Kol Chai - where people matter
Listen to how it all began. Click above to hear a recording of an interview Pete Martin and others gave to BBC Jewish Community Radio at Kol Chai's 2nd AGM.
Kol Chai began in October 1986. A group of 16 families formed a steering committee, which started holding erev shabbat services once a month, then once a fortnight. These rapidly, within the first six weeks, became too large to be held in homes, and a creative momentum began to build.
In March 1987 we became a "formal" community and became affiliated to RSGB [the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain - now the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ)]. We ran High Holyday services and started our religion classes in September 1987.
Our Religion School had and has a primary aim of making Jewish Education enjoyable for the children. The high standard achieved by our bnei Mitzvah quickly became well known. We also developed an active post-bar/bat mitzvah class, many of whom take GCSE in Religious Knowledge and also train to be assistants on a course developed in conjunction with the Centre for Jewish Education. We are rightly proud of our Religion School, which has developed a reputation for excellence.
Our Services were at first led by our own lay readers. In February 1988 Rabbi Samuel Rodrigues-Pereira accepted appointment as our first rabbi, becoming our Rabbi Emeritus in 2001 from when he continued to give us valuable spiritual guidance until his death in 2009. Rabbi Michael Hilton was appointed as our Rabbi in September 2001. Rabbi Michael swiftly made his mark with many new ideas and we are truly fortunate that he joined us, guides us so well spiritually and continues to innovate.
In the summer of 1992, after a battle for planning permission and some effective fund raising, a small synagogue and communal hall was built. We always knew it would be necessary to extend the building and work on the extension began in June 2002 with completion in January 2003, creating the small but beautiful building now used so effectively today.
From the few families who first worked so hard to start the community, we now have about 300 families to carry on that work. We are no longer a small community, but we retain an atmosphere of being close and friendly. We now have a huge range of activities, as you can see elsewhere on this website – from activities for toddlers and adults to wine appreciation, from bridge to business club. These social and cultural activities complement our services, shiurim and educational ones.
We call ourselves a Community, not a Synagogue, to emphasise the importance of the individuals who make up Kol Chai. Kol Chai means "a living voice." We aim to be a living voice of active progressive Judaism, alive to the needs of today, but rooted in tradition. With the help of our Community and the leadership of our Rabbi and lay leaders we hope to continue to achieve this, as we move into our second quarter century.