US Centre News

First Rabbi for 50 Years Inducted at City’s Oldest Jewish Community
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Thursday 5th November 2015

History was made at St Albans United Synagogue last Sunday (November 1, 2015) when the city’s oldest Jewish community witnessed the formal induction of its first rabbi for more than 50 years. And in a further sequence of firsts,  Rabbi Daniel Sturgess, a former director of Aish UK in Birmingham and now appointed to his first communal post, was inducted by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, making his first-ever visit to the St Albans community to perform the ceremony, believed to be the first induction ever held in the city.    

Joining synagogue members in the 150-strong congregation were the Mayor of St Albans, Cllr Salih Gaygusuz;  St Albans MP Anne Main;  Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, US President Stephen Pack and Chief Executive Dr Steven Wilson, a number of US Trustees, as well as district and county councillors, ministers and lay leaders of neighbouring Jewish communities, and family, friends and colleagues of the new rabbi and his wife, Alli. 

Rabbi Sturgess and Rebbetzin Alli were appointed to the joint post of rabbinical couple just over a year ago.   In her welcome, synagogue chairman Karen Appleby – herself a history-maker following her election two years ago as the first female chairman of a United Synagogue congregation – explained how the St Albans synagogue had survived over the past 50 years by using volunteer lay readers to lead their services.  “I thought that after we appointed a rabbi, my job as chairman would get easier,” she said.   “But there is now so much going on in the community that even with more members getting involved, we are busier than ever.” The synagogue had undergone a transformation, she added. The already noticeable growth in membership had soared to even greater heights, soon to be pushing at the 200 mark, while the building now reverberated week in and week out to the sound of voices young and old, participating in services and enjoying the many new activities on offer. “Our members cannot speak highly enough of the positive impact made on our community by our new rabbinic couple. We hope that this day marks just the beginning of a long and successful relationship.” 

Rabbi and Rebbetzen Sturgess

In his induction address, the Chief Rabbi also spoke of the “match made in heaven” between the rabbinic couple and their congregation. The sense of joy and happiness in the St Albans Jewish community, he said, was “palpable”, adding that it was truly blessed in the new arrivals. “The community is pleased to have such a wonderful couple to lead it, while they are pleased to be leading such a wonderful group of people.” He also praised the pioneering new initiative which Rabbi Sturgess has launched for SEED at Sinai Jewish Primary School.   “His “In-School Family Education” programme”, said the Chief Rabbi, “is teaching parents to keep up with their children.”

Responding, Rabbi Sturgess recalled the Freudian slip when he told a colleague that he was shortly to be formally abducted. “It actually feels a bit like that,” he said.   “That I’ve been whisked away from normality and placed in this privileged position – this position of tremendous responsibility and of exciting opportunity.” But he and his wife knew as soon as they first met synagogue members that “this was a community with real warmth, dedication and ambition”. Despite being being frequently warned whether he and his wife knew what they were getting in to – “ this is not exactly a typical Golders Green shul, you know” – he felt that they did know what they were getting into. “This was the community that was perfectly suited to us – to our background, our experience and our vision.

“Since arriving in St Albans, we have seen consistently well-attended services for Shabbat and festivals – these are the foundations of a Jewish community. More than that, we have seen well-attended adult education programmes and social events. We have seen children running around the synagogue on family fun days, for arts and crafts afternoons, and for ice-cream kiddushim.   We’ve seen adults running around the synagogue for sushi kiddushim, and more importantly for us, we have seen enthusiastic participation in every new initiative.”

The ceremony also featured an emotional and moving tribute paid to the new St Albans rabbi by his father, former barrister and judge Raymond Sturgess, as well as an address by US President Stephen Pack, who spoke of the enormous impact that Rabbi Sturgess had already had on the St Albans community – one of the ‘communities of potential’ mentioned in the recently-published US Strategic Review. “We look forward to great things from this community,” he added.