Two rabbis played a major role at a key transitional period in the history of the
Leo Baeck College. Eight years after its beginning in 1956 under the auspices of
the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (RSGB) (now Movement for Reform
Judaism) it was joined as a co-sponsor by the Union of Liberal and Progressive
Synagogues (ULPS) (now Liberal Judaism). Two years later Rabbi Dr Werner
van der Zyl, the founder and Hon. Director of Studies retired, to be succeeded
in the shared leadership by Rabbi Dr. John Rayner (1924-1995), representing
the ULPS, as Hon. Director of Studies, and, in the specially created post of
Hon. Registrar, by Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1930-1996), representing the RSGB.
Together they oversaw the College’s development until the appointment of
Rabbi Dr. Albert Friedlander in 1970. In addition to their administrative tasks,
both served as teachers, Rabbi Rayner in the field of rabbinics, and Rabbi Gryn
in the area of practical rabbinics. Both had refugee backgrounds but made the
U.K. their permanent home, serving as the senior rabbis at the two ‘cathedral
synagogues’ of their respective movements, Rayner at the Liberal Jewish
Synagogue, St. Johns Wood, and Gryn at the West London Synagogue. Very
different in temperament and personality, both made an indelible impact on
their congregants, their students and the College itself.
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