An historic inter-faith service took place at St Peter’s church in Berkhamsted on Sunday 9 October uniting Jews from the South Bucks Jewish Community (SBJC) and Christians from St Peter’s church.
The event, which celebrated the Jewish festival of Sukkot combined with a traditional choral evensong, was part of the church’s 800th celebrations. It was held to foster closer community links between the different faiths.
The Jewish festival of Sukkot one of the three pilgrim festivals when Jews made pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. SBJC created and decorated a Sukkah in the churchyard, a symbolic ‘hut’ commemorating the time God provided shelter for the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus. It is customary to decorate the Sukkah with all sorts of foliage and fruit signifying this time of harvest.
A special service was then held where (Lulav) palm branches, willow, myrtle and an etrog (citron) were waved whilst accompanying traditional Jewish readings and psalms recited in Hebrew. The 100+ strong crowd then moved into the church for further readings and Evensong prayers accompanied by Anglican choral music. The service concluded with Father Stuart Owen and Rabbi Neil Janes reciting the priestly benediction in Hebrew and English.
Father Stuart Owen, rector of St Peter’s commented, ‘We were delighted to welcome our friends from the South Bucks Jewish Community to celebrate with us and forge new bonds. In addition to the opportunity to pray together, groups of children have been visiting the Sukkah throughout the week, to learn more about the festival of Sukkot.’
Rabbi Neil Janes of the South Bucks Jewish community, an informal and inclusive Jewish community with members across Bucks and West Herts, added, ‘It was very special to be welcomed so warmly by St Peter’s Church. This was a unique moment to reflect on the last 800 years of history. Jews were expelled from Berkhamsted in 1242, so this was a real first to show to our communities and visitors throughout the week what we can create together 780 years later.’
Next Sunday, the communities will meet again for a bring-and-share lunch at St Peter’s at 12 noon and a Simchat Torah service where the Torah is unrolled and rerolled as the Jewish community restarts its cycle of reading accompanied by singing and dancing.