‘Soft opening’ for Finchley Reform’s new £4.7million state-of-the-art home

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‘Soft opening’ for Finchley Reform’s new £4.7million state-of-the-art home

Official opening with Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, set for Shavuot.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

The new state-of-the-art Finchley Reform synagogue. (Jewish News)
The new state-of-the-art Finchley Reform synagogue. (Jewish News)

The rabbi of Finchley Reform, Miriam Berger, has declared herself “absolutely thrilled” with her synagogue’s new, state-of-the-art building, which she says “reflects the community, whose aims are woven into the fabric of the synagogue”.

The £4.7million building is undergoing a “soft opening” as snagging problems are ironed out, with a full celebration taking place at Shavuot, when it is hoped the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will join the community.

Bob Humphreys, co-chair of the synagogue, said that the community had begun life in a late 19th century trades union hall and then expanded to various other buildings, including a Portakabin in the 1990s. The problem, he said, was that the buildings had not grown as fast as the community — “the community has more or less doubled in size. The synagogue was too old, too small, and certainly energy inefficient. It wasn’t fit for purpose, just not serving the needs of the community”.

There were discussions with Barnet Council to see if an alternative site was available, Humphreys said, and the idea of a partial rebuild was also considered, but eventually it was decided that the benefits of staying on site and making a total rebuild outweighed the disadvantages. Astonishingly, he recalled, the first discussions about revamping the synagogue took place 35 years ago — but the current serious negotiations began around 2008-9.

For the duration of the demolition and rebuild, the community was planning temporary occupancy of an empty Jewish Care home in Ballards Lane. “We had just signed a two-year lease when Covid hit, and we found ourselves with a lease on a property that we weren’t using. But gradually we did make use of it, first the kindergarten moved in and then our offices, and then we began limited in-person services”.

Things were moving fast on the synagogue’s real home, however: “Demolition and construction took one year and a day. We hit a sweet spot, because all the prices were agreed before the costs of building materials went up.”

Now the new, environmentally-friendly synagogue will, hopes Humphreys, be “future-proof” for at least 50 years if not longer. The building committee has had help from the Community Security Trust in advice on security measures, and help from Barnet Council —“but broadly, we’ve done it all ourselves.”

Finchley Reform is one of the biggest congregations in the UK — 1,300 adults and 700 children, with numbers growing “significantly” over Covid.

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