The Bevis Marks Synagogue in the city of London is the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom and has been in use for more than 300 years.
The synagogue, which also known as Kahal Sahar Asamaim or Sha’ar ha-Shamayim is affiliated to London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. Arutz Sheva TV's Hezki Ezra recently visited the synagogue and met its curator:
“Everything here dates back from 1701,” said curator Maurice Bitton. “All this furniture is original. Nothing has been changed here in more than 300 years now.”
Bitton noted that the Bevis Marks Synagogue, which holds traditional Sephardic Spanish and Portuguese services, is the only synagogue in all of Europe that has had prayers continuously for more than three centuries.
“We are situated in the center of the old city, so not many people live around here anymore,” he explained. “People moved away, so there are many Jewish people living in other areas of London. We get about 40 people on Shabbat morning.”
One of the seats in the synagogue belonged to the notable philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore, one of the most famous British Jews of the 19th century. A financier and a banker, Montefiore donated large sums of money to promote industry, education and health among the Jewish community in then-Palestine. His donations helped found the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1860.
Montefiore was a member of the Bevis Marks Synagogue and when he died, it was decided that his seat would no longer be in use and would be left as a memorial to him. The seat is cordoned and has a plaque with Montefiore’s name on it.
Bitton explained that nowadays, the only people who are allowed to sit in Montefiore’s seat are special dignitaries, such as former Israeli President Chaim Weizmann, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, and Prince Philip.
“The most special thing about the synagogue is its age and its history,” he said. “It has been here for 309 years, and it has seen generations of Jews in this country. If these walls could speak they would tell a wonderful story.”