Werner van der Zyl

Rabbi Dr Werner van der Zyl
Position Director of Studies
Organisation Leo Baeck College
Began 1956
Ended 1968
Personal details
Birth name Werner van der Zyl
Born 11 September 1902[1]
Schwerte, Germany[2]
Died 10 April 1984[3]
Palma, Majorca, Spain[4]
Buried Hoop Lane Jewish Cemetery, Golders Green
Nationality German until 1939;
Denomination Reform Judaism
Spouse Anneliese
Children 1 daughter: Nikki
Semicha Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, Berlin
Position Senior Rabbi
Synagogue West London Synagogue
Began 1958
Ended 1968
Position Minister
Synagogue North Western Reform Synagogue, London
Began 1943
Ended 1958
Position Rabbi
Synagogue New Synagogue, Berlin
Began 1935
Ended 1938/9
Position Rabbi
Synagogue Rykestrasse Synagogue, Berlin
Began 1932
Ended 1935

Rabbi Dr Werner van der Zyl (Schwerte, Germany, 11 September 1902[1][5]Palma, Majorca, Spain, 10 April 1984)[3][4] was a rabbi in Berlin and in London, where he came in 1939[6] as a refugee rabbi from Germany. He was the prime mover and first director of studies of the Jewish Theological College of London. The college was inaugurated in 1956 and was renamed Leo Baeck College shortly afterwards at his suggestion.[4]


Van der Zyl, who was also a trained chazan, received his rabbinical training at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, where he was a pupil of Leo Baeck,[7] qualifying in 1933.[4] The University of Giessen awarded him a doctorate in 1931.[3] He was Rabbi at the Rykestrasse Synagogue, Berlin from 1932 to 1935 and at the New Synagogue, Berlin from 1935 to 1938/9.[1]

Van der Zyl came to Britain in 1939.[8] During World War II the British Government interned him at Kitchener Camp in Sandwich, Kent and then at Mooragh Internment Camp on the Isle of Man[9] as an "enemy alien". He was released from internment in 1943 and became Minister at North Western Reform Synagogue, remaining there until 1958.[7] While serving as minister at North Western Reform Synagogue, and at the West London Synagogue, where he was Senior Rabbi from 1958 to 1968,[10] he oversaw the creation of the Jewish Theological College of London (later Leo Baeck College), sponsored by the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, and the College's subsequent additional sponsorship by the Liberal Judaism Movement.[11]

He retired in 1968 to Majorca where he held the post of honorary rabbi to the Jewish community in Palma.[4]

He was a founder and President of Leo Baeck College, London; President of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (now known as the Movement for Reform Judaism); and Life Vice President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Personal life

He was the father of artist, poet, public speaker and voice actress Nikki van der Zyl.[12]

Death and legacy

He died in Palma, Majorca in 1984 and is buried at Hoop Lane Jewish Cemetery in Golders Green.[2]

An annual lecture is held in his memory at Leo Baeck College.[8][13] In April 2013 Leo Baeck College announced the appointment of Rabbi Maurice Michaels as its first Van der Zyl Head of Vocational Studies, a post named in honour of the College's founder.[14]

His family papers are held at the University of Southampton.[15]


  1. 1 2 3 Van der Zyl, Nikki. "Rabbi Dr. Werner van der Zyl – Background". The World of Nikki van der Zyl. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  2. 1 2 Sante Hanse, Britta; Klüh, Thomas (14 December 2010). "Renaming the so-called small market in Dr. Werner van der Zyl Square". Committee on Demography, Urban Development and Environment. Schwerte.de. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Jon Epstein & David Jacobs (2006). A History in our Time: Rabbis and Teachers Buried at Hoop Lane Cemetery. Movement for Reform Judaism. p. 23.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Obituary: Rabbi Werner van der Zyl" (PDF). AJR Information. Association of Jewish Refugees. 39 (6): 9. June 1984.
  5. Van der Zyl, Nikki. "Rabbi Dr. Werner van der Zyl – Photo Album". The World of Nikki van der Zyl. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  6. "Auschwitz Remembered: Nikki van der Zyl" (PDF). Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  7. 1 2 "Aylth – History and Heritage". North Western Reform Synagogue. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  8. 1 2 "2013 Van Der Zyl Lecture". Calendar. Movement for Reform Judaism. 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  9. "MS 297: Van der Zyl family papers, 1928–94". Special Collections: Manuscripts collections. University of Southampton. 16 December 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  10. "West London Synagogue of British Jews: Ministers of the Congregation". JCR-UK. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  11. Magonet, Jonathan (Autumn 2012). "Rabbi Dr Werner Van Der Zyl and the Creation of Leo Baeck College. The German Rabbinate Abroad: Transferring German-jewish Modernity Into the World?". European Judaism. 45 (2): 103–111.
  12. Meaker, Morgan. "Foy your ears only". Magazine. Kids of Dada. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  13. "Event: 2012 Van Der Zyl Lecture: 'Rabbis: The Next Generation'". Events. Leo Baeck College. 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  14. "Van der Zyl Head of Vocational Studies". Movement for Reform Judaism. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  15. "MS 297 Van der Zyl family papers, 1928–94". University of Southampton. Retrieved 11 April 2013.

See also

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