“One of the fortresses of Torah, setting an example to the entire family of the United Synagogue and to Anglo-Jewry as a whole”. Thus did the late Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits describe Hendon at the induction of Rabbi Sidney Silberg in 1980. These words are as true now as when they were first uttered.
Founded in 1928 the first site of the Synagogue was in Brent Street. The plot was purchased for £2,150 and a building constructed at a cost of £1,000. It was the first purpose built Synagogue in Hendon and in 1940 was sold to Hendon Adath Synagogue which now occupies our former site. The Honorary Officers were constantly on the look out for alternative accommodation because the United Synagogue, to which Hendon had become affiliated, would not permit a permanent structure to be erected in Brent Street as it was less than one and a half miles from the Golders Green Synagogue. Eventually a derelict site known as ‘the gravel pit’ was located at Raleigh Close and the owners the trustees of All Souls College Oxford agreed to lease it to the United Synagogue for a term of 99 years at the annual rental of £100. The present Synagogue was consecrated on 15th September 1935 and cost £20,000 to erect.
The community had an exceptional body of committed lay leaders in Abraham Krichefski, Jacques Cohen and Sol Cohen who actually has a communal hall dedicated to his memory. Rev. H.I. Alexander was appointed Minister in 1937 and later that year Rev. David Koussevitsky was appointed Chazan. He was a cantor of exceptional ability and a member of the ‘royal family of Chazanim’. He remained until 1949 when he left for New York.
Membership was constantly increasing so that in 1928 the figure stood at 70 and by 1930 it had grown to 125. Ten years later it had risen to 575 and by 1948 it had almost doubled.
On 30th December 1946, Rev. Leslie Hardman was selected as Minister and remained for 34 years until his retirement in 1980. During this period the membership of the community rose to over 2,000 and Hendon became the largest and most active community in the United Synagogue. On 14th June 1964, the Community centre was opened and it hosted a Youth Club, Jewish Scout Group, B’nei Akiva, Habonim, Jewish Youth Study Group as well as numerous other activities. In March 1960 Rev. Moshe Korn was appointed Chazan and he served with distinction with Rev. Hardman until the latter’s retirement.
Raleigh Close had become a beacon for London Jewry, spritually, socially, and a major centre for Jewish youth activities. The Synagogue was actively involved in the Campaign for Soviet Jewry as well as for fundraising for Israel and Zionist activism. In 1980 Rev. Leslie Hardman retired and Rabbi Sidney Silberg was appointed as his successor.
During Rabbi Silberg’s tenure of 16 years, a Chevrah Kadisha was established as well as twice weekly shiurim. He followed the tradition of his predecessor in his pastoral care and was an outstanding community Rabbi. His efforts were officially recognised when in 1993 the Synagogue received the Chief Rabbi’s Award for Excellence. After the death of Rev. Korn in 1981, Rev. (now Rabbi) Shmuel Neuman was appointed as Chazan. During this period Hendon initiated the concept of Alternative Minyanim by instituting a Hashkoma (Early Minyan) on Shabbat and an Alternative Minyan for young people between 18-30.
After the retirement of Rabbi Silberg the community was without a Rabbi for nearly two years. Over 30 Rabbis were interviewed but agreement could not be reached as a successor to take the community forward into the 21st Century. Eventually, it was learned that Rabbi Mordechai Ginsbury of the Prestwich Hebrew Congregation in Manchester would consider a “call” and in April 1999 he was inducted as only the third Minister of Hendon in fifty-three years. He and his wife have given the community a new lease of life by involving themselves in all spheres of activity initiating the Hendon CARES welfare organisation, the Kashrut Assurance Scheme, the Minyanim Forum, as well as Tefillin Breakfast for pre and post Barmitzvah boys, and preparing the girls for Bat Mitzvah. They and their lovely family have set an example of harmony, dedication and warmth which permeates the Raleigh Close family.
With a growth in younger members, the Shul recognised the need to appoint an Assistant Rabbi to work alongside Rabbi Ginsbury. And so, in September 2008, Rabbi Leo Dee became the first occupant of this position, returning to the UK from Israel, where he had spent the previous few years with his wife Lucy and their own young family. During his 3 years at Raleigh Close, he did much to enhance the provision of educational and social events, particularly for young families, singles, students and teenagers. Among other achievements, he instituted the Baby Blessing Ceremony, now a very popular annual fixture in the Shul calendar.
Rabbi Dee was subsequently appointed Rabbi of Radlett United Synagogue and has since returned to Israel. His place at Raleigh Close was taken by Rabbi Jonathan Hughes, who – with his wife Chana – continued the excellent work of the Dees with some innovative programming of their own, before moving on after 2 years to become Rabbi at Richmond United Synagogue and then, in 2015, replacing Rabbi Dee at Radlett. When Rabbi Hughes moved to Richmond, his own position at Hendon was taken by Rabbi Yisroel Binstock, and he in turn – together with his wife Leanne – has built impressively on the achievements of his two predecessors