The South West Essex and Settlement Reform Synagogue (SWESRS) is proud to be the 6th largest community in the Movement for Reform Judaism with over 1200 members.
The congregation is an amalgamation of the St. Georges Settlement Synagogue and the South West Essex Reform Synagogue and is based in Oaks Lane in Newbury Park, Essex.
The community at Oaks Lane grew from humble beginnings, meeting originally in people’s homes, then the Labour Hall in Ilford. This small but dedicated group of people moved to premises in Balfour Road, Ilford, before securing the extensive site in Newbury Park in 1956.
Ideally situated in East London, the synagogue is just a few minutes walk from Newbury Park station on the Central tube line. The shul is readily accessible by road, is located off of the main A12 and within easy reach of the M11 and M25 motorways.
On the Oaks Lane site, the Prayer Hall was originally situated in the main synagogue building, which also comprises Cheder classrooms and Rabbis’ offices on the first floor, a large communal kitchen and shul administration offices on the ground floor. 20 years ago, aided by a major fundraising drive, our beautiful new Prayer Hall was built. This unique circular building, of special architectural interest, is spacious and light, enhancing the spirituality of our Shabbat and Festival services.
The Prayer Hall accommodates approximately 350 congregants. There are relatively well-attended Shabbat morning services and less well attended Shabbat evening services each week. ‘Kol HaMishpachot’ (Voice of the Families) services are held approximately every six weeks and the environment of the service is changed to allow children to set the pace.
Our Prayer Hall, together with our separate Youth and Community building, means that the synagogue has unrivaled and extensive facilities safely protected by modern state of the art security, to ensure the safety of members and the many external groups who use the synagogue facilities on a regular basis.
When the synagogue was first founded, the area was the one with the densest concentration of a Jewish population anywhere outside Israel. The Synagogue had a large and constantly growing membership for many years and has produced a large number of Reform Rabbis. There was also a successful Cheder with over 150 children on the roll.
Due to changes in the demographics of Redbridge, the establishment of a new junior school aligned to Progressive Judaism, and the opening of a Jewish Secondary School, the position of SWESRS has now changed. Our membership, although still large, is slowly declining and the profile of our members is increasingly elderly. Our Cheder is now small, but of vital importance to those few children in the area who do not attend the Jewish Day Schools.
Stepney Green – for historical background see www.exploringeastlondon.uk/stepney
SWESRS is well known for its melodious choir. The present choir was formed in 1961 and has grown in strength and harmony since that time. Shabbat and festival services are enriched by the choir’s melodies and music. The choir celebrated their 55th anniversary recently with a wonderful concert attended by rabbis, numerous guests and have made recordings of their solos and songs.
The meeting facilities in both the main building and community centre are well used during the week with many groups consisting of synagogue members, wider Jewish Community members and secular groups.
Our Synagogue is owned and managed by the membership. We have a Council consisting of 6 Officers and 12 Council Members with annual elections. Council and Officers meet monthly. There are a number of sub-committees that deal with detailed discussions in specific areas and report to Council. Some have their own budgets. The synagogue employs an office manager, finance assistant, head teacher, choirmaster and facilities co-ordinator.
We have a group of very committed members who contribute to the life of the synagogue through being Wardens, Shamashim, Lay Readers and members of the Choir. Many volunteers involve themselves in a variety of other activities such as producing the shul magazine Alonim and providing innovative fundraising events.
Much work has been carried out over recent years to raise the profile of SWESRS in the local community, both Jewish and secular, and it is our aspiration that this work is taken forward and consolidated in the future.
SWESRS, throughout its history, has been blessed by some exceptional rabbinic leadership including Rabbis Dow Marmur, Henry Goldstein, Maurice Michaels to name a few of the many Rabbis who have given exceptional service to the community. Our current Rabbi is Rabbi Lisa Barrett.