Bevis Marks Synagogue London

Commissioning Body or Individual:  Bevis Marks Synagogue

Year:  2007

About the Commisioner(s):  Situated in the City of London, just off the ancient thoroughfare of Bevis Marks, the synagogue, which was opened in 1701, stands in a secluded courtyard approached through a stone archway with wrought-iron gates. Above the entrance is carved in Hebrew the name of the synagogue, “Kahal Kadosh Shaar Asamaim”, which means “Holy Congregation The Gates of Heaven” and expresses the gratitude for the safe refuge that those first Sephardim felt they had found in the City of London. The courtyard is a place of serenity, now surrounded by office buildings, where once stood the congregation’s school, almshouse and orphanage. The Synagogue is a Grade I listed building and is the only synagogue in Europe that has held regular services continuously for over 300 years.


Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, 2006

The poem ‘Without your Jews’ was commissioned for reading in Bevis Marks Synagogue on the 16th December 2006, the concluding event of the 350th-anniversary celebration of the re-admission of Jews to Britain. The law exiling them has never been repealed, though it may be otiose. The 300-year-old synagogue (which is exclusively candle lit during the 25 hours of Sabbath and Festivals) has the longest history of unbroken worship in the Commonwealth.

Without Your Jews

Or when they lived among you in secret, it was as if

Zmirot were unsung, minyanim were ungathered, smachot were silent,

Rites of death unobserved. As if kashrut was extinct, mikvah unused.

Chagim were voided, the scent of shabbat disappeared, of havdallah

Was never released. The fasts eaten, the feasts starved, learning forgotten,

Knowledge feared. It was as if a person had two faces or no face

Or as if his child didn’t know its own smile, his wife didn’t speak her own prayers.

Yes, there was commerce and medicine and loyalty and fear.

Conversion and reversion and service in language other than their own.

But your Jews were gone or hidden. Hostages of darkened reason

Which believes calumny and cannot see what makes a human being.

Which cannot listen or watch or ask questions or make a judgment,

Which doesn’t know its history and doesn’t want to,

Doesn’t stop with history and doesn’t want to.


Without your Jews, or when they lived among you in secret,

Communities dismantled, charity abandoned, synagogues emptied, schools silenced,

Cemeteries unvisited and discourse replaced with whispers. Protagonists bared their heads

And changed their names. Blind eyes turned from truth unspoken and prevailed.

But you broke the silence of your conversos living in Chancery Lane,

When you let their Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese brethren come back,

Some with the old ways and others who had forgotten.

The welcome of your hand will be their testament. The candles

We burn here are your legacy. The beseeching of our prayers

Are the inheritance of the commonweal.