Synagogue makes history with Lydia as president

LYDIA: ‘Why should only men make the decisions?’

HISTORY was made when 56-year-old Lydia Engler became the first female president of an Orthodox congregation in the North-West.

A three-year battle ended when she was appointed to the post at South Manchester Synagogue, Bowdon.

“I was always told that it wasn’t possible and that, halachically, it was impossible — but it has happened,” she said.

“I kept pointing to the United Synagogue, which changed its constitution to allow for female presidents around eight years ago.

“I always felt there was no reason why it should always be men making the decisions at a shul behind closed doors.

“There is nothing they can decide that we cannot.”

Magistrate Mrs Engler, who also works part-time as a fundraiser for Manchester UJIA, joined the shul eight years ago.

It was three years ago that she started to hint that it would be good for a woman to be made president.

She explained: “Plenty of other shuls have had female presidents and chairmen over the years.

“And there are numerous independent shuls which have changed their constitutions, such as Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Hale and Yeshurun.

“It has taken three years to get to this point, but I only ever wanted to stand as president.”

An extraordinary general meeting to change the shul’s constitution took place just one hour before its annual meeting to vote on the new president.

The vote on the constitution needed a two-thirds majority, which was achieved comfortably as she was voted in unopposed.

Mrs Engler, who replaces previous incumbent Alan Berg, continued: “I have found that males in the 70-80 age group don’t really like it, but below that age group they are fine with it, as are the older females.

“The main Orthodox concern is that I’m going to take it into Reform or Progressive.

“I am not going to do that — I love this Orthodox shul.

“I really want to increase our membership, appeal to younger families with children, and increase participation in daily minyanim, shiurim and discussion groups.

“I want this shul to be used, busy and active, and also for more men to volunteer for the minyanim rota.”

The mother-of-four, who is married to Jonathan, also paid tribute to shul minister Rabbi Dovid Lewis.

Southport-raised Mrs Engler said: “He came along around eight years ago and is a breath of fresh air.

“We are a relaxed shul. The Shabbat service is always complete by midday, with a lovely kiddush and single malt whisky afterwards.

“People would be surprised — I want the current members to come back at least once a month, and for new people to give us a try.”

She has also been backed by Ben Sallon, president of the nearby Hale Synagogue.

He said: “We were delighted to learn that Lydia will lead Bowdon as its new president.

“I look forward to working together with her in making south Manchester a wonderful place to live as Jews.”

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