AFTER a year’s lockdown, in common with many other houses of worship, the Bradford Tree of Life Synagogue held its first service physically in its 1880s building on Saturday, May 29.

Numbers were restricted, as per pandemic regulations, but streamed to those who could not attend. Led by Rabbi Dr Doulas Charing of Leeds, the congregation was pleased to see the Very Revd Dean Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford Cathedral, who in fact took part in the service, and Naz Shah MP.

During lockdown members of the Synagogue were fortunately able to join one of three other Synagogues by streaming: Sinai in Leeds, Menorah in South Manchester and Jacksons Row in Manchester.

Although only a second best, we found that taking part online we learnt how other Synagogues held their services with some variations between theirs and ours. Half-way through the year we tentatively tried to Zoom our own service. It worked quite well and have continued this way for several months with different members being able to take part. We Zoomed from our homes.

Paradoxically we found that more members joined the Zoomed services than attended for services in the building before the pandemic, obviously because it was easier to switch on the home device than embark on a journey and face parking difficulties. Rabbi Dr Douglas Charing, helped by Suzie Cree, organised it all and it worked wonders. I edit a monthly newsletter called The Star which, I think, helps to keep the members and friends in touch.”

A peculiar experience happened during the New Year service last year (in September - the Jewish New Year). I had Zoomed in to Sinai and after the blowing of the shofar - the ram’s horn, possibly the most sacred part of the service - I turned over to Menorah for a change of scenery and in their service the shofar episode was just starting, so I had a double exposure. Was I doubly blessed for my forthcoming 95th birthday?

As Dean, Jerry Lepine is shortly leaving Bradford and on Saturday he was presented with two pictures of events in which he had taken part. Member Marie Wilkinson presented a beautiful wooden structure of the Ark of the Covenant, the original of which had been newly presented to the Children of Israel near Mt. Sinai. Also presented was a newly minted silver 50p piece depicting symbols of Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of the structure of DNA, who was Jewish and most tragically died very young of cancer before she was able to witness the praise which came her way after her death.

The Very Revd Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford, who retires from his role, following civic and congregational farewells, on Sunday, July 11, said: “It was a delight, as always, to attend the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday. I have always felt very warmly welcomed. The presentation of the photos was a delightful surprise to me and will remind me of the good times that I have had in Bradford with people of all faiths.”

* BRADFORD Synagogue was built in 1881 and its founding rabbi was Dr Joseph Stroud. In 2019 six generations of his family were represented at the Manningham synagogue, at a service attended by Prince Edward, who praised its interfaith work. In 2013, with Bradford’s Jewish population dwindling, the synagogue faced closure and was saved thanks to fundraising by the neighbouring Muslim community, which made headlines around the world. Bradford Synagogue is the only one in the world with a Muslim member on its Council.

Rudi, who in 2017 was awarded the British Empire Medal for his interfaith work, recalled a knock at his door one November evening in 2012: “A Muslim chap was talking about a planning application near his restaurant, the Sweet Centre, and the synagogue. He wanted my help to appeal against it. I represented us at City Hall. It was the beginning of a close relationship between Dr Zulfi Ali and myself. We talked about the synagogue, which desperately needed funds to keep open.” Dr Ali helped secure a £500 donation from Carlisle Business Centre, a committee of Muslim business and community leaders was formed and the synagogue received nearly £15,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for repairs.

This month Rudi will be a guest at Bradford Literature Festival, talking about his memoir, My Story, which looks back at his childhood in Berlin, witnessing SA troops marching near his home, and coming to Bradford in 1937, aged 11. It was after his parents were arrested by the Gestapo that the family managed to obtain visas for Britain. “Had they not been arrested, we might not have escaped the fate of millions of Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz,” said Rudi.

After joining Bradford Reform Synagogue, he began to preside over funerals and weddings. He recalls a memorable phone-call to the Synagogue: “One day the answer machine picked up a message from a woman seeking a refugee wishing to return to Germany. She and a film director were making a film about refugees returning to Berlin.

“A few months later, after receiving an invitation for a reunion from my old Jewish school in Berlin, a film crew arrived in Bradford to document aspects of my life then we went to Berlin for the shoot. They recorded in the school, the cemetery and a theatre.”

The film caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who did further research for his own film and invited Rudi to Los Angeles for the première. “I spent a week as Spielberg’s guest, with the other seven survivors whose stories were filmed,” said Rudi. “The film was The Lost Children of Berlin, later shown on television.”