Bournemouth Reform Synagogue was founded in 1947 as the Bournemouth New Synagogue, a break-away from the Hebrew Congregation in the town. The split met with fierce opposition from the Hebrew Congregation who at the time refused to share the cemetery. There have been a number of rabbis in the community over the last sixty years, the longest-serving being Rabbi David Soetendorp who held the post from 1972 to 2005, when he was succeeded by Rabbi Neil Amswych.
Bournemouth Reform Synagogue is a member of the Movement for Reform Judaism, and shares similar goals. It seeks to be welcoming to everyone for social activities, educational programmes, for support or for spiritual nourishment. It seeks to respond to the needs of individuals who need a combination of both tradition and modernity, and says that it believes that "a healthy community is one that prays, socialises, learns, plans and grows together.
BRS is one of the many communities responding to a major difficulty of Reform Judaism - "the question of religious authority with the resulting difficulty of setting limits to a liberal religion. A centralised model of religious leadership under Rabbi Soetendorp was responsible for significantly growing the community in size, and in drawing people into the community. However, as the community continues to grow it is clear that a new model must being employed in order to meet new needs, and the model employed is similar to some Reconstructionist communities in America, in which the community comes to make important public decisions after a long process of education. Other elements from Reconstructionist thought have influenced some of the changes in the community of note. For example, Mordecai Kaplan wrote that "the only element in Judaism which is both permanent and distinctive is the survival and enhancement of the Jewish People In order to achieve that survival and enhancement, a process of community-education had to be started, since "if the role of the Jewish community is to help every Jew attain self-fulfillment, it can do so only by providing for him at every stage of his development the knowledge and insight he may need to solve the major problems that confront him as a Jew in his personal life. As a result, the Foundations course was established for adults in 2005, and in 2006 became a partially online course for those who live far away from Bournemouth. While, of course, community-led decisions have always been a part of every British Reform community, BRS is one of the communities that has employed a model in which the Ritual Forum, re-established in 2005, advises the Rabbi and Council of ritual decisions after long discussions that can sometimes take place over a period of months.
Under Rabbi Soetendorp's leadership, the synagogue published two volumes of "Emet" - booklets that told stories of individual members, being years ahead of the now recognised need to tell individual stories as part of the community's growth. This model was expanded upon by Rabbi Amswych who will ask on the Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night) service often ask members to share the things that they are thankful for from the week that has been, and the things that they are looking forward to in the week to come. By ritualising story-telling the number of people attending services on a Friday night has doubled.
The synagogue has been led by five ministers over its sixty-year history: Rev. Charles Berg (1948-1953), Rev. Stanley Solomons (1953-1969), Rabbi Harold Vallins (1970-1972), Rabbi David Soetendorp (1972-2005) and Rabbi Neil Amswych (2005-present day).
Bournemouth Reform services are in both Hebrew and English. The synagogue aims to be egalitarian by encouraging members to participate in relevant mitzvot (commandments) regardless of gender. The Friday evening (Shabbat) service is usually more fluid with a story as the central focus, while the Saturday morning (Shabbat) service has a choir and has the Torah reading and its exposition as the central point.
The synagogue has been using the 7th edition of the Forms of Prayer siddur since its publication in 1977. From time to time, services are led from the draft 8th version, known as Iyyun Tefillah, and the community is likely to make a decision on which siddur to use closer to the publication date of that 8th edition.
Many decisions regarding community customs are made at the synagogue's Ritual Forum which meets monthly and which is open to all synagogue members. Recent decisions of the Ritual Forum can be accessed from the synagogue's website.
An essential part of the social life at Bournemouth Reform Synagogue is the Day Centre held on a Monday lunchtime. The Day Centre brings together Jews from all denominations across Bournemouth, and is a place for entertainment, good food and socialising. In 2006, the Day Centre celebrated it's 25th anniversary. It is still one of the least expensive day centres across the country.
Bournemouth Reform Synagogue is the largest Progressive community in Dorset and often holds events that link up with the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Community, and smaller communities in Salisbury and on the Isle of Wight. An important part of the outreach by the community is achieved by the synagogue website, created in January 2007, which includes a member chat room for individuals across the South Coast to discuss Jewish matters. Other outreach work includes interfaith activities, such as the 2007 Interfaith Seder, and school visits (either to the community or by community representatives such as Rabbi Neil Amswych, Student Rabbi Jenny Goldfried Amswych, or educators from the community).
The religion school at Bournemouth Reform Synagogue is called "Kol Shofar" and it brings Jews to Reform Judaism from toddlers up to teenage years. In 2006, Rabbi Neil Amswych created the Foundations Course which was designed to teach about matters that lie at the heart of being a Reform Jew. There were sessions three times a month - two Wednesday evenings and one Shabbat afternoon. In 2007, the two Wednesday evening sessions were moved online, so that the Foundations course could be accessed by more people. The website also contains an "Ask the Rabbi" page, a Torah Thoughts page with commentaries on most weekly portions (as well as occasional sermons), and also includes online courses, such as the course for 2007 entitled "Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?"
Following the name of the community - Gates of Righteousness - Bournemouth Reform Synagogue has a history of social action. Under Rabbi David Sotendorp's guidance, the community was very prominent in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry in the 1980s. Under the guidance of Rabbi Neil Amswych, the community's social action has recently focused on environmental concerns, both locally and globally. Visitors to the synagogue website are also directed to internet charity sites where surfers can give to charity for free.