London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

The Hon Miss Lily Montagu, 1873 - 1963

Lily Montagu was born in 1873. Her father was millionaire banker Samuel Montagu.  Samuel Montagu had been MP for Whitechapel and was the founder of the Orthodox Federation of Synagogues.  He later became Lord Swaythling.  Lily Montagu was much concerned with the welfare of underprivileged working class East End girls.  To help make a difference to the harshness of their lives she and her sister founded the West Central Jewish Girls’ Club in 1893.  She was also very concerned with the drift away from Judaism by an increasingly assimilated Jewish Community.  She regarded the Orthodox Judaism of her father as a major cause of this drift and believed that a new and progressive style of Judaism accessible and understandable by all was the only answer to this problem.  In 1902 she and Claude Montefiore, together with several Orthodox colleagues, founded the Jewish Religious Union.  Orthodox supporters included Reverend Simeon Singer (editor of the United Synagogue’s Singer’s Prayer Book), and Rev J F Stern – the minister of Stepney United Synagogue.  Simeon Singer, J F Stern and others were subsequently put under great pressure by the United Synagogue authorities to withdraw their support.  We can only speculate with regret on what might have been have had this not been so.  Despite this set back Lily Montagu and Claude Montefiore pressed on and in 1909 established the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism – later known as the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.  In 1911 the new movement founded its first synagogue – the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood.  The Rabbi of the LJS was a dynamic young American named Israel Mattuck. Israel Mattuck, Claude Montefiore and Lily Montagu were known as the ‘Three M’s’ and became the guiding lights behind the onward development of Liberal Judaism.  Other synagogues quickly followed the establishment of the LJS, including our own in 1929.  Lily Montagu became president of the Union of Liberal and Progressive synagogues and remained so until her death in 1963.  Her busy and fulfilled life included membership of South London Liberal Synagogue. 

At the heart of Judaism is a mystery that will always be a matter of faith.  Lily Montagu’s great achievement was to make this mystery accessible to an increasingly Anglicised generation of Jews.  Her legacy lives on.

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