Latest Update

Dear Fellow Congregants and Friends,

I hope this finds you and your families all keeping as well as possible as 5781 draws to a close. To say that it has been an unprecedented year for the BHC and for Park Row Synagogue would seem perhaps to be trite, but I can think of no more succinct way of putting it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to wax and wane, despite the advent of vaccines, and England has gone in and out of various lockdowns and “levels” of government-mandated public health restrictions. Through it all, since mid-December last year, Park Row has been open for regular services – and has even been able to maintain a minyan most weeks.

Recently, over the summer months, a comprehensive programme of renovation in the synagogue building has taken place: the walls have been repainted and the peeling plaster banished, floors polished, steps straightened, a new walkway opened up off the external foyer of the building (at the top of the steps leading up from the gate), which creates a much lighter aspect for the formerly gloomy entrance area. The pillars on the Holy Ark inside the prayer hall have been given a delicate new marble-like veneer… even the constantly burning Ner Tamid which hangs in front of the Ark has been completely cleaned and repaired. It is the first major restoration of the building to take place in at least some 30 years, and it should last us through at least the next 30: a fitting rejuvenation in time for the 150th anniversary of the building (about which more in a separate email during the coming week!). Thanks are especially due to Garry Temple and Tony & Eve Gordon for everything that they have done to implement and oversee the works.

Now the time has come once again to celebrate our High Holy Days – the Yomim Noraim – and our beautiful renovated shul will be open throughout the period with a full schedule of festival services (dates and times have already been advised in a separate email and can be consulted at: Rabbi Mendy Singer of Chabad Bristol will be leading the services, with the participation of a Guest Cantor: Chazzan Yitzchok Davies, of Manchester, who led the yontef services in Park Row some 3-4 years ago and was much appreciated by all who heard him.

As was the case last year, the services this September will be shorter than usual, as the prayers are being curtailed in line with the advice of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. As last year, the shofar will be blown in shul during the Rosh Hashanah services, and in addition an open-air blowing near the Clifton Suspension Bridge is being arranged by Rabbi Mendy – see for details.

As you all know, legal restrictions for public health reasons connected with the current pandemic were ended in England by the Government on 19 July. We will therefore not be asking congregants to pre-register their attendance at services, as was legally required last year. Within the building, hand sanitiser is available in plentiful supply and we urge all congregants to make use of it, especially when entering and leaving the building. A supply of face masks is also available on the premises. While we certainly cannot oblige congregants to wear face masks, we do strongly recommend and urge all those who attend our services to continue to do so – not least as a kindness and confidence-booster to others, particularly some older members of our community who may still feel justifiably anxious about returning to in-person festival services. In general, it does not seem unnecessarily cautious to recall that the pandemic is still in progress (indeed, case numbers have been rising sharply in our city in recent weeks) and we therefore also strongly encourage all congregants to maintain social distancing where possible within the synagogue building, and particularly when moving around the shul. Directional signs on the floor have however been removed, as have the tapes that blocked off various parts of the seating inside the prayer hall. Congregants are therefore free to sit and move around where they please, but we do urge all to apply reasonableness and common sense at all times when in the building.

With the necessary statement of these public health measures, I wish to assure you all that we will be scrupulously careful to conduct our High Holy Day services as safely as possible for all concerned. I therefore look forward to seeing as many of you in shul over the Festivals as possible.

With my very best wishes to you all for a good yontef, Shanah Tovah, and a Happy, Sweet and – above all – Healthy New Year 5782.

David Turns

President, Bristol Hebrew Congregation