In 1937 the freehold of the land was bought and building commenced on the new synagogue, which was to serve the community for the next seventy three years. Chief Rabbi Hertz consecrated the building in 1938, which is now a Grade 2 listed building, and was described as a masterpiece of modern design. The synagogue building still features in all international books on synagogue architecture, it was designed by the well known engineering architect Sir Owen Williams, and was the first public building in the UK to be built entirely from pre-stressed concrete. It was the first synagogue in the UK to be built without internal pillars to support the ladies gallery, and had striking zigzag walls to take the weight of the balcony. It was a large building with seating for 524 men and 392 women.
With the influx of Jewish people from East London, the membership grew rapidly in the immediate post war era and peaked with 640 male members in 1960. From the early 1960s, the Jewish population of Dollis Hill and the surrounding areas of Willesden, Cricklewood and Brondesbury, began to decline as members moved to outer London boroughs and Hertfordshire. The membership of Dollis Hill had declined to 492 by 1970, the decline gathered pace and by the year 2000 there were just 85 male members. In 1995 the spacious synagogue building was too large for the community, and the building was sold to the Torah Temimah Primary School, but with a provision to allow the community to continue to use the school hall for Shabbat services, which continued until the recent closure.
In its golden era of the 1950s and 1960s, Dollis Hill was a vibrant and active community, the synagogue services were full and there was the complete range of community activities, including a successful youth service and children services, and a large cheder. Other ancillary bodies included the long serving Ladies Guild, JIA, WIZO, a Combined Aid Committee and the 40th Willesden Scout Group.
Dollis Hill was served by a number of well known and illustrious ministers. Rabbi Issac Swift was appointed in 1938 and served the community until 1951, when he moved for a few years to Australia, before moving on to be the Rabbi of the prestigious ‘Ahavas Torah’ community of Englewood, New Jersey and became one of the leading rabbis of North America. He was followed by Rabbi Dr Harry Rabinowicz, a member of the dynasty of renowned ‘Biala’ rebbes and an authority and author on Chassidism, as well as the author of the standard work on the Jewish laws of mourning. From 1977 to 1987 the pulpit at Dollis Hill was filled in a part time capacity by the charismatic Rabbi Maurice Landy, who moved from the neighbouring Cricklewood Synagogue on his retirement.
Dollis Hill’s longest serving minister was the much loved and admired chazan, Rev Harold Taylor, he served the community for forty-four years from 1951 until he died in 1995. Rev Taylor was known as a fine chazan with a lyric tenor voice, he was an authority on ‘Minhag Anglia’ and the melodies of the United Synagogue. Outside of the synagogue services he was a dedicated pastoral minister and hospital chaplain, including being the minister to Great Ormond Street Hospital for many years. It was at Great Ormond Street that Rev Taylor famously caught Princess Diana and prevented her from falling over, after she tripped on a highly polished floor, when they both attended the opening ceremony of a new wing of the hospital.
A central feature of Dollis Hill was the partnership of the chazan and choir, which took pride in perpetuating the melodies and nusach of the United Synagogue, adhering closely to the United Synagogue ‘Blue Book’ and the melodies of its founding congregation, The Great Synagogue Dukes Place. Choirmasters at Dollis Hill included Manny Fisher, Alf Bramson, Aumie Shapiro and Aubrey Jacobs, in recent years the choir was lead by Hillier Wise.
Dollis Hill has always been a warm, spirited and friendly community, as well as a proud constituent of the United Synagogue. Even though the synagogue has now closed, it has had a considerable influence within the United Synagogue and beyond. Its former senior warden, Victor Lucas, became President of the United Synagogue from 1984 to 1987. Another long standing warden, Harry Bibring, is well known for his work for the Holocaust Education Trust and was a founder of the Rishon Multiple Sclerosis Society. The current Chief Executive of the United Synagogue, Jeremy Jacobs, is a son of the former choirmaster, Aubrey Jacobs, and his predecessor and former Vice President of the United Synagogue, Stuart Taylor, is a son of Rev Harold Taylor. Following in the footsteps of Dollis Hill’s very first minister, Rabbi Issac Swift, Rev Taylor’s grandson, Sam Taylor, has recently been appointed the assistant Rabbi at Englewood New Jersey.
From left to right: David Kaplan, Daniel Mendelson, Max Rubinsohn, Benno Gocman, Reverend Moshe Fine and Jeremy Jacobs