historic Great Synagogue were followed and enhanced and, indeed, maintained longer than in almost any other congregation.

    The pulpit achieved giant stature during the long decades when Adler and Gollancz were the preachers, and its traditions were the inspiration of later ministers ranging from Gollop, Levin, Levy, Black, Super and Gold to myself when young. Samuel and Harris at the reading desk imparted a dignity to worship which their successors — who included Klein and Bryll — happily enhanced.

    In the late 1870s Samuel Montagu (the first Swaythling) was the leading figure in a communal controversy which ended in the establishment, nearer Hyde Park, of the New West End Synagogue. This affected Basywater, but not disastrously, and Bayswater’s glory was maintained until about the end of the Edwardian era.

    With the increasing difficulty that the local worthies were experiencing in keeping up the large town houses around the synagogue, families moved out and the fashionability of the area declined. Many of the old families retained a Bayswater attachment, but often it was not much more than
    sentimental.

    In time, the synagogue found itself battling bravely in an unfriendly environment which, by the congregation’s centenary in 1963, abounded in decaying slums and boarded-up derelicts.

    Yet, with all this, it was amazing how often a fresh burst of congregational energy attracted new people and created new life. The paradox of the first two post-Second World War decades was that such an old building in such an old neighbourhood could be so busy and so effective in running educational, social and cultural programs.

    The fighting champion of Bayswater was Harold Aron, who, when Chichester Place had to be vacated in the 1960s to allow for a GLC redevelopment scheme, battled the United Synagogue in court for the right to reinstate the synagogue somewhere else.

    The new synagogue in Andover Place, Maida Vale, opened its doors in 1972. Twelve years later it, too, is doomed; the rabbinic adage — “a change of place brings a change of fortune” — must have been too difficult.

    The final service will fill the building with the congregation of the present and congregants who have moved elsewhere, but retain the Bayswater bond — all mingling in the haze of memory with long-gone ancestors of bygone generations, “shadowy shapes,” as Goethe puts it, “whom once I saw clearly and distinctly in the flesh.”

    Bayswaster may, alas, go and its congregation be dispersed, but in the hearts of so many of us its name will still evoke the thought of timeless traditions that will remain an undying inspiration.

    * See also: Valedictory sermon – Bayswater Synagogue

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