Britain’s oldest synagogue hosts moving Coronation service

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Britain’s oldest synagogue hosts moving Coronation service

Bevis Marks Synagogue welcomed representatives of many community charities to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

(C) Blake Ezra Photography 2023 
(C) Blake Ezra Photography 2023 @BlakeEzraPhoto

A sense of history was palpable on Wednesday night as the Jewish community held a special service at Bevis Marks Synagogue to mark the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.

In a service co-sponsored by the Spanish and Portuguese Community, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, the full glory of Britain’s oldest synagogue was enjoyed by a crowded congregation, which included the representatives of many community charities — and the minister of the nearby church, St Botolph without Aldgate, the Reverend Laura Jørgensen.

As the S&P senior rabbi, Joseph Dweck, reminded the participants, “for 367 years we have watched 16 kings and queens crowned”. But the new king, Rabbi Dweck declared, did not have the same “mystique” as some of his forebears. King Charles, he said, “is a humble king… we know this man. We know his trials, we know his triumphs. We know that in so many ways, he is like us”.

Rabbi Dweck, who had been present in the Abbey for the Coronation, together with Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, praised the king for his unending commitment to get to know his future subjects. “He not only held deep concern for all the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but also visited them, sat with them, danced with them, studied with them, learned from them — and perhaps most important of all, listened to them”.

The new king reigned over a kingdom more diverse than any of his predecessors and had sought to mirror that diversity in some of the rituals of the Coronation, bringing in peers of different faiths — including the Jewish community’s Baroness Merron — to take part in some of the centuries’ old rites.

The S&P Community — together with its beautiful choir — provided the backbone of the Bevis Marks service, with its top-hatted rabbis — Shalom Morris from Bevis Marks itself, Jeff Berger from Wembley Sephardi Synagogue, Dayan Daniel Kada from Lauderdale Road Synagogue and his emeritus predecessor Rabbi Israel Elia— leading the liturgy. Daniel Sacerdoti, Parnas Presidente of the S&P, and two members of his community, Caroline Jackson Levy and Sian Levy, a member of the S&P Board of Elders, also took part in the service. There was also participation from Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis and — on behalf of the Israeli embassy — Orly Goldschmidt.

The event was topped and tailed by the Board of Deputies president, Marie van der Zyl, and the JLC chair, Keith Black. Each spoke of their immense pride in the connections between the king and the Jewish community.

“We, of all people, understand the importance of tradition, of continuity, of ancient lineage. But we also understand the importance of change, of gentle evolution, of creating a tomorrow in the light of today…pageantry and pomp, yes, but also humility.”

Ms van der Zyl, who also attended the Coronation, said “how lucky we are, as a Jewish community, to be treated with such dignity and respect”. It had not always been the case: Jews, who had attempted to honour the new king, Richard I in 1189 and had arrived at the Coronation bearing gifts, were attacked by antisemitic mobs and 30 of them were killed. “The following year, in 1190, Jews were also massacred in Clifford’s Tower in York, and a century later, in 1290, Jews were expelled from these shores”.

When Jews returned under Cromwell, it was “this very congregation, Bevis Marks, which was the first to be established.” A century after that return, it was the Coronation of a different king, George III, which had led to the establishment of the Board of Deputies, “when a group of deputados from this synagogue went to the king to pay homage”.

The Board was “a privileged body with the right to petition the king”, a ceremony which had taken place two months ago. Ms van der Zyl praised “the warm interest and high regard which the king has for the British Jewish community. We wish him and Queen Camilla a very happy reign”.

Keith Black vividly recalled his own excitement as a child when witnessing the investiture of the then Prince of Wales in 1969. “I remember the tremendous sense of pride, which this weekend I felt again — and this time, my pride was magnified by seeing so clearly how this country has evolved during my lifetime.

“We, of all people, understand the importance of tradition, of continuity, of ancient lineage. But we also understand the importance of change, of gentle evolution, of creating a tomorrow in the light of today…pageantry and pomp, yes, but also humility.”

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