By Emma Hockley – Member of Singers Hill Synagogue
Shabbat 13th and 14th March 2015 marked a triumphant return to glory for Singers Hill, as the Synagogue re-opened its doors following a stunning renovation in the honored presence of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, together with his wife, Valerie.
In its 159th year as a pillar of Birmingham Jewry, Singers Hill once more shone brightly as parliamentary dignitaries, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, the Lord Lieutenant, Lords and Ladies, Faith leaders and distinguished guests were ushered along a red carpet into the annual Civic Service, where this year Chief Rabbi Mirvis would proclaim Singers Hill as “one of the most important Jewish buildings in the United Kingdom.”
The annual Civic Service at Singers Hill on Shabbos morning was the pinnacle of one of the most special Shabbats in the history of the Shul, planned to coincide with the re-opening of the Synagogue following an extensive refurbishment.
Almost ten years to the day since the arrival of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Jacobs, this renovation was symbolic of the Singers Hill community under their dynamic leadership; a previously rather underwhelmed congregation has, in the last ten years, found a new lease of life with a never-ending program of joyous events for every age group, with a renewed focus on youth and vitality – and now the Shul reflects this.
Shabbat began with a special Friday night service to unveil the plaque marking the re-opening of the Synagogue. The congregation looked on proudly, as Chief Rabbi Mirvis revealed the plaque, commemorating his visit.
The Shul has never looked so spectacular – at the chandeliers illuminated the breath-taking paintwork in stunning detail – the sumptuous gold leaf, the varying shades of sky blue, and the deep ruby red carpet all offset by the magnificent stained glass windows – each one painstakingly restored to its original splendour. Careful restoration of the main bimah has revealed the exquisite original marble and mosaic flooring, originally installed in 1856.
Following the service, 175 adults, teens and children, allgathered in the Joseph Cohen hall to celebrate, with atraditional Friday night dinner catered by Celia Clyne. The Shul was not the only one to have had a makeover – all the ladies were dressed in their Friday night finest, to mark the occasion. The hall glittered with sequins and sparkles and resounded with zemirot sung by Chazzan Ido Steinmetz, who had travelled from Israel to Singers Hill especially for our event. The renewed youthful direction of Singers Hill was then emphasised by three young members recounting, in front of the huge audience, their experiences of life so far under the guidance of Rabbi and Rebbetzen Jacobs – including stories of the Bat Chayil group and a trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach by Samatha Rowe (13), an incredible teen trip to New York by Sadie Karia (17) and Chai Club and King David School by Michael Bushell (8).
The Chief Rabbi was clearly impressed by the poise and confidence of these three young people; he referred several times in his address to the many activities offered by “your outstanding Rabbi and Rebbetzen.” The Chief Rabbi’s speech was anticipated to be the highlight of the evening and it did not disappoint. Demonstrating a razor-sharp wit and an excellent memory, he acknowledged the pivotal role the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation playsin UK Jewry, along with the significance of the magnificent Singers Hill building.
The Civic Service the following morning was another opportunity for people to hear the Chief Rabbi – and once again he performed to great acclaim, this time in front of more than 400 congregants and guests. His sermon delivered a serious message amid more hilarious anecdotes and stories – speaking to his fellow faith leaders he begged for the advocation of tolerance within every community, regardless of religion. Tolerance, he explained was crucial in allowing people to live alongside each other in this dangerous and frightening era. His key themes were Tolerance, Moderation and Harmony – which could not have been more relevant to the assembled variety of leaders from every faith and denomination. He also talked a lot about Cheesecake, but that’s a bit of a long story for me to recount here!
The Lord Mayor then thanked the Chief Rabbi for his address and declared how privileged he and the Lady Mayoress were, to be the Guests of Honour at this years’ annual Civic Service – a tradition spanning over at least 100 years of Singers Hill’s history. He acknowledged the great contribution of the Jewish people of Birmingham to the city, and that four of his predecessors as Lord Mayor were from the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation. The Lord Mayor and the Chief Rabbi were then presented with a beautiful crystal keepsake by Ari and Malky Jacobs – looking super cute as always. (Ari and Malky, not the Mayor and Chief Rabbi!)
The many guests, including the large contingent of children who enjoyed their own service, were clearly spellbound by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Synagogue, enhanced by the magical singing by Chazzan Ido Steinmetz and the Singers Hill Choir. Michael Rowe(aged only 15) sang Haphtorah, which was so good, even the lady’s side of the Shul were listening!
The Joseph Cohen Hall was then once again bursting at the seams, as some 300 people filed in for a special Kiddush following the service. Sharon Blumenthal and her team handled the guests with their usual welcoming charm and calm efficiency – as everyone thoroughly enjoyed the Singer’s Hill hospitality experience.
Months of careful planning and orchestration by the President and Executive, Rabbi Jacobs, Bernard Gingold and their colleagues ensured that both the Friday night dinner and the annual Civic Service were hugely successful, and widely praised by all who attended, from both our community and beyond. The events of this very special Shabbat were a fitting way to mark the beginning of the next chapter in the rich heritage of Singers Hill Synagogue. What could be a more definitive statement about the confidence in the future of the Shul than this spectacular refurbishment, generously funded by the members themselves?
“The entire Shabbat was infused with a feeling of great pride – pride at the history of our great Shul, pride in being there as part of its present – and pride in the knowledge that Singers Hill has a distinguished future ahead under the leadership of our dedicated Rabbi and Rebbetzen,” one participant said. “We knew we were witnessing an historic moment in the life of Singers Hill, as she once again reclaimed her rightful place as one of the UK’s most important Synagogues.”