Page 8 LJ Today September/October 2010
A leading light in youth work in his twenties, Lawrence Rigal embraced his role as a rabbi with dedication, compassion and humility
Rabbi Lawrence Rigal, who has died aged 81, will be fondly recalled by countless congregants who have admired his integrity, warm sonorous voice, common-sense attitude to Jewish matters and his deep concern for his community members throughout their celebrations and sorrows.
Lawrence, the second of three brothers, was born in Golders Green. He attended a preparatory school in north London from where he won a scholarship to Highgate School, which he attended from 1942, when it was evacuated to Westward Ho! in north Devon. In 1946, he was conscripted into the RAF and served as a ground wireless mechanic, serving for two years and reaching the rank of leading aircraftsman.
In the RAF, the privately educated Lawrence later reflected, he had learnt of the real world, and that experience shaped his left-leaning political attitude. After demobilisation, he did a two-year course in shoemaking at Cordwainers Technical College in Mare Street, Hackney, working first in a shoe factory in Princelet Street and later in shoe retailing. Active in the North West London Aid Society for the Home for Aged Jews, he and his brother George formed a junior branch called the Norwesters, which took schoolchildren round museums and other places of interest. One of these youngsters was Martin Gilbert, the future historian.
In his early twenties, Lawrence attended a study and discussion group under the leadership of Dr Golde at the newly formed Wembley Liberal Community and, later, sessions at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue led by Dr Abram Spiro and John Rayner
Lawrence, his brother George and Joan Salter formed a youth club for ages 16+ at Wembley Liberal, joining with the youngsters of Kingsbury United shul to form the Two Triangles Club. After two years, however, the Liberals formed their own club. The club joined the Federation of Liberal & Progressive Jewish Youth Groups, of which Lawrence eventually became the chairman. In Wembley, he formed what was one of the Liberal movements first 'junior clubs'.
At the time he decided to train for the rabbinate, negotiations between the Liberal and Reform movements over Leo Baeck College had just fallen through and so the three Liberal students, Harry Jacobi, Nicholas Ginsbury and Lawrence Rigal, were sent to University College to do a degree in Hebrew Literature together with added rabbinic tuition. Lawrence studied Talmud and Shulchan Aruch with Dr Teicher and Rabbi Kokotek. He led High Holy Day services in Britsol, travelling there on his Lambretta with a Torah scroll strapped to the back pannier.
Ordained in 1964, he was appointed minister to Birmingham Liberal Synagogue and, three years later, to South London, arriving soon after the Six Day Wan He was told that there were two applicants for conversion who had been waiting for some time. One of these made a deep impression on him; after her conversion, they began dating and he eventually proposed to her. Kay and Lawrence were married at the Prentis Road synagogue by Rabbi John Rayner.
After seven years at South London, he took on the double task of Woodford and West Central, after some years switching the Woodford half for what was then called the Beds-Herts Liberal Jewish Synagogue. In 1985, he moved to the Settlement Synagogue as full-time rabbi, where he remained for 24 years before retiring fully. After the Settlement merged with South West Essex Reform Synagogue, he took particular care of the Stepney branch. In July this year he received a Rabbinic Fellowship from Leo Baeck College, to mark his distinguished service.
Lawrence's hobbies included art, palaeontology, photography, winemaking and computing. He designed three websites, including one for the Stepney branch of the Settlement synagogue, and the site www. jewish-customs.co.uk. A keen craftsman, he made the mosaic panels for the Beds- Herts synagogue and the Star of David that hangs in the City of London Crematorium.
Lawrence was co-author, with Rosita Rosenberg, of Liberal Judaism: The First 100 Years, published in 2004. He is survived by wife, Kay, sons Daniel and Gideon, and brothers George and Cedric.