CHAPLAINS from Oxford Colleges, as well other faith groups from across the city, have raised £3,850 to support Oxford’s Jewish Congregation in building a new Ark in the city’s synagogue.

An Ark is essentially a large cupboard used to store the handwritten scrolls containing the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

“Our previous Ark was no longer secure,” explained Isaac Garson, who was responsible for fund-raising. “The scrolls are very precious objects, handwritten on parchment, and easily damaged. The Ark that we had was not fireproof, waterproof or lockable.

“An Ark, while not in itself an object of veneration, becomes the focal point of a synagogue and is made as aesthetically beautiful as possible. So it’s not in any sense just a cupboard.”

Isaac explained that, as one of the activities to mark the 175th anniversary of the Congregation, it was decided to raise funds for a new Ark.

Hearing about their efforts the Revd Canon Bruce Kinsey, Chaplain at Balliol College and the Chair of Oxford University’s College Chaplains group, had an idea. The remit of the University’s College Chaplains, who mainly belong to the Church of England, is to serve all the students in their College ‘of all faiths and none’.

Bruce explained: “This was an unusual opportunity to put our money where our mouth is. The Jewish Congregation along with the Jewish Chaplain to the University, do much to help support Jewish students while they are here. They provide both spiritual and practical input for our students, all of which takes place at the Synagogue and Jewish Centre. So they become colleagues in our pastoral role. This was the chance to give something back.”

He put the idea to his chaplaincy colleagues and received a warm and enthusiastic response.

Contributors included 16 colleges who were joined by other religious groups including the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the Society of Friends, St Columba’s United Reformed Church, the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres and Oxford Buddhist Vihara.

“This was an amazing act of generosity and friendship,” said the President of the Oxford Jewish Congregation, Alison Ryde. “We really appreciate both the gift itself and the thoughts behind it. We hope that all those who have donated will be able to visit the Synagogue and see the new Ark which was made by local designer and furniture maker, Robin Furlong. It is really beautiful and we are enormously proud of it.”

A service to celebrate the 175th Anniversary of Oxford Jewish Congregation and the Dedication of the new Ark will take place on February 25th.