Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue

Established in 1935, Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue (BHPS), or the Brighton Liberal Synagogue, as it was then, was only the second Liberal congregation to be set up outside London – the first being in Liverpool in 1928. Having met at 29 New Church Road for a short while, BHPS are now located at 6 Lansdowne Road, Hove where it has been since 1939. It took over the site of the gymnasium of Southdown College for Young Ladies in response to an increasing demand from the local Jewish population for non-orthodox worship.

True to the spirit of Liberal Judaism, and inspired by beacons such as the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London and South London Liberal Synagogue, the founders – together with their first minister, the Reverend Marcus Goldberg – created a congregation which combined commitment to liberal ideals and values with awareness of the needs of the day.

And so it has continued down the years. As it was founded so close to the start of the Second World War, the congregation might have found it impossible to survive the war years. When the congregation’s new rabbi, German refugee Dr Henrique Lemle was interned on the Isle of Man, a band of dedicated lay readers came to the fore, whose efforts not only kept the synagogue going, but ensured that it flourished. Of these, Archie Fay, in particular, ordained as a Lay Minister in 1950, made a special contribution and remained the spiritual leader of the
congregation until his death in 1962.

Every congregation has its special qualities. Deeply connected to the wider movement of Liberal Judaism, which later became the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, one of the unique aspects of this community has been the part played by lay leaders over the years. This is not a congregation that has depended solely on rabbis for leadership. While each rabbi made their own contribution, the synagogue has also benefited from the dedication of scores of individuals, committed both to Liberal

Judaism, in general, and to the maintenance of a Liberal Jewish presence in Brighton & Hove, in particular.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the high quality of this congregation’s lay leaders goes back to the beginnings of the movement. Before Rabbi Israel Mattuck came on the scene in 1912, two lay leaders not only created an organisation, but also provided spiritual and intellectual leadership. In the figure of Lily Montagu, in particular – the charismatic prime mover – Anglo Jewry discovered, at the dawn of the 20th century that the future of Judaism belonged to Jewish women as much as it belonged to Jewish men.

With over 300 members, the thriving and welcoming BHPS congregation conducts its services in English and Hebrew, practices gender equality in all its activities, and is committed to ethical action. It is dedicated to full equality, integration and participation in every sphere of religious and civic life.

BHPS members are proud to be liberal and proud to be Jewish, and will always engage with others on shared values and interests, whether it be in tackling climate change and other risks to the environment, poverty, inequality or other forms of injustice. The synagogue’s Hebrew name, Adat Shalom Verei’ut (Congregation of Peace and Friendship), reflects and expresses the values the community lives by and aspires to. Visitors are always welcome either at a service or social event.

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah joined as minister in 2000. After engaging in lesbian feminist activism research, writing and editing, she entered the Leo Baeck College in 1984, and was ordained in 1989. She is a profoundly passionate Jew with a deep love of the spiritual, theological and practical aspects of Judaism. She leads by example and is committed to supporting the learning, participation and contribution of everyone in the community regardless of background.

She has a long history of activism both inside and outside the world of Judaism. As a feminist lesbian she is a steadfast voice against inequality and discrimination and is totally committed to making a difference, on a small scale and in the wider world. A pioneer in the area of LGBT inclusion, Rabbi Elli initiated a process within Liberal Judaism, which culminated in a new policy and the publication of an anthology of ceremonies for civil partners in December 2005.

BHPS remains at 6 Lansdowne Road, Hove. The building itself has recently undergone an exciting redevelopment. The contemporary new design has transformed the synagogue into a beautiful, functional and accessible place for members to meet, study and pray for now and generations to come. It is also open to the wider community as a centre for interfaith and multicultural activities. The new sanctuary accommodates up to 120 people with additional seating in the gallery above for a growing community.

Leslie Burns
A member of Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *