LJY-Netzer's tour to Israel - Summer 2017

Leah Pennisi-Glaser writes:

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I’m in a pair of borrowed size nine trainers (six sizes too large) and wearing an oversized black denim jacket. This is wholly inappropriate attire for my location, a scorching hot Middle-Eastern desert. There are also hornets, swarms of them, and twice as big as their English counterparts buzzing around my face. By rights, this should not be a recipe for success, yet somehow I’m beaming from ear to ear with the rest of my LJY-Netzer קהילה community.

Really, it’s an odd setup: three and a half weeks, touring Israel, hardly the safest country in the world, with forty-nine hormonal teens looked after, supposedly,  by students a few years older. Whilst a strict policy that the tour experience would be sans alcohol, smoking and drugs, my lapsed Catholic Italian father still needed a stiff drink when he heard about the planned trip.

We all arrived from the far corners of Britain: Birmingham to Bristol, Sheffield to suburban London with an interesting range of socio-economic backgrounds. Bar our Judaism the only thing that really united us seemed to be our left-leaning politics. Any Tory present was a closet Tory. Despite having limited initial common ground, our chemistry bubbled explosively as the tour settled down, just like the experiment so many of us had conducted wrongly in our GCSE classes. However, instead of the end product being a rotten egg smell, the end product was a strong, group friendship (we even had a meet-up on the 20th August, less than two weeks after we all bid our farewells at Luton).

LJY has deservingly earned a reputation for being the “lefty tour,” the other options are apparently becky or frum. One of the first things we were told by the leaders is that, “LYJ  Netzer is a socialist, feminist, vegetarian, Zionist youth movement.”

Great, I thought, this is going to be a ball of laughs. I’m as liberal as the next woman, but PC politics make me as irritated as the tour’s daily mosquito bites  did.

Despite my initial reservations, I found it pleasingly ironic how the world always sees Israel in a reactionary light, but everyone, especially our leaders were staunch, leftist  hippies. However, they preferred to describe themselves as, ‘social activists’. So, contrary to the views of my non-Jewish friends that I was embarking on a brain-washing tour, LJY was very clear that they, “wanted you to feel something, but that something can be anything.” This is where you could potentially have returned from the experience leaving your Zionism behind.

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Lectures were an important feature of the tour. They ranged over talks from Jews, Druze, Muslims and LGBT activists. My own particular highlight was the visit to the Western Wall. There I felt I was in direct touch with the history of my people. Afterwards, the Women of the Wall seminar gave me an educational subtext to the visit. Connecting with my history was reinforced by our visit to Yad Vashem , an experience that will live with me forever and one that no book can so forcefully deliver...

Of course, there were more light-hearted activities such as trips to the Dead Sea where a couple of us tried to float to Jordan (oddly enough, we didn’t make it) and desert camel rides (not to be repeated). All together, I think LJY stuck the right balance  between recreational and educational projects. We all left the country with our individual views on Israel. Certainly, in my case they are less biased and more informed that my non-Jewish friends’ opinions on the state that they were so suspicious about me visiting. They, in fact, would have greatly benefitted from such a trip. 


Mother and Rabbi

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On the occasion of her daughter Dora's Bat Mitzvah, Rabbi Rebecca writes...

Someone recently sent me an article that described rabbi’s children as B List celebrities. I thought this would please Dora immensely as she rather likes celebrities. Although probably more of the A list kind.

Rabbi’s children, so he wrote…. have massive extended family, are loved, reviled, watched critiqued and supported. This is fortunate as rabbi’s children may also be neglected by their parent. Cobblers children don't have shoes.

Charlotte Fischer friend of this congregation told me as she was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah she noticed her mother [rabbi SR] cancelling rather a lot of her Bat Mitzvah lessons so much so that she wrote her mother a letter and posted it to the synagogue

Dear Rabbi

I am a member of this synagogue and I have noticed I am having significantly less Dvar Torah meetings with you than other Bat Mitzvah candidates please can I be assured my lessons will be kept.

signed Charlotte Fischer.

Both extremes are true. they are minor celebrities and hugely neglected. I appreciate not many parents get to give a sermon on my daughter. But I hope you will indulge me.

Independent thinking is what we hope for in our young people coming of age -thinking for themselves-being aware.. We don’t want sassiness but we do want independence.

Like in the cartoon with a little girl being told:

Now do what you are told. Don’t you want to grow up to be a strong independent woman.

And this parasha is about being thoughtful and aware.

It contains a large number of the commandments in the whole Tanakh. Nearly one-eighth of the 613 are found here, 72 according to Maimonides. But the rules are about small things bound together by the verse Dora commented upon lo tuchal lehitalem-. onkolos, you have no right to hide yourself. Ethical and moral instruction and advice.

Domestic and personal injunctions that will make a difference; concern for the mother bird-to anticipate this maternal suffering of a bird is so detailed and the reward for doing so the same as honouring ones own parents - a long life; insistence on a balcony on the roof much used in a ancient near east home thus protecting the householders from accident; responsibility to your neighbours to behave thoughtfully to them-even if you do not like them.

Who can wear what and express who they are - the writers of Deuteronomy could not have anticipated how this verse might speak to a 13 year old in 2017. And the joy she would take in wearing her tallit as she reinterprets it. And the fun we would have tying the tzizit with delia - also instructed in your portion.

There is nothing so small that the Torah doesn’t speak to. These tiny rules make up a life that matters. The Judaism Dora has inherited and are committing to; is a Judaism of small detail. Where small acts of kindness make a difference.

Dora-you have grown up in synagogues where small acts of kindness transform congregations into communities. No more so than here.

Where food rotas spring into action for people going through hard times, where people are miraculously brought to services when they can’t bring themselves - to be part of things. Three people cook and we have a homeless shelter. Two write a play and we have a Purim Spiel.

How often I will arrive in hospital to visit to find many have come before me. And We have received such acts of kindness from this our community. Dora has grown up as B list celebrity perhaps but also experiencing kindness and concern from this congregation, always. It is wonderful to grow up with. And I watch you Dora now extend that to others. With your own small acts of caring:

Go out of your way to include a new comer-at school, shul or LJY NETZER. You stand up when others are being mistreated, you show kindness to adults who care for you by demonstrating your love so warmly.

You learned by heart Hilary Clinton’s words to little girls so you could remind your friends: "never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world."

You are ready for this coming of age.

You have watched your grandmother always care for the fragile in her community ; leading KIT at her synagogue-always hosting and visiting people that benefit from being noticed and counted.

You have learned from your youth movement that creates connections for life-based on equality, friendship and tikkun olam-repairing the world with small steps…. and this your synagogue I watch you so proud of - does small things so well.

It was not an Ibn Gabirol, or a Maimonides or a Spinoza that did the most for the jewish mission-it was small nameless communities that maintained the Moral Law…so said Claude Montefiore in 1927. That is us in this synagogue and that is us in our Jewish families that sustain tradition and responsibility however small.

At a Bat Mitzvah it was Geffrey Salkin who created the idea of a a river of tears flowing from one generation to the next, connecting small deeds and expressions over the years. Tears are usually salty but these are sweet. And they flow today with joy. 

Dora you are Named for two great-grandmothers, Alma Birk and Vera Hageras and your great grandfather Ellis Birk. Daddy and I wanted you to have their spirit, audacity and kindness. You carried great anticipation and love. I visited their grave this week to unleash the river that might flow today.

It is hard as a parent once said to praise your child - it feels like praising oneself. But you are a marvel Our only girl endlessly kind but headstrong...Clever. But dreamy. Always gauging the impact of your behaviour on others. Always aware of people’s feelings-especially those in your family.

Daddy and I have always been so charmed and amazed by your fierce independence …you got here by all your own efforts. I can’t remember having to ask you, ever. You have been organised, focused and above all joyful. You bring so much love to everything you participate in-including this, your Bat Mitzvah. Even your tzedakah project is about small things making a difference: wigs of real hair for children who lose theirs and bathrooms for girls who otherwise couldn’t go to school.

You have been a blessing getting here to this day and I hope will feel blessed moving on from it. Your choice, your work, your vision, your ideas.

You bring such joy with you.  If your portions about noticing, watching and seeing. This is your blessing of what I have seen of you.


I see you standing in your cot leaning on the bars smiling waiting to be lifted out.


I see you riding your first red bicycle, always determined and independent, even when your brother knocked you off, accidentally.

I see you following Ruben - your superman copying whatever he was doing.

You blowing the trumpet so beautifully at 6 years old and continuing to do so when you’ll agree to pick it up.

I see you wearing a pink hijab on our trip to Jordan - because you could and they were there.

I see you fighting me fiercely, shouting Not Fair.

Our only girl between our two beautiful boys.

And embracing me in front of your friends. crying I love You Mummy.  Often.

I see you curled up in bed with your cat - both of you wrapped under the covers and on the electric blanket.

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Or dressed for Little house on the Prairie at Purim. A strong line in irony at the spiel and school play.

I see you eating grandma Toby’s chicken soup as a flexible vegetarian.

Or slung with your legs on my mother, your grandmother who you adore.

A golden day dreaming girl, your head always somewhere.

Or waving good bye with nonchalance when I drop you at Kadimah.

Your confidence overwhelms me, as does your sensitivity and the hurt you so easily feel. Both will be useful.

I see you this summer reading The Colour Purple, but pausing often to leap fearlessly off rocks into the sea.

And now I see you now becoming Bat Mitzvah, all your own work to get here. Never needing cajoling because you wanted this. You bring joy.… wearing your peach and yellow tallit you love so much, becoming something new and yet the same.

May you remember this day, the love that surrounds you and the skill you brought to this, your Bat Mitzvah.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

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Thought of the Week

Rabbi Rebecca writes:

Therefore press these words upon your very heart; bind them as a sign on your forehead and teach them to your children..reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away and when you lie down and when you get up..and inscribe them on the doors of your house and on your gates…

We know these words well but not the reward that is immediately offered after their rendition in this place of Torah, Parashat Eikev, (meaning a subjective If) in order that you and your children may endure in the land sworn to your ancestors … (Deut 11:118-20).

The words of the shema have accompanied Jews for generations. Amazingly despite the fact progressive Jews often choose not to respond to the call to tefillin (as the reference to forehead implies), but do affix our homes with mezuzot, send our children to Ivriah and carry this Jewish identity of ours wherever we go. I thought of this in Athens when I took the children to the Jewish Museum of Greece, not to have done so was unthinkable.    

See this poem by Laurie Patton called Eikev 

There is a lightness
when we cross a threshold-
wood frames sunk into soft soil,
steel-frames of old tenements
that have carried the weight
of slow, sad steps above them;
sometimes, even, 
a mezuzah points upwards
like a finger:
No matter the sorrow, 
every door holds a hope
of difference, of newness-
the thought that
our days will multiply….

Shabbat Shalom wherever you are this August and wherever you travel to…

Newmafruit Farms trip

The amazing Newmafruit Farms trip is back!

A Visit to Kent:  to see, smell, even pick apples for Rosh Hashanah (or maybe just for lunch).
FPS is taking a trip to Newmafruit Farms in Canterbury, Kent on Sunday, 10 September. FPS Syrian families, along with FPS members, will be taking a 1 3/4 hour-trip on a highly-reliable coach, to join in the harvesting of apples and pears on Melvyn Newman’s farm. There might even be an additional surprise for the children if current negotiations come to ‘fruition’!

When: 10 September, 9.00am pick up, for a 5.00pm put down

Where: FPS to the ‘wilds’ of the garden of England

Who: FPS Syrian families, and FPS members

Contact: pauline@fps.org

Kabbalat Torah 2017

A very proud Shabbat for our community last weekend.
Raphy Klinger-Fixler
Ella Balint-Kurti
Evie Anticoni
Tali Erlich (granddaughter of Rabbi Harry Jacobi)
Ruben Qassim
Hannah Gellman

Our fabulous Kabbalat Torah class of 2017 were called to the Torah in the presence of His Excellency Mark Regev the Israeli Ambassador. He was our secret guest and our young people felt honoured by his presence. Last week was a challenging one for the Progressive Jewish world as the Israeli government's response on the Kotel  and progressive conversion were de-stabilised. Mr Regev addressed the Kotel but not the other one. We understood. We appreciated him joining us and bringing his brother and family visiting from Melbourne. It was a very good occasion. Our young people brought much pride to their community, I say this not just because my Ruben was one of them.
May we go from strength to strength and put July 7th 2018 in our diary for next year's Kabbalat Torah.

Shabbat Shalom to all
Rabbi Rebecca

The KT class's introduction to their service
We are celebrating our Kabbalat Torah journey together with our community. Kabbalat Torah means ‘receiving of the Torah’ and was a Liberal Jewish invention to allow teenagers – at a more reflective age than Bar and Bat Mitzvah at 13 – to come together as a group to learn and recommit to their Judaism. Next year we will hopefully go on Israel Tour, most of us being in the LJY-Netzer group in Israel sharing that experience as well.
KT has been about making friends that I have been able to see regularly and to see the way we all interpret Judaism differently. Our friendships have extended further out from synagogue.
We are all aware of how turbulent and chaotic the world seems at the moment. The community that we have from KT and FPS provides us with an anchor and some stability that is very important.

Our new Community Education & Development Manager

Finchley Progressive Synagogue is delighted to announce the appointment of Zoe Jacobs as our new Community Education & Development Manager. She will take up her post in August.

Zoe (pictured right) will be known to many of our members for running exciting activities for our tots, and is coming to us after a year as a community youth worker for RSY-Netzer, visiting synagogues up and down the country to run activities, build youth groups and inspire young people.

Her role at FPS will include running our religion school Ivriah as well as setting up a new youth group and training the next generation of young FPS leaders.

Zoe says: “I am delighted to be joining FPS. Over the past year I have been welcomed into the community with such kindness and warmth and I am very excited now to begin working alongside the congregation and Rabbi Rebecca. FPS is an extraordinary, loving and friendly place, and I can't wait to become a bigger part of it.”

Rabbi Rebecca Birk welcomed Zoe’s appointment: “We immediately recognised that Zoe's qualities include positivity, thoughtfulness, tenacity and enthusiasm. We are thrilled that she will be joining us from the summer and look forward to the impact she will make on our community's young people.”

Gabriel Webber, our current Community Development Manager, is leaving us in July to begin training as a rabbi. We wish him all the best in his new role.