Looking back at Erev Sukkot - looking forward to Simchat Torah

Rabbi Rebcca writes:

Our EREV SUKKOT service was pretty exceptional. Over 200 crammed into our sanctuary to hear our young people talk about their history as grandchildren and great-grandchildren of kinder, or as those who have benefitted from kinder, who came and contributed so much.

They made the link explicit that our background, our history should inform how we behave…. you should love the foreigner who lives amongst you because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt….

 Ruby Reich talking of her grandfather Eric Reich, and Rebekah Treganna thanking Rabbi Harry Jacobi.

Ruby Reich talking of her grandfather Eric Reich, and Rebekah Treganna thanking Rabbi Harry Jacobi.

How many times this line reverberates through Torah. Yet it continues to have relevance and immediacy.  Erev Sukkot was our Sukkot Sanctuary event. The Sukkah is such a powerful symbol of sanctuary, dwelling and home.  We welcomed so many from our Borough to celebrate refugees, remember the 80th anniversary of kinder transport and ask for welcome to unaccompanied child refugees -  now 3-a-year in Barnet for the next 10 years. Our young people spoke with prophetic voices and were so proud of their synagogue. As he was honoured Rabbi Harry Jacobi told us his synagogue, his Liberal Jewish community and fellow British citizens; “I came alone with no family and you became my family. Now it is OUR TURN”.

When Torah, Synagogue and Justice come together we all benefit. This week we move to Simchat Torah and our celebration of our Sifrei Torah, and the completion and beginning again of our Torah cycle. 

We honour our Chatan Torah Richard Greene and our Kallat Bereshit Ofra Rosenwasser. Ofra, who has taught so many of our children Torah and Hebrew, is the daughter of Zvi, who taught so many before her and now brings her justice work with our Syrian families alongside her Torah learning and teaching. Richard has become Baal Tefillah within our community and brings so much to our services and community. Much to celebrate. Do help us to do so. 

Shabbat Shalom for this Shabbat chol hamo’ed Sukkot and for our Simchat Torah services Sunday 6.30 and Monday 11am.

Rabbi Rebecca 

 

FPS In the News!

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Over 220 people attended FPS on Succot Eve to hear the leader of Barnet Council pledge to accept 30 more Syrian refugees over the next 10 years. The story was reported by several news websites and can be read about in the links below.

https://www.times-series.co.uk/news/16899661.council-leader-persuaded-to-take-in-more-syrian-refugees/

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/barnet-council-persuaded-to-take-more-syrian-refugeees-1.470166

https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/liberal-shul-helps-secure-sukkot-sanctuary-for-child-refugees/

Rosh Hashanah 5779 - What Sustains Us?

Rosh Hashanah 5779

What Sustains Us?

A red-haired boy sits next to his mother in the psychiatrist’s office. She is describing her son’s problems and expressing her disappointment in him. Why is he always depressed? Why can’t he be like other boys his age? The doctor turns to the boy and asks why he is depressed. In a hopeless daze the boy replies, The universe is expanding, and if the universe is everything…and if it’s expanding… someday it will break apart and that’s the end of everything…what’s the point?” His mother leans over, slaps the kid and scolds: “What is that your business!” (Woody Allen)

Everything is our business. Our own personal lives and how we lead them, the families we love and in the communities we engage with, the cities we inhabit and the countries we call our own.  All of that is our business. Our place in the world. It’s our business. So we check our pockets to see what we carry with us into the New Year. What is mattering to us. The habitual balance suggested by Rabbi Bunam resonates in so many ways. At this time of year we should be aware of our two pockets; in one a scrap of paper should read “I am but dust and ashes” and in the other “the World was created for me”. We should be considered what it means to be a human and what it means to be a Jew. How can we grow deeply into ourselves for this moment without commenting and assessing what is happening around us. The philosopher Jordan Peterson … said to get your own house in order…and then try your very hardest to be the most responsible you can be. Be as engaged and involved and connected as you can be. Load yourself with what matters until you literally cannot take anymore.  what a wonderful way to welcome the new year

The experience as we have had these past few months, spiking to a crescendo this summer where antisemitism is discussed on the front pages of our broad sheets has been quite something. This is surely our business. No just to comment which I will first, but to decide our responses and how they accompany us into the new year.  

If we looked at HOME last night this must be an extension. How has the world we inhabit, the political language around us the landscape that affects us. How has this changed and what does it mean for us? What does it mean that one political party and the weak leadership it currently has, has allowed this conversation to run and run. In the meantime, so many other issues have got lost because this has become so prescient. For us and others too. As fellow Jew, and measured commentator Jonathan Freedland wrote about in July: Jews sharing their fears about this political party they, their parents and grandparents once called home. It’s the same conversation that Jews are now used to hearing, around synagogues, school drop offs and shabbat tables. The cumulative effect of careless comments, silence when outrage is required, and retreat when his members and politicians are waiting for him. In an unprecedented shared front-page editorial published in three leading British Jewish newspapers, declaring that a Corbyn-led government would pose “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country”.

How on earth has it come to this? How have we sunk to the point where it seems so many of the mainstream Jewish community sees Labour this way, and when a longtime anti-racist like Billy Bragg finds himself telling an ethnic minority (the Jewish community) that they have “work to do” if they are to win back Labour’s trust? Finally, Labour has adopted the full text of the near universally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. But what pain to reach this point, and what damage along the way. Gordon Brown spoke at the Jewish Labour Movement of his dismay of the process…. : "Would you produce a document on sexism produced by men only?

“Or would you produce a document on racism without consulting the black community?

“'Would you produce a document on homophobia without consulting the LGBT + community?"

Of course he was right and how cheering, reassuring and timely to hear a politician, a non-Jewish one, saying these things.  Everyone has a past and things are sometimes taken out of context. I feel keenly this for the challenges Jeremy Corbyn faces. We know better than many that tshuvah, regret and desire to put right is the bravest and most honourable of behaviours.  But we have seen the inability to speak to comments spoken in the past that have caused offence. Nor to engage, reach out or reassure. It has been dismaying and has created a sense, possibly untrue, that he doesn’t care to.  The mural in East London. The offensive and racist comment that British Zionists lack history and irony despite living in Britain all their lives.  The wreath laying at such a controversial ceremony. Just this week Peter Willsman elected to the NEC despite his bullish and outspoken antisemitic views. Every week it has been something else. Leaders have not always been leaders of such a broad community. It seems the case for Jeremy Corbyn, of a politician who has dedicated his life to the Palestinian cause (this in itself is reasonable) and sees no reason to engage thoughtfully, sensitively responsibly now with British Jews who may misunderstand him, or may be hurting. He is the leader of the second party in Britain.

How did we get here?  As we mark the 80th anniversary of Kindertransport, as we watch Jews all over Britain become increasingly engaged in outreach work that helps the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, homeless. So many synagogues are thriving in their religious services and their social justice work. How did we arrive at a place when so many both politicians, journalists and lay folk feel so beleaguered and disenfranchised? One of our younger members wrote a few months ago, it’s very uncomfortable being a Jewish member of the Labour party. Two Jewish Labour Movement members briefed rabbis last week and their task certainly appears challenging and demoralising. In other words, all of this is very much our business.  

Perhaps not everyone feels this. It took me a while to see this hurt. Labour, was traditionally a party that has attracted Jews, always, that led on its almost ‘prophetic’ concern for the marginalised, the poor and the powerless. The voice of the prophets and some rules of torah actually anticipated the welfare state.  Amos’ words…. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). Or Zechariah 7:10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in their heart against their neighbour.” I am indebted to Natasha Collett and Dina Rickman, both members of FPS, for instructive and informative conversations on this. Or Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is among you a poor person of your congregation, within any of the gates in your land which the Eternal your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide ….”

My grandmother, Alma Birk, worked for the Labour Party all her life. She was given a life peerage by Harold Wilson and continued to contribute to her local authority until she was too unwell. She might also have been the first Champagne socialist, I am afraid to say. She saw no conflict between living a good life and doing a lot of good work. [I treasure a Gucci handbag]. She did fantastic things with the early Marie Stopes organisation, with education for women in prison, for literacy and tried hard twice to gain a seat as Member of Parliament, although Portsmouth South never got to know what she might have done for them. Newspaper editors were interested in Jews in the 1950s and the community, for such different reasons than they are now. Hugh Cudlipp, owner of the Daily Mirror, insisted on including references to the Jacobs Affair (Louis Jacobs excommunicated from the United Synagogue) in his paper. Because it was interesting. She worked in the Labour party in such a different climate. But what might she advise now? So, this is where I would like to pause. 

We are players in various scripts. But today we are reminded we are authors of our own books. We have power in our we make sense of all of this. Hayom Harat Olam we say in the liturgy. Today is the birthday of the world. On Rosh Hashanah the world is created anew. How will we choose to live in that world?  Through what prism might this offer meaning?   

The Talmud teaches, “If you see wrongdoing by a member of your household and you do not protest – you are held accountable. And so it is in relation to the members of your city. And so it is in relation to the world.” 7 centuries later, in the 13th century just 700 years ago, the Meiri stated “the whole people are punished for the sins of the king if they do not protest the king’s unjust actions.” So what does that mean for us? Articulate and impassioned Jewish Labour commentators and activists should express outrage. We are delighted I am certain that non-Jewish activities and writers have also  expressed discomfort and dismay. Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour is disappointing and alarming. What it has opened, we cannot be certain of. But we have a choice.   

We seek balance as Rabbi Bunam calls for. In each of our pockets… a sense of our worth and sense of our fear.  This is our task and our possibility now this Rosh Hashanah.

To negotiate a balance through this.  To reject a paranoia that blinds us to other issues. But to decry the injustices that occur. 

I welcome Gordon Brown’s observations and I am saddened by the silence of Ed Miliband who might have said so much these past few months. But I resist the depiction of our community in an existential crisis as Jewish citizens of Great Britain. I wonder who here in our sanctuary truly is investigating leaving the UK because it no longer feels safe. Who would choose to leave? Jewish Voices Against Antisemitism….is not always helpful either. The knee jerk reaction to the slightest mistake, the over sensitive response does not help, as we navigate the bigger more nuanced issues.  

We can’t rule out larger powers at work. And I fear if Jews, in our tiny minority, are made responsible for the demise/the break/the failure of the Labour Party, that would be unconscionable and terrifying all at once. Being thoughtful is key. We are responsible to challenge and name injustice. We know that well. It’s nice to have early medieval Talmud text remind us that, but we probably don’t need it. We can’t only do that. Calling and noticing when things are wrong. We have a responsibility for optimistic possibility.  We are no strangers to oppression, cruelty and hatred. We know only too well the results of capricious demonisation. We also know, an integrity and resourceful that has flowed throughout generations to work hard at our part in the world. Lord Jonathan Sacks captured a real understandable fear and outrage at those foolish and dangerous comments by Jeremy Corbyn about British Zionists and their lack of history and irony. But a comparison to the insidious Enoch Powell? He who anticipated for blood to flow in the streets and was sacked the next day by Edward Heath for his ‘racialist’ words, and never held public office again? Interestingly it’s another comment of his, then in his role as Chief Rabbi, when he wrote Future Tense in 2009 he addressed the issue of rising antisemitism on campuses. He made an extraordinary gesture and call. He wrote “And now I want you to do the most unexpected thing. I want you to lead the fight against Islamophobia.”

Doing unexpected things often changes so much. We are very human when reminded of our fragile relationships with institutions we had assumed were safer, broader, braver than they are. But we have that choose of how to express anger/outrage/ concern AND to not lose ourselves in the process. But that fear and outrage might just be only one part of ourselves right now. What if we were to continue in our great works? What if we were to insist on reaching out and asking for conversation. The Jewish voice has never been a homogenous integration of everyone’s. We might speak at the outrage that is at our door but not lose the focus on our other tasks. Rosh Hashanah is is a reminder of hope and open-hearted possibilities. We know that to be a Jew, to be a human being, is to be in relation. Martin Buber insisted, beautifully “there is no living without connection”. It would be so easy, certainly less stressful, time-heavy and expensive to live as a sole Jew, under cover and unengaged with our neighbours. but we don’t. As I spoke last night. We live in community. And we, those here today, live as Jewishly-identified citizens. We hold responsibility. We have reasons to stay linked, open and connected. Al Tifros min Hatzibbur says Pirkei Avot. 

Thanks to Rabbi Alexandra Wright for her brilliant article about Lord Sacks September 2018. “I will not step aside; I will not abdicate my responsibility” said Moses quoted in Talmud Berachot, responding to his task after his people dallied with the golden calf; d’var zeh talu’i bi – “this matter is dependent on me.” (Berachot 32a).  And so we might say, each one of us. Refresh and renew our response to what is happening. Our disappointment, our fear, our shame in people and institutions we hope for more from. Oi gevult yidden…."Gevalt Yidden, Seit ich nisht mayesh" - a phrase that the residents of the Bratslav Shtibel had inscribed on their entrance sign in the Warsaw Ghetto -- it means “Jews, you are forbidden to despair.” So should we be forbidden to.

Rabbi Rebecca Birk

High Holy Days 2018/5779

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The High Holy Days are fast approaching. All the information you need about our services and other associated events can be found in the booklet for 2018/5779.  Full details of this year's Charity Appeal are available here

If you are not a member and would like to apply for tickets, or apply for tickets for a non-member, please download the application form and either email or return the completed form to the synagogue office. Full details can be found on the form.

Rabbi Rebecca's sermon on the occasion of Noah Laikin's Bar Mitzvah

From Rabbi Rebecca, on the occasion of Noah Laikin's Bar Mitzvah (14th July 2018):

So Jews disperse to other religions as well as other countries! That is the question Noah asked. (All our B’nei Mitzvah students ask questions). If we like to stick together why are we so dispersed?

The Dalai Llama famously asked American Jews in 1989 what was the secret technique of their survival? The Jewish Diaspora. Why did Jews stay in community when they ‘were in exile’? In a week when we have talked a great deal about the collective, team-spirit, patriotism, sense of togetherness (football) how is it we are dispersed? We have been dispersed for almost 2000 years.

Diaspora means to disperse/scatter from the Hebrew tefuttza. It comes from the Greek in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Deuteronomy. It refers to the original exile/galut under the Babylonians from 586 B.C.E but then finally under the Romans135 C.E when Jews became stateless until 1948. That has been our story of moving always for survival, they/we had to move again and again…a collective community. As [rabbi] Shimon bar Yochai said,

“When one Jew is injured, all Jews feel the pain.”

Jews moved from towns and villages after pogroms and crusades, and then left countries.

  1290 UK under Edward 1
  1492 Spain and moving the east and some back to the Netherlands
  1656 back in UK but was an overstatement to say Cromwell welcomed us.

Jews moved to survive and to make a living…. That is why we dispersed. We/they could not own land in the middle ages and so arrived at urban centres, offering important finance and usury services. They /we moved on and on; becoming indispensable to ruling governments but separate too.

Wherever they went and gathered we Jews used our laws and customs to ensure we stayed as a community together: food laws, marriage laws, prayer, mikveh all this ensured we existed as a separate community but amongst others. Think of Shakespeare’s Shylock in Merchant of Venice from 1605;

I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.”

Maimonides, medieval Spanish physician, rabbi and scholar, famously a doctor for the sultan in Cairo in the 1170s (after fleeing Spain) ministered to patients in the palace all day, probably for 12 hours and returned home to minister to those in the Jewish community in Furstan outside Cairo eating just once his own kosher meal and sleeping for a few hours before returning to the palace and not eating or drinking there for the next 12 hours. He was indispensable to the king valued for his knowledge and skill and yet a religious Jew.

Jews have been ambitious and with a strong survival instinct, where they could, moving to where they were needed. At the end of the 19th century we know many Jews wrote about the failure of the diaspora in terms of safety and happiness - even before the Holocaust…such as Theodore Herzl in The Jewish State (1896):

“We have honestly endeavoured everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and to preserve the faith of our fathers. We are not permitted to do so.”

Or Leon Pinsker, another Jewish physician, who had believed that the spread of humanism and enlightenment would put an end to Anti-Semitism, but who experienced a major change of heart and wrote one of the early texts of secular Zionism, Auto-Emancipation (1882) “In seeking to fuse with other peoples [Jews] deliberately renounced to some extent their own nationality. Yet nowhere did they succeed.”

150 years on, through the dark events of the 20th century, even alongside the establishment of the state of Israel many of us prize the flourishing diaspora.

Some think even the term [Nomenclature] is misleading now. Like David Hartman, eminent rabbi in Jerusalem…who shockingly suggested Israel is a focus of love and concern but the diaspora is bigger!  The language is wrong. “We need to reclaim a family discourse. Families in fact have multiple centres that interact with each other,” those that live outside of Israel and those that live in Israel are that family diaspora-Jews-are-already-home.

Still Jews actually make up a tiny percentage of the global pop 0.2% in big centres and tiny communities. Even now there are small communities all over the globe. Dispersal is what we do. There is now a rabbi even on the isle of Skye.

In India young Jews work in call centres with perfect English. In Tahiti there are many Jewish doctors or in the pearl business. In France there have been three Jewish prime ministers. In Britain high ranking politicians. Jews have reached all corners. And don’t choose to settle just in Gateshead, New Jersey or London.

In this week’s portion Moses chastises Ruben and Gad for breaking off from rest of the tribes to settle where they chose-separately.

Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here to build a sheepfold…..

We all make choices where to settle.

But in all these places and homes- there are strong supportive Jewish mechanisms offering just that and intimacy for Jews. In our dispersal we have so much to give - so being in different places being full citizens, contributing and sometimes changing the society to which we belong is a responsibility and privilege.

Noah, you arrived here and instantly fell at home, as did Deborah and Mark. Already you have all engaged with so much willingly and warmly… Great Jewish Bake Off was a highlight……and our production of The Disputation is awaited with anticipation.

As you have already mentioned you were a precious baby and still a precious boy and now to be a young man.

Some of you who know your mum may have noticed she is quite discerning in her choices. Choosing a community was her act of love for you and your dad, somewhere where you would flourish, and you have. Maths-loving, fashion-appreciative, computer-literate, deep-thinking and curious you Noah, you have brought so much of yourself today.

If communities are microcosms of the world then don’t stray too far Noah in your choice of dispersal. Whether the villages of the Himalayas or the islands of Scotland, or here in North Finchley, Jews will be there;  and you must find your own real home - so your mother doesn’t have to come far to claim you!

 

The Disputation of Barcelona

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On 21st July, on the occasion of Tisha B'Av, a production of The Disputation of Barcelona was performed at the Synagogue by the FPS Players. This was based on the Disputation set up by the Spanish Catholic Church in 1263 AD between two theologians. The defeat of Rabbi Moses was intended to be a spur to the conversion of the Jewish community to Christianity, but it didn't turn out to be that way...

Extended highlights of the production can be viewed by clicking the link below:

https://youtu.be/9mC-lFo8Y-g

Rabbi Rebecca's Thought for the Week

This week the annual Israel tours for 16-year olds leave for their 3.5 weeks of immersion there. Five FPS young people (including my Ruben) will leave on Sunday with their LJY-Netzer group and leaders (including one leader Rosa Slater, daughter of Miriam Dwek FPS member). Last year’s tour was led by FPS member Jonty Leibowitz. We are good customers. They meet at Luton Airport at 8.30 pm perhaps travelling during the World Cup final, just one taste of many collisions of commitment they may experience in their life time. Israel tour is considered 'a rite of passage' or some describe it as 'the best month of my life’. It is an opportunity to teach love for and connection to the land alongside a rigorous and thoughtful understanding of the politics there and the people who live alongside fighting for their own self determination. It is a complex set of emotions to which our young people will be exposed.

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Last week we learned RSY-Netzer ‘released’ one of their tour leaders just days before the tour was to leave. Nina Morris-Evans had spent the last year in Israel, with deep commitment and devotion to Israel, grown out of her synagogue FRS and RSY-Netzer youth movement. She had also been involved, along with several young people from our Progressive movements, at a demonstration outside Parliament for the Palestinian civilian deaths at last month's violent demonstrations when the Trump administration moved their embassy to Jerusalem. They also called for an end to occupation.

It was political, outspoken and extreme and perhaps naive. None of us deny that. But Nina’s dismissal is sad, and has caused her an inordinate amount of grief and abuse on social media from fellow Jews. That is wrong and I am ashamed for what she is experiencing.

As we send our young people to Israel, I hope we are ready for multiple views and nuanced love for our ‘unruly but beloved relative’. There must be room for it in our movement and our Judaism. We want to raise thoughtful, loving and engaged young people who have an integrated way of seeing their Judaism, their Zionism and their humanity; and learn how to express different views to each other.

 

It is a challenge, but one to which I am committed.  

Nesiah Tovah (a good trip) to all of them and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Rebecca

IS EATING KOSHER STILL LIBERAL?

IS EATING KOSHER STILL LIBERAL?

Rabbi Rebecca’s sermon on the occasion of Ollie Pelham’s Barmitzvah 23rd June 2018

On a hot and humid Cincinnati evening in July 1883, over 200 distinguished guests, Jews and non-Jews alike, gathered at the exclusive Highland House restaurant to celebrate a milestone in the history of American Judaism: Hebrew Union College, which Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise [nearly four decades after his arrival in America from his native Bohemia] founded, had just ordained its initial graduating class. America had finally produced four homegrown, ordained rabbis. It was also the eighth annual meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the first association of American Jewish synagogues, with much excitement the banquet was served to shocked rabbis.  The MENU included amongst other things;

razor neck clams, shrimp salad, soft shell crab, fillet du boeuf, ice cream and plate de fromage

It’s a great story and it’s true. Controversial and provocative. It was never known if Rabbi Meyer Wise knew of the menu, had been sabotaged by more radical colleagues, or indeed who had arranged it. The Treyfe banquet, as it became known changed Progressive Judaism forever. Whilst it took place in the U.S. It influenced the audacious changes that ULPS were to consider and sometimes make here 20 or so years later. Although the early founders embedded as they were in traditional families were a little more sensitive. Liberal Jews were as brave and principled when it came to change. Following the idea from the American Pittsburgh Platform…..

[rules about diet are] entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. Indeed [laws of kashrut] are apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

Whenever I hear of anything audacious and provocative I think of your father David.  To be honest, if LJ hadn’t already existed I can imagine David creating it. …. he liked to challenge, question, occasionally be stubborn in his highly intelligent way.  He had a clear eye for what was meaningful. So I like that you asked For your Bar Mitzvah question Why food is important to Jews and if the laws of kashrut have a place for Liberal Jews today?  All our B’nei Mitzvah kids ask something they are interested in or bothered by. 

The truth is Torah gives clear but rather unexplained laws; we know the.  Animals must have a cloven hoof, chew cud, blood is considered the life force, “don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk”, fish need fins and scales. Rabbis mostly reinforced this and made comprehensive rules, indeed by the early common era the need to be separate, eat separately, build homes separately was paramount. So intricate dietary requirements helped that.

But there were hints of questioning well too. And this well before Progressive Judaism was so iconoclastic with the treyfe banquet & additions of ULPS just twenty or so years later.  Bereshit Rabbah in the 4 CE asked; What does God care whether we kill an animal this way or that…the important issue is to refine our souls. make us thoughtful and considered…

Philo of Alexandria who lived from 25 BCE to 50CE, always anxious to present Jews in a good light, focused on the spiritual benefits and concerns of kashrut … he suggested; chewing the cud encourages us to consider and chew over our lives and our study and we don’t eat carnivorous animals or birds to demonstrate our commitment to lovingkindness and gentleness.

Everyone was concerned by kashrut. BUT OLLIE. In Liberal modernity KASHRUT has been considered inappropriate and outdated… not in the spirit of openness to the world we live in. We desire to eat with others now not seclude ourselves from them. The laws of kashrut have diminished in importance for many. In a principled and thoughtful fashion many Liberal rabbis have discarded the laws. (even as some with traditional leanings and concerns for community KLAL Israel have kept to them.) My internship in my 4th year at Leo Baeck College began on a Friday night at my new mentor rabbi’s home. Dinner was spaghetti carbonara! We followed it by an enthusiastic and religiously uplifting Shabbat service. South London Lib synagogue made the recent decision not to use kosher wine as its strict rulings on Jews alone, allowed to be part of production did not feel ‘kosher’ for them.  So Liberal Jews negotiate a different set of food concerns. It’s thoughtful. What allows us to feel Jewish but not be at odds with our values for the world.  Rabbi John D Rayner, z’l wrote memorably about being kosher:  Is it worth it? After all religion is not primarily concerned with eating habits, to create the impression that this is one of Judaism’s chief preoccupations is to debase it in the eye of the Jew and the non-Jew

So Ollie, kosher laws have been given the same treatment as all other traditional laws.  Do they stand the test of time? Do they, as they stand, offer any ethical benefit? Is organic and free-range meat more ‘kosher’ than traditionally kosher meat? Are Fairtrade bananas more kosher than others? Is seasonal produce more kosher than fruit available all year round? Eating as a Liberal Jew still requires thinking about food.

But the JOY of food remains the same for all of us. What Jewish function from committee meeting to study session is without nourishment? There’s a multitude of words to reinforce food’s enormous importance. From Pirkei Avot eye kemach ayn torah. no bread no Torah   To Michael Kagan, Nowhere does the Torah say, “Invite your guest to pray”; but it does tell us to offer them food, drink…” or "Eating is the best of prayers.” Fran Lebowitz “Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying. " ~~ "There can be no joy without food and drink.  Talmud, Mo’ed Katan  

In that way your home is a very Jewish home indeed. It’s welcoming, always with good food….when offered a food rota during those dark days last Autumn Ann was insistent, with gratitude, there was no need- ‘food is something we can do well ..’ And I hope you, Ollie, continue to value its importance but also to be thoughtful about what you eat. Be iconoclastic but know you are being so. Channel your dad.

David feels very much with us today; having planned so much so meticulously with Ann.  Your parents booked your date for today more in advance than any family I have encountered in my 17 years as a rabbi! And you have now been called to Torah, led us in prayers, read, translated and brought so much of yourself with such poise. I can imagine your Dad saying, as he did many years ago to Jacqui Bernard in shock , GOOD GOD he does know Hebrew.  And you do Ollie. You have been dedicated and committed in your learning-it helped I know your Hebrew teacher being John and a Spurs fan at that. But you are a so much a child of this community; and you have grown into the pleasure that might bring as well as its demands! So many here are so proud of you for getting to this moment and being so fantastic.

I love when I have witnessed your ambivalence as well as your enthusiasm. Your Dad would have approved of both.  You spoke with a profound poignancy of Moses missing entering the Promised land and David just missed seeing you become Bar Mitzvah. He’s here in so much-the choice of scroll, Ann’s gracious poise, Shabbat Resouled. (Perhaps the only service he genuinely liked). You were named ….Ollie after your grandmother Olive, James for your grandfather…for peace. So much was anticipated and hoped for your life and these 13 years as an ‘ok’, baby, an ‘ok’ toddler & child and now a teenager you have realised that hope.  The peaceful comfort I think you have brought in these past months has been noted as well. Whether you're playing rugby, baking cakes or RELUCTANTLY playing FIFA you have brought normality, routine and courage to Christchurch Avenue.  You are fortunate to have the mother you have who’s worked with you always. And Poppy whom I'm surprised Ann didn't create a policy for being here at FPS. always prepared. with her eye for detail. And never without her dry sense of humour. Strong, brave and loving. I love her being part of our synagogue and becoming more involved.   This is L'dor V'dor – From Generation to Generation. We talk of a river of tears flowing at Bar Mitzvah, joyful, positive tears. This is no exception. The river today flows from ….. Spain, through the North of England, to Finchley. L’dor v’ Dor.

Rabbi Rebecca Birk