15/16 February 2019, 10/11 Adar I 5779

Rabbi Dr Arthur Green, a brilliant philosopher and theologian, opens his book Radical Judaism with this assertion: "As a religious person I believe that the evolution of species is the greatest sacred drama of all time. It is a tale - perhaps even the tale - in which the divine waits to be discovered. It dwarfs all other narratives, memories and images…."

I love this and will reveal more of his radical thinking at Beit Midrash this week. Creating our own sense of science, God and Judaism is the work of our lives. Probably. 

So why not jettison Valentine’s Day (which is not Jewish at all*) on Thursday evening? Instead join us for our conversation about God [and that kind of love] and where it fits into our contemporary Jewish lives and experiences. This Thursday we will also be joined by Rabbi Lea Muhlstein as we discuss Liberal Judaism’s draft siddur and the language of love in that! 

*[Originally commemorating the martyrdom of two Saint Valentines by Rome, and the feast of Lupercalia. Where men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. I read, it was very consensual. The day was only made romantic and popular during the time of Chaucer!]

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom. I shall be away all of next week for school half term holidays but look forward to seeing everyone on my return.

Rabbi Rebecca

8/9 February 2019, 3/4 Adar I 5779

And you shall make the altar of acacia wood… (exodus 27:1)

There are many ways to build a synagogue. One is, of course, as our Portion this week details, T'rumah, the wood and details used for an altar and a sanctuary. One, that is so much harder to gauge and design is the mood, intention and vision of a synagogue community. 

Gazing on our ark as we do every shabbat, the physical details of our sanctuary and its power to uplift and concentrate the mind is important. So is what we do inside and with our community.

This week is our Listening Campaign. This is an opportunity to talk about issues that concern fellow Londoners, possibly us. We will take every opportunity this week and coming Shabbat to listen to each other and form a sense of what matters most to us as a congregation right now. We hope to bring those concerns to the Mayoral Assembly 2020 and this is the start of gauging what matters to us, what we care most about.

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Siddur Lev Chadash contains these words 'May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut  out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity…. May this Synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway leading to a richer and more meaningful life.'  (Mishkan Tefillah).

Please join us particularly at Learn at 12 noon on Thursday and/or Shabbat services and Cafe Ivriah this weekend to talk and listen and combine the beautifying of our sanctuary with those of our hearts as well. 

Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Rebecca

1/2 February 2019, 26/27 Adar 5779


We have always marked Holocaust Memorial Day for the wider community. This year #We Remember we are so proud to welcome Derek Niemann, author of A Nazi in the Family and his discovery of his grandfather’s Nazi role and his grandmother’s resistance to it.

His extraordinary story is so relevant today in the conversations of bystander resister and family loyalty. Derek wrote this book, a huge departure from his usual nature writing, because he felt he had to. As Noemie Lopian, child of a survivor, wrote: "At the end of the day we are all, in inverted commas, ordinary human beings," she said, "And we all have a choice. We all have the ability to do evil."

I do hope you will join us for this shared event with Finchley Reform Synagogue. this Thursday, starting at 7.30 pm (refreshments from 7.00).

This Shabbat sees the beginning of our Listening Project; opportunities to talk and listen to each other about these following issues and how they are affecting Londoners. Our part in anticipating the next Mayoral election is important. Tamara Joseph will lead the Cafe Ivriah session on Shabbat morning at 9.45 am (full information below) and all are welcome.

Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to seeing you. 

Rabbi Rebecca

25/26 January 2019, 19/20 Adar 5779

“‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ — Why is it written ‘love thy neighbour’ and not ‘love your people?’ Because included in ‘neighbour’ is all of humanity.” – The Sage Elijah Benamozegh, 1863

Or perhaps ...
“Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”- Malachi 2:10

Woe to those who add house to house
And join field to field,
Till there is room for none but you
To dwell in the land” – Isaiah 5:8

Just a few of the texts we will be looking at on Thursday night’s session Are Human Rights Jewish? I think they may be comforting and challenging depending where you are coming from. No doubt we all think about this a great deal. Where does our Jewishness call us to be in terms of dignity for every person? It will be an interesting conversation days after the moving burial last Sunday of the remains of 6 Jewish souls murdered at Auschwitz and given the dignified end they were denied in life and death. And days before our commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day 2019.

I look forward to seeing you join us. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rebecca

18/19 January 2019, 12/13 Adar 5779

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This past week has been a trying one for FPS. We have buried two beloved members, who were both regular and important presences for so many of us; David Kahan who lived a long and good life, and Howard Hamerton, who also did so, but was cut in his prime and died a young man with a youthful family.

We are the poorer for their loss but I noticed comfortingly, how many of our community came out to be witness to their lives and death and burial. As I turn to Tu B’Shevat this week, the New Year for Trees, I am challenged to find inspiration and meaning in trees now we are no longer an agricultural community. Peter Wohlleben, the German arborist who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World suggests:
“If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.” 

That’s how we were this week. He also shared this fascinating fact:

“So, in the case of trees, being old doesn't mean being weak, bowed, and fragile. Quite the opposite, it means being full of energy and highly productive. This means elders are markedly more productive than young whippersnappers, and when it comes to climate change, they are important allies for human beings.” 

Come join us, if you can, for this Shabbat and our creative Tu B’Shevat Seder that will look particularly at trees, nature and how it impacts our lives as humans.

Our Listening Week begins at the very start of February please look out for the posters and reminders. Hearing each other and what our concerns are for the London in which we live is part of being a congregation. 

Warm wishes for Shabbat.
Rabbi Rebecca

*The photo is of Katherine Klinger's woodlands on the day we visited for Lag B'Omer two years ago. 

11/12 January 2019, 5/6 Adar 5779

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Mental Health Shabbat was created by JAMI to raise consciousness of the spectrum we are all on when it comes to our mental health and the darkness we may feel at times. I joined their HEAD ON panel last night at JW3. Judaism has a long history of heroes with depression, darkness and anxiety. Think Jonah, Saul and Rebekah, all plagued by an internal existential angst. Even paranoia in the case of Jonah and Saul. Remember Rebekah’s cry “If this is it why do I exist?” I embroidered those words on the atarah of my first tallit. It was to be a reminder for those dark days that come when one is least expecting. 

We have never favoured squeaky clean role models. Our job is to develop resilience alongside vulnerability.

Over the next two weeks please look out for our Mental Health Shabbat. Next week 19th January we will mark it alongside Tu B’Shevat (New Year for Trees) and the undeniable link between healthy souls and nature. When young people especially are suffering from a world that is too much, too many, too loud – never before have we needed Tu B’shvat more. 

And at FPS, on the 1st-10th February, we are going to listen. About many things that bother us, in the world of concrete and in the world of trees, and one of them is the mental health of the people around us in the hope that we can make the change. 

The joy, calm and comfort trees bring us. Our Seder with a difference will be 12pm next Shabbat at the end of the service. For now please be reminded of these words from Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav…

Grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass - among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field - all grasses, trees, and plants - awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source…..

 Shabbat Shalom to all,
Rabbi Rebecca