Reminiscence room: Looking back on Jewish life in the UK

The Great Synagogue in Brick Lane, 1974.

The Great Synagogue, Brick Lane

The image above shows a general view of the Great Synagogue in Brick Lane, circa 1974—prior to its conversion to a Mosque in 1976. (Photo credit: © Gene Adams; photograph by Margaret MacDonald/Museum of London.)

"We don't need bigger cars or fancier clothes. We need self-respect, identity, community, love, variety, beauty, challenge and a purpose in living that is greater than material accumulation."

Donella Meadows

During the 19th and early 20th century, it was fairly common for Jewish communities, particularly in Europe, to construct very large, showpiece synagogues. These edifices were intended not simply to accommodate worshipers, but also to serve as emblems of Jewish participation in modern society. For this purpose, they were built to be not merely large, but architecturally impressive. Even small cities had elaborate synagogues of this type, albeit smaller than the synagogues of Vienna and New York. They are often designated as The Great Synagogue of ________, or, in Russia, The Choral Synagogue.

A synagogue is a beit tefilah, a house of prayer. It is the place where Jews come together for community prayer services. Jews can satisfy the obligations of daily prayer by praying anywhere; however, it is deemed more meritorious to pray in a minyan (a quorum of 10 men). Synagogues often take on a broader role in modern Jewish communities and may include additional facilities such as a catering hall, kosher kitchen, religious school, library, day care centre and a smaller chapel for daily services.


* Do you or your family belong to a synagogue?

* Are there any prayers that you particularly connect with?

* Did you have any experience of religion school/Cheder?