The History of Luton United Synagogue

Sid Rutstein wrote an article on the History of the Jewish Community as part of the Luton Heritage Forum.

In the Beginning...

As far as can be ascertained, the first Jewish family to settle in Luton was around the year 1880, and by 1912 there were about five families living in the town. The first organised Luton Jewish Community, however, took place at a meeting held in Duke Street on September 23rd 1923, when it was resolved to form a body later to be known as the Luton Hebrew Congregation. It is recorded that nine local residents were present at this meeting. A General Meeting of the newly formed Luton Hebrew Congregation was later held on September 30th of the same year, when the first President was elected. The sum of £18 was donated by the twelve members present towards a Foundation Fund.

First Affiliation to United Synagogue

It was furthermore decided at this meeting to apply to the United Synagogue for affiliation with regard to burial. Although affiliation with the Federation of Synagogues was later effected, this arrangement was later reversed, and the Luton Synagogue, though independent in its Synagogue administration, was affiliated to the United Synagogue for burial purposes.

Our First Shul!

During the period 1924 to 1929 High Holyday Services and religion classes were held above a factory in John Street, and these were served by various visiting teachers. In 1929, the Rev. H.D. Ritvo, was appointed, and during the same year a house at 5 Moor Path was purchased and converted to hold about ninety people; thus the first Synagogue in Luton was established. At the outbreak of war in 1939 there were about twenty five families living in the town, but with the tremendous influx the Community swelled to over two thousand souls. This was the turning point in the history of the Luton Hebrew Congregation when it became apparent that the small Synagogue at Moor Path was inadequate to house the new members and additional communal activities created. A Youth Club had been formed; various Zionist Organisations and Hospitality Centres as well as additional Hebrew Classes pointed to a great need for a new Synagogue and Communal Centre which would house these manifold activities.

Move of Bury Park

Accordingly, the building in Bury Park was purchased in 1949, and plans for its conversion and reconstruction were drawn up. Work commenced in 1952, and on Lag Ba‘Omer 5713/1953 the Luton Synagogue was consecrated by the chief Rabbi, the Very Rev. Dr. Israel Brodie. The Luton Hebrew Congregation consisted of over 200 members and was an independent body, with its own constitution, Synagogue Council which acted as its Shechita Board. It employed full time Ministers and Teachers, and free religious instruction was offered to children. All under one roof were facilities for daily services, classrooms, a Youth Club with recreational facilities, and a large Communal Hall which could accommodate several hundred people. On 10 May 1992, Rabbi Schwei was inducted as minister of the Luton Hebrew Congregation by the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks in a service led by Reverend M.Schwartz.

Move to Dunstable Road, Luton

In November 2001 the premises in Bury Park were sold, as the building was proving to be expensive to maintain for a now smaller community. Until 2009 services were held in a community halls, or, for specific occasions,in Luton's Town Hall Council Chambers. In 2009 a fomer doctors' practice on 656 Dunstable Road was purchased. After refurbishment to meet the needs of the community, the first service was held on 5 September 2009 and the new synagogue was rededicated on 27 June 2010 in service attended by The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. In 2017, the synagogue was extensively refurbished. The building serves as a synagogue and as a Community Centre, which will be the centre point for the wider Luton community, thus fostering closer relationships within the multi-ethnic Luton community.

Membership of the United Synagogue

On 12 July 2010, the Luton Hebrew Congregation became a member of the United Synagogues. The community uses the administration systems and has access to burial rights of the United Synagogues. The community changed its name to Luton United Synagogue.

A Seating Ticket from the 1942 High Holyday Service

season ticket