Photo of Shul by Catherine Yass (2000)

Hebrew - Congregation of Jacob
The Congregation of Jacob Synagogue
incorporating
cheva yisroel
Chevra Yisroel & Bicur Cholim & Stetziver Synagogue
351-353 Commercial Road, London, E1 2PS
Tel: 020 7790 2874
- Fax: 0871 661 6774
Over 100 years of service to our community - Founded 5663-1903
Using modern technology to bring old tradition to your home

Photo (Left): Catherine Yass (2000) - Image (Right): Shul Pinkas (1903)

Image by Shul Pinkas (1903) Beis Hay

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Reg No. is: X20677

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The Times -
27th December 2003

AT YOUR SERVICE Daniel Crewe

IF YOU go through the door between the bottled beer specialist and the internet cafe on Commercial Road in Stepney Green, East London, you are transported into another world. The lettering on the building indicates the Congregation of Jacob synagogue, and there is a Star of David on the roof of the predominantly grey and brown terrace; but still you would not expect the stillness in the pale blue interior only feet away from the crowded street.

It is traditional that a prayer is said on entering a synagogue: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel (Numbers 24:5) -and it is these words that give this community its name.

"It is about the open hospitality integral to Judaism, about welcoming strangers and embracing the community," says David Russell, the vice-chairman of the synagogue.

The community, which is not affiliated to any of the streams of Judaism, was founded, probably in the front room of a nearby family house, in 1903; it is one of only four synagogues that remain of more than 150 that used to exist in the East End. It originally consisted of first generation immigrants from Poland and Lithuania but now has a Sephardic contingent too.

As in many synagogues in the East End in the middle of terraces, the light comes through a glass roof. This illuminates the striking picture of Jewish objects from the middle of the last century just above the ark. According to Sharman Kadish, the project director of the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage, the Congregation of Jacob is one of England's last intimate folk art synagogues.

This tradition was continued when the contemporary artist Catherine Yass produced an ethereal image of the pale blue interior - the colour is meant to ward off the evil eye - for her series of photographs of abandoned East End synagogues. The collection was displayed in the Congregation of Jacob three years ago.

At that time there were leaks being collected in buckets on a concrete floor, but now only the rarely-used gallery needs renovation. And since 2000 there have also been improvements in attendances. The community no longer has to resort to schlepping, going out on Friday nights and Saturday mornings to drum up the ten men required for a full service to take place.

* A five-star guide*

Kehillas Yaakov (Congregation of Jacob) Synagogue, Commercial Road, Stepney E1

LEADER: The Warden, the Rev David Brandes

SERMON: A short speech from a regular visitor, Yaakov Potash, based on the reading on Jacob and Esau, arguing that if we compare ourselves to others we must look upwards spiritually but downwards materially

ARCHITECTURE: Originally the premises of a bootmaker before being redesigned by Lewis Solomon & Son, honorary architects to the Federation of Synagogues, and reconsecrated in 1921
* * * *

SPIRITUAL HIGH: The immediate effect of entering the synagogue from the street
* * * *

MUSIC: A fine vocal performance at the end of the service by 15-year-old Levi Cohen
* * * *

AFTER-SERVICE CARE: Whisky and wine, cakes, bread and biscuits
* * * *


The chairman, Gerald Brandes, says that the congregation is now praying that London's Olympic bid might succeed and help numbers to increase by attracting people to the east. And the synagogue is certainly optimistic in its outlook: it has its own marriage secretary, although there has not been a wedding for many years and the average age is rather high.

This week sees old and young, in this Jewish community and others, united to celebrate Hanukkah. The Congregation of Jacob is marking the festival of lights with a study session, the lighting of the candles on the menorah, games with dreidels (four-sided toys, marked with Hebrew letters), singing and doughnuts.

 

(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2003

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