IT HAS been 20 years since Bournemouth Reform Synagogue leader, Rabbi Maurice Michaels, became an official teacher of the Torah.

The Synagogue is celebrating the anniversary with a special service on Saturday, July 2 at 10.30am.

After taking early retirement from a career in business and industry, the Rabbi undertook his training at the London-based Leo Baeck College – a pre-eminent institution of Jewish scholarship.

His professional life, which started in business and finance, took a very different turn largely brought about by his love of teaching and helping others.

“I’d always been involved with the Jewish community and the Reform movement, as well as being chairman of the college, when I decided to apply,” he said.

“I had done as much for the community as I could do and if I wanted to have any more influence, in some ways it had to be as a Rabbi.”

His move to Bournemouth in October 2014, having served several communities in London and Essex, was a simple choice. Long a holiday destination for his family, they eventually found an apartment, making his transition from London far easier.

“Bournemouth, in the post-war years, was very much the resort for the London Jewish community. There were probably about a dozen kosher hotels,” he said.

“We decided we wanted to look for an apartment, away from London, and Bournemouth was the natural choice. Then when this position came up we were able to take it without worrying where we were going to live.”

London is a place he has known nearly all his life, though he was actually born in Hertfordshire.

He said: “My mother was evacuated during the war, to Maidenhead, and then came back to the East End when I was 18 months old and lived there most of the time since.”

He and his wife Eileen have been married for more than 50 years. They have two children, Marc, father to Aryeh, and Mala, the mother of Nadav, Itamar, Maayan, Yasmeen, who lives in Israel, as does the Rabbi’s sister, Hazel. The family were devastated earlier this year, when the Rabbi’s eldest grandson, Nadav, was killed in a road accident.

When asked what he considers the highlight of his religious career, he responded: “The opportunity to spend quality time with congregants during both happy and sad times. That’s a privilege and very few get that opportunity.

“If you’d asked me 20 years ago I probably would have said teaching. I love teaching but I’d never anticipated the satisfaction and the privilege of working with people during those particular times of their lives.”