St Albans Synagogue is the oldest Jewish community in Hertfordshire.
Records show there were Jewish families living and working in the city from the early 1900s, but the St Albans Hebrew Congregation was formally established only in 1933, with services held in members’ homes. By the beginning of World War II, numbers had swollen, as more families found refuge from war-torn London in the relative peace of St Albans; by 1942, the growing community had raised sufficient funds to purchase a large private house to be converted into a synagogue as well as a home for the incumbent rabbi. Well-attended High Holyday services were held in the Town Hall (now the St Albans Museum and Gallery). In 1948, the community became affiliated to the United Synagogue, maintaining its independence until 2011, when it voted to become a full constituent member of the US.
With the war over, plans were put in hand for the construction of a purpose-built synagogue. More than 300 people attended the laying of the foundation stone in March, 1950, and exactly a year later, the new shul, on its present site in Oswald Road, was consecrated. Around that time, the synagogue was fortunate enough to acquire for the new building a set of handsome stained glass windows; two of them are rarities by the renowned artist and Hebrew scholar, David Hillman, and count among the shul’s most cherished ornaments.
During the next few decades, the size of the community fluctuated, as older members died or moved back to London – with numbers dwindling to the extent that it could no longer support a rabbi. Nevertheless, by the time the 1980s came along – thanks to a new wave of young married couples moving into the area – the community began to grow again, slowly but steadily.
Lay leaders of the congregation endeavoured to maintain services and Jewish education. In 1991, their efforts were bolstered by the advent of Jewish educator Jonathan Gorsky to lead services. Regular Shabbat morning services were reintroduced in 2001 on the eve of the shul’s 50th anniversary celebrations – an occasion when the then Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, visited the synagogue to open its unique Biblical Garden.
In May, 2013, St Albans United Synagogue made history – and headlines in the media – by electing Karen Appleby as the first female chairman of a United Synagogue community.
The following year witnessed a major landmark in our synagogue’s history: the appointment of a new minister – after a gap of 50 years. The arrival of Rabbi Daniel Sturgess, together with his wife, Rebbetzin Alli, ushered in a new lease of life for the shul; St Albans is now a thriving, growing community with a justified reputation as a particularly warm, caring and friendly community.
Plans are currently in hand to celebrate the shul’s 70th anniversary.