07 July 2023
Coventry Jewish Reform
Community celebrates its
30th anniversary this year
Coventry Jewish Reform Community was formed in October 1993, and celebrates its 30th anniversary later this year (2023). It was interesting during my visit to Coventry last week to learn about this community and how it is thriving, in contrast to the sad story of Barras Lane Synagogue, which I recounted last Friday (30 June 2023).
For several years, the community shared the facilities of Barras Lane Synagogue with the Coventry Hebrew Congregation. But this arrangement came to an end when the synagogue building fell into a state of disrepair, and the community now holds its services at the Friends’ Meeting House (Quakers) in Coventry and in members’ homes.
Coventry Jewish Reform Community was formed in October 1993, primarily through the efforts of Dr Martin Been, who became the congregation’s President.
But the history of the community goes back to 1960, when a local area group of the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue was founded in Coventry in 1960. Its then minister, Rabbi Bernard Hooker, addressed the first meeting, in the Bimbo restaurant in Coventry, by courtesy of its owner, Alan Blank.
However, most of the interested people came from the Warwick and Leamington Spa area, and the group transferred its centre to Leamington Spa where it became the Leamington and District Progressive Jewish group.
After some years meeting in members’ homes, it received an invitation from the Warwick Quakers to use their hall at the Friends’ Meeting House in High Street, Warwick. Interestingly, this was an extension of Jury Street and backing on to Castle Lane, where the mediaeval Jews of Warwick had lived in the 13th century.
The members of the Progressive Group in Leamington and Warwick were gradually dying or moving away. The group became unsustainable and was formally wound up. Some of those who remained were made welcome in the Coventry Reform Community and helped swell its numbers.
The Coventry Jewish Reform Community was established in 1993 by Dr Martin Been. The idea of creating a Reform Community in Coventry dated back to 1989 when Martin, who was then living in Newcastle on Tyne, applied for a position at Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry, at a time when there were few consultant cardiology posts with cardiac catheter labs.
He was already an active member of the Reform Community in Newcastle. When he asked about Jewish life, he was told, ‘do not come here, no one else is, people only leave!’
Somewhat taken aback, Martin spoke to his community leader, Rabbi Willie Wolf, who told him there would be Jews in Coventry, and all it needed was someone to go there and start a community.
The Been family joined the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue and Martin Been also joined the Coventry Hebrew Congregation at Barras Lane Synagogue
After some time he discovered that Rabbi Willie Wolf was right – there were indeed Jews living in the area, many of whom had no affiliation with any organisation.
A new congregation was formed with the advice and support of the late Mick Berger.
One of the biggest challenges over the years has been a lack of a permanent home, although the community shared the facilities of Barras Lane Synagogue with the Coventry Hebrew Congregation for several years. However, this arrangement came to an end when the synagogue fell into a state of disrepair.
Coventry Jewish Reform Community has thrived and flourished despite the setbacks, and celebrates its 30th anniversary later this year (2023).
The Movement for Reform Judaism has given much support and continues to provide advice and guidance. Regular Friday night Shabbat services take place at the Friends’ Meeting House (Quakers) on Hill Street, Coventry, and in members’ homes. High Holy Days Services and other celebrations have also been held at the Helen Ley Centre in Leamington, Baginton Village Hall and in members’ homes.