On Thursday 11 May, Year 6 were granted the opportunity to visit the Kingston Liberal Synagogue in Long Ditton. KLS is a vibrant, happy community, that actively celebrates Judaism in a progressive context. They rely on their members’ energy and efforts to run the day-to-day life of the synagogue. As a community, they are dedicated to meeting the spiritual, cultural, educational and social needs of all their members. KLS was formed relatively recently with just 50 families. In 1976 they moved to their current site and membership has grown to several hundred people.
At the entrance to the synagogue, we were welcomed by Sandra, a lay service leader at KLS. She invited us inside the simply built structure, which was once a small primary school. Sandra proceeded to talk to us about many aspects of Jewish life and culture. She displayed a variety of images, some of which the girls were already familiar with, and she was duly impressed by the manner in which the girls were able to answer her questions. Sandra explained how she and her community are proud members of Liberal Judaism, which identifies itself as the forward-looking edge of Judaism while revering tradition and seeking to preserve all that is good in Judaism of the past. The girls were fascinated to learn that in Liberal Judaism, it is possible to have female rabbis. Whilst talking from the bimah, the raised platform in the synagogue, Sandra highlighted the ark which was directly behind her. She asked for volunteers to assist, and Abi, Amelie and Lila obliged. The girls helped to open the screens to reveal the exquisite Torah Scrolls. These scrolls are not ordinary, modern-day reproductions. KLS is immensely proud to be the custodians of three “rescued” Czech Torah Scrolls. These scrolls were part of a collection of ritual objects intended for confiscation by the Nazis from the destroyed Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. After the defeat of the Nazis, the scrolls were stored in an old synagogue in Prague. Eventually, their existence became known; the Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed to purchase them and bring them to Westminster Synagogue in 1964. KLS has scrolls from Blatna, Rychnov and Tabor, towns now within the Czech Republic. The scrolls are a precious heritage; by using them KLS honours the memory of their vanished communities. It was a huge privilege for us to be able to see these scrolls.
After the talk, Sandra invited the girls to look carefully at the handcrafted mosaic created by the community. The mosaic was created to mark the culmination of a major phase of renovation at the synagogue. It took six months to complete and was worked on by about 120 members, ranging from the ages of three to 89. The mosaic is a collage made up of various Biblical symbols, such as a dove of peace and a Hebrew Torah scroll, as well as the synagogue’s rainbow logo and a tree of life. The girls noticed these symbols as well as many others. Whilst one group was focusing on the mosaic, the other group were given the opportunity to wear a genuine kippah and a tallit prayer shawl. They were also invited to read from a Jewish prayer book, which fortunately was also translated into English. Although reading from right to left did present certain challenges.
The girls all thoroughly enjoyed the short visit, and this was reinforced by what they had said afterwards. Mia said how she particularly enjoyed going to the synagogue and hearing about Judaism from a Jewish person. Bess especially enjoyed looking at the mosaic with its interesting features. Lauren wrote how her visit to the synagogue had taught her a lot about Jewish life and it showed how being part of a Jewish community can be good fun.
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