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Our History

It all began in November 1971, in a little house in Bushey Heath.  A few Edgware Reform Shul members had moved ‘out to the sticks’, beyond the Stanmore/Edgware kehillah.  Rabbi Michael Leigh z”l,  did not exactly chuck them out, but said that it was time to form a new community. So…

1971 – Elliott & Jeanette Lewis resigned from a Bushey synagogue when it affiliated to the United Synagogue. Elliot wrote to a number of Bushey families. 16 formed the “Bushey Heath Reform Community” in November  of that year. They paid £2 each. Eight are still members. Fortnightly Shabbat and Oneg Shabbat services started in members’ homes. The community was soon renamed “Bushey and District Reform Jewish Community”, and in Hebrew “Kehillah Kedoshah Mevakshei Emet” or “The Holy Community of Seekers of Truth”.

1972 – The first AGM took place chez Lewis with all 16 families present. [30 or so people, about the same number turn up to AGMs now!]  David de Lange z”l, a stalwart with his wife Elaine z”l , of the Reform Movement, was appointed as Chairman. The generosity of local Christians offered Bushey United Reformed Church and Church Hall for services.  The Sisters of Rosary Priory (now Immanuel College) offered their school classrooms for Cheder and their hall for High Holyday services.  Other venues included the Bushey Heath Scout Hut for the very first Rosh Hashanah services; the now demolished Bushey Hall School; Elliot Lewis’ offices in Watford, plus many members’  homes for Erev Shabbat onegim, meetings and social and cultural events.

1974 – By the time of Rolfe Roseman’s Chairmanship the community, numbered some one hundred family and single memberships, so the issue of premises and rabbi were being addressed.   A part-time appointment was accepted by Rabbi Colin Eimer, but he subsequently accepted a full-time post at Southgate Reform Synagogue.

1976 – The first 2 marriages were conducted using West London Synagogue’s portable chuppah.

1978 – Rolfe Roseman then oversaw the appointment of Rabbi Samuel Rodrigues-Pereira z”l.

1979 – When Barry Hyman succeeded to the Chair, membership had grown again.  When a redundant Church became available in Radlett, he negotiated for it for two years and received the deeds on his last day as Chairman, handing them over to his successor Michael Overlander, together with a community some 50% larger than at the start of his Chairmanship.  The community was renamed Radlett & Bushey Reform Synagogue.

1984 – Rabbi Barbara Borts was appointed Minister, becoming the first woman rabbi to hold a senior position in a UK Reform pulpit.  In her five years, growth brought the community to over 300 memberships.

1988 – Ruth Kelvin became the first woman to Chair the community and it was during her term of office that Rabbi Alexandra Wright joined us, serving from 1989 to 2003.  During her rabbinate the community grew substantially.

1995 – When Jon Young z”l was Chairman he set in train a development plan, which led to the two-storey extension behind the synagogue, designed by synagogue member Simone Bloom.

1996 – To mark the Community’s Silver Jubilee, Elaine de Lange z”l and Barry Hyman were made joint Vice Presidents.

2003 – Rabbi Wright resigned, after 13 years, to return to her spiritual home, The Liberal Synagogue, St. John’s Wood.

2004 – Helen Janes, a founder member, becomes Chairwoman. Rabbi Paul Freedman, just after receiving semicha at Leo Baeck College, became the fifth rabbi of the community.

Helen Janes was followed by David Reissner, then by Gill Burn.

2009 –  with a congregation of some 1000 adult and 500 child members, David Mitchell was appointed as Associate Rabbi, again straight after s'micha, to become at 29 one of the Movement’s youngest rabbis.

2011 – The 40th anniversary was celebrated under Robert Wiltshire’s chairmanship.  Barry Hyman was appointed as Honorary President. Rabbi David moved on to a new role at West London Synagogue. The community then appointed Rabbi Celia Surget as Associate Rabbi to work alongside Rabbi Paul.

2014 – In recognition of his 10 years at Radlett, Rabbi Paul’s title was changed to Senior Rabbi.  The community was renamed at the AGM that year and became Radlett Reform Synagogue, to reflect the huge catchment area but with the building being in Radlett. Also that year, the community appointed Co-Chairs for the first time, Barry Wise and Elizabeth Crossick.

Our Vice President, Elaine de Lange z”l, passed away in November 2014. 

2016 – Barry Wise stepped down and Elizabeth Crossick commenced her final year as Chair with membership standing at over 2,200 individuals, making Radlett the 4th largest (3rd if children are counted independently) and fastest-growing community in the Movement for Reform Judaism.

2017 – Irene Blaston becomes Chair.

2019 – Cantor Sarah Grabiner, newly-ordained and only the second UK Reform Cantor, was appointed to work alongside our two rabbis, making an enviable and dynamic clergy team of three.

2020 - The global pandemic impacted significantly and all services and activities moved online. Due to the unprecedented situation, Irene Blaston stayed on an additional year with Kathryn Michael joining her as co-chair.

2021 Kathryn Michael becomes Chair

2021 - Rabbi Celia Surget leaves for a senior position in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Student Rabbi David-Yehuda Stern appointed to start when he gains semicha in a year's time. Kathryn Michael takes over as Chair.  Cantor Sarah Grabiner leaves for a prestigious cantorial teaching post in Jerusalem.

2022 - Rabbi David-Yehuda Stern takes up post at the synagogue to work alongside Rabbi Paul.  Kathryn Michael stepped down as Chair for personal reasons and vice-chair Spencer Grant takes over as Acting-Chair.

Originally written by Barry Hyman in June 2003 / Sivan 5763 and updated since by him and others.

Sat, 25 May 2024 17 Iyar 5784