While Wimbledon is known worldwide for tennis and wombles, it might not be the first location that comes to mind when considering a vibrant and thriving Reform Jewish Community hub.
First formed in 1949, a group of 60 families attended services in temporary accommodation until its first permanent, purpose-built home was completed at 44 Worple Road, Wimbledon and formally dedicated on 25th May 1952 by Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck. It would be another year until the community welcomed its first permanent religious leader, Rabbi Charles Berg zl.
Along with services and simchahs, Worple Road was home to a thriving youth club and the scene of many a disco, table tennis tournament and inter-club get togethers as part of the then YASGB (Youth Association of Synagogues in Great Britain) now RSY Netzer.
As the community grew substantially in size, High Holy day services were held offsite with the number of people attending far outweighing the accommodation capability at Worple Road. Initially, these services were held in the Cyril Black Hall, moving on to the Marlborough Hall near Wimbledon Library and then on to the Town Hall. When the Town Hall made way for the Centre Court shopping centre, we moved again to a local sports hall in Morden. The cheder continued to grow and also had to be held offsite in local schools
In 1997 the synagogue made the significant decision to move from Worple Road to Athlone Hall, the site of Southlands College, at No. 1 Queensmere Road Wimbledon, which is where it remains today. With the ability to come together within our own building for all occasions, festivals and other events, plans evolved to develop the building into a modern, inviting, fit for purpose synagogue and community centre.
Developing the building into the aspirational facility the community wanted and needed took place over many years, starting with the kitchen. It is now a beautiful sanctuary which incorporates a new stained-glass window frieze by the same artist who produced the original Worple Road windows which were transferred to the current building and, an acacia wood ark handcrafted in Mozambique. The dedicated space for the thriving Cheder, installation of solar panels and substantial library complete the multifunctional and sustainable building.
Following in a long line of distinguished rabbis, the synagogue welcomed Rabbi Adrian Schell who joined from his previous community in South Africa. As Rabbi Adrian’s arrival coincided with the first Covid lockdown the ommunity was grateful for the newly installed IT system enabling services to continue on line, but also Rabbi Adrian’s warm and inclusive nature that held things together during the most difficult of times.
There are wide and varied events and regular activities spanning all age groups including: Baby & Toddler Group; on-site Nursery; Lunch and Learn; Adult Education; Book Club; and school visits. However, lockdown encouraged the community leadership to think more laterally about connecting with its broad-spectrum community. The membership covers a wide geographical area across south west London, Surrey, and beyond with an all-encompassing demographic. One of the first responses to the forced closure of the building led to the rapid installation of the state-of-the-art IT system to enable the broadcasting of, and participation in services and events via YouTube and Zoom.
In addition, Wimbledon’s care team implemented a network of volunteers delivering festival related care packages to members in need and those unable to travel to the site . This has been so well received it continues to provide this pastoral service alongside its dedicated outreach work. The Wimbledon Synagogue is also closely engaged with the wider community including supporting the local foodbank, working with other local faith communities to host the Merton Winter Night Shelter, and an active participant in several multi-faith forums such as the Council of Christians and Jews and the Faith and Belief Forum.
The following extract from its website perfectly sums up the ethos of The Wimbledon Synagogue. “The Wimbledon Synagogue is a sacred community which recognises that every individual is created “Bezelem Elohim” – in the image of God. Inspired by the tenets of Reform Judaism, we are a place of Jewish worship, learning and assembly; a gathering place to promote the spiritual and educational welfare of our members in a non-judgemental environment. Our focus is to build a caring inclusive community in the South of London, designed to welcome individuals and families of various Jewish lifestyles, family structures and needs.”
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