COMMUNITY IN FOCUS: Muswell Hill Synagogue
For more 100 years, there have been Jewish families in Muswell Hill with the first temporary Synagogue in the famous Athenaeum on Muswell Hill Broadway. In the 1960’s, the Athenaeum became a Sainsburys and a new modernist building was designed in Tetherdown under the work of Joseph Mendelssohn and the Rabbinic lead of Rabbi Samuel Brazil.
Now, in 2020, Muswell Hill Synagogue is a growing, flourishing and happy community. It is led by Rabbi David Mason who was brought up in Edinburgh, received 2 degrees from the LSE before moving to Israel to study to become a Rabbi. Rabbi David, as he likes to be called, returned to lead Kingston, Surbiton and District Synagogue in 2003, moving to Muswell Hill in 2008. He recently added another degree, by studying an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies at Kings College.
Rabbi David works together with Events Director Beth Franks; Youth Director Josh Brickman; Administrator Jo and Caretaking staff Vince and Juan.
Muswell Hill Synagogue prides itself on active involvement in the local community. When Rabbi David joined the community, it was an active participant in the annual Mitzvah Day campaign. But now, its projects take place all year round. it hosted an Annual Winter Night Shelter in the building itself, allowing 12 homeless individuals to have a hot meal, a place to sleep and breakfast. It supports a local Foodbank and has also worked with the United Synagogue to support its growing number of asylum shelters.
The Synagogue takes seriously its part in reducing damage to the environment and climate. It joined EcoSynagogue two years ago, and Rabbi Mason is one of the Chairs of the EcoSynagogue project. It is continuing to look at how it can deepen our contributions in this area.
It may not be the most religious community, but it is a proudly traditional one nevertheless and to a significant number of its members, synagogue services are extremely important. Pandemic permitting, there are Shabbat services, along with morning services on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Before the coronavirus pandemic, it ran a popular monthly speaker session on Shabbat called ‘Shabbat on the Hill’.
The synagogue is also probing as a community what it means to be inclusive within the bounds of Jewish Law. It has done much to enable women involvement, by having Shabbat womens services, women’s Megilla readings and more. For a number of families, having their daughter celebrate Batmitzvah at one of these services was very special.
There has been a lot of effort put into adapting to the pandemic situation, with weekly Sunday night speaker sessions called ‘Nearly Shabbat on the Hill’ as well as a group for over 60s called ‘Top of the Hill’, a Talmud class online and a Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalla online which has been so popular and helpful for the community.
It prides itself in considering how best to help members of the community in need and has recently been helping older members who find it hard to use digital technology.
The synagogue hopes to be undertaking renovations of the communal building in 2021.
With a growing membership, and a vibrant offering, this is a community in a good place.
Photo: Rabbi David Mason