Pioneer rabbi celebrated on canvas

Oaks Lane Reform Synagogue unveiled a portrait of Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick – Britain’s first ever woman rabbi – at a special Shabbat service to celebrate almost 50 years since her ordination.

Rabbi Jackie grew up in the community when it was known as South West Essex & Settlement Reform Synagogue, under the leadership of the late Rabbi Dow Murmur, and it was there that she first became a Jewish youth leader.

She made history when graduating from Leo Baeck College in 1975, at the age of 27, being ordained as the UK’s first female rabbi and going on to lead communities including West London Synagogue, North West Surrey Synagogue, West Central Liberal Synagogue and, for a short time when it was between ministers, Oaks Lane itself.

She was also the Convener of the Reform Judaism Beit Din from 2012 until retiring from the role earlier this year.

A musical and family-focussed celebratory service was led by the synagogue’s current rabbinic team of Rabbi Jordan Helfman and Rabbi Lev Taylor, along with musician Mich Sampson.

The centrepiece of the morning was the unveiling of the portrait of Rabbi Jackie by talented artist Monica Jaye.

Eighteen-year-old Monica is an active member of the congregation, and was one of many young people to play a role in the service. She recently won a place at university to study art.

Rabbi Jackie was visibly moved by the portrait and enjoyed a warm embrace with Monica. She then spoke about her love for the synagogue – going back to its former premises in Balfour Road – and the warmness and friendship of the community.

She said: ” “It’s an amazing piece of work. I’m so honoured. I can’t believe anyone would want a portrait of me. It’s the first time anyone has painted me, and Monica’s done such a wonderful job. I’m totally enamoured by the whole thing.”

A number of guests joined Oaks Lane for the morning, including the editor of The Essex Jewish News, Simon Rothstein, and Dean of Leo Baeck College Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh.

Rabbi Charles told the congregation: “I vividly remember being in The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, in 1975, when Jackie was made a rabbi. There was this sense that something quite monumental had started.

“One of the wonderful things, having been Jackie’s colleague for many years, is that her warmth, her generosity of spirit and, above all, her humility are very inspiring – as everyone has seen this morning.”

While Monica (pictured below with her family) has previously been commissioned for portraits, Rabbi Jackie was the first minister she had painted. She is now hoping to get more rabbinical and other commissions.



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