Last Saturday night, our synagogue echoed with the melodies of the familiar HHD tunes. We gathered late, at the end of the evening.
It is an auspicious year, with Rosh Hashanah falling on Shabbat, and we look forward to welcoming you all to our family and traditional service this Saturday morning and Erev Rosh Hashanah Friday 6.30p.m.
Even those amongst us who are not service goers may find something from this past month catching their attention. Our preparations will help us arrive at the Jewish New Year ready for change and growth. The world is complicated right now and much energy is needed to navigate its ebbs and flows. I pray for both its energy and ease.
For us as a community, I wish renewal and ambition in our exciting new projects that mark our hope for the next seventy years. And I wish for each one of us that the year ahead be a sweet and a strong one.
With warmest wishes to you all for 5784 and an offering from the late Rabbi Harold Shulweis,
It’s never too late
to change my mind
to say “no” to the past
and “yes” to the future
to offer remorse for regrets
to ask and give forgiveness
It is never too late…
to feel again
to love again
to hope again.
And suddenly, or not so suddenly, it’s September and summer gives way to the New Year for us. Children return to school and work starts up against in earnest. Those fortunate to have had some time off, or those already retired, know the joy of the second cup of coffee over the novel you’re reading.
September means the beginning of our High Holidays. This Saturday night will be our Selichot service – a play on the word S’LICHAH, atonement, apology. It will remind us of the melodies and liturgies so particular to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers. As it is intended to be a candlelit service, we will begin at 9.30p.m. with tea and cake from 9 p.m.
You have already had charity pledge forms for our HHD appeals – all of them continuing from last year except Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, a progressive school community that impacts Jewish, communal and inter faith life in the city. This is a charity close to Jane and Gordon Greenfield’s heart and proposed by them when we asked for suggestions from the congregation. Of course, as always, our FPS community is part of our appeal and you will have heard separately from us about the progress of our building plans and appeal.
This time of year is always important to a rabbi but this one even more so than usual.
As it’s our 70th year, I wanted our services to reflect this milestone. With the theme of 70 years, we have invited our President Paul Silver-Myer and member Richard Greene to speak, with me, on the significance of the past 70 years.
Richard, who is now Bureau Chief for CNN in Jerusalem, will speak of Israel these past seven decades on EREV ROSH HASHANAH. On ROSH HASHANAH MORNING, I will speak of Jewish life and meaning these past 70 years and then moving closer to home, Paul will speak of Finchley on YOM KIPPUR MORNING. I will speak on KOL NIDREI and again in the YIZCHOR service later in the afternoon on Yom Kippur. As we go inwards on the day, my themes will be compassion and accountability.
I am looking forward to leading the SHIUR on Yom Kippur afternoon. This will be on the F word project and the power of restorative justice in making amends. I look forward to sharing that with you. The exhibition will be up from Rosh Hashanah. Feel free to visit even if services are not your thing.
It is powerful and truly resonates on the themes of the season.
See you there and Shabbat Shalom,
It’s interesting watching Luis Rubiales, Spain’s Football Association Chief, resist making a fulsome apology for kissing the Spanish player, Jenni Hermoso, on the lips as he congratulated the team’s win at the World Cup. His team, FIFA and indeed the whole world wait and watch for his real apology. This moment sparked outrage after their win against England’s Lionesses. Hermoso explained she felt vulnerable and the victim of machismo aggression. In turn, Rubiales spoke of false feminism and social assignation.
As we approach our season of atonement and making amends, seeing such public situations play out only adds piquancy to the challenge of truly making amends. Maimonides, whose five step processes of atonement informs Judaism’s understanding of apology, said the first stage is properly owning your mistake and failure. Owning the harm. The second is beginning to change; the third, making amends; only then followed by apologising and going on to make different choices.
There is always so much to learn from others making mistakes on the global stage, but even more so how they respond to and manage such failures.
This is a newly written poem by Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah for this month of Elul and I wanted to share it. Elli is Rabbi Emeritus of Brighton and Hove Progressive synagogue and a pioneering thinker for Liberal Judaism. Her book Trouble Making Judaism offers a challenge to consider the power of our tradition in new ways.
the fierce intensities
of Summer and Winter
the winds of change
that stir Autumn and Spring
as it waxes and wanes
a solitary beacon
in the night
searching us out
insinuating pale light
into our minds’
in the space
the old year
and the new
to our hearts’ broken beat
of hurts and regrets
to those around us
to all that lives and breathes
for the work of renewal
the repair of our relationships
I watched Oppenheimer last Sunday and couldn’t fail to reflect on governance and how those with power behave. ‘Don’t let that cry baby in here again,’ we see Truman say to his Secretary of State James Byrnes after meeting Robert Oppenheimer and witnessing his guilt and moral ambivalence about the atom bomb.
We are only too aware decades later of the authority, at times misused by those with responsibility.
This week’s portion Shoftim told the Israelites,
“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes…and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16:18)
Here, we are watching democracy threatened in the very land Torah discusses. As many say now of Israel’s government, the ruling party’s power is increasing at the expense of justice.
It’s all in Torah – the concern and the watchfulness of governance.
Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste’s poem, in the style of Rosh Hashanah’s Unetannah Tokef prayer, expresses the caution captured in Deuteronomy. These are no longer ancient words with no relevance or meaning.
Who by court
Who by officer
Who by law
And who by power,
Who by despair
Who by struggle
And who shall I say is ruling?
Who by judge
Who by justice
Who by hatred
And who by mercy
Who by us
Who by others
And who shall I say, are we?
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and do catch the film, if you can.
In a world of depressing and disheartening news, I wanted to draw your attention to the hope expressed by York Liberal Community in their appointing of their first rabbi. To see a thriving and vibrant Jewish community in York, a place that has historically seen such famous hatred and prejudice, is a very good thing. 1190 saw the mass death of 150 Jews in a situation not unlike that at Masada in the first century. This story offers a subversive sequel (more of that over the HHDs) of how good can follow. Rabbi Elisheva Salamo is an American skilled Progressive Rabbi and we are delighted to welcome her into our ranks. In these quieter days of summer, I like being more aware of these good news stories happening right in our own lives. It’s not often a smallish Liberal community gets written about in a broadsheet.
This week’s portion is Re’eh which literally means to see, or to notice. The first verse reminds us, ‘look you have blessings and curses in front of you.’ Torah links it to commandments and whether to keep them. Reading Deuteronomy now, I understand that these choices are always with us – and noticing the difference is a constant challenge.
רְאֵ֗ה אָֽנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה:
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.
Wishing you a good Shabbat and the ability to distinguish what is in our lives.
We come out of Purim shaking off the violence and aggression however playful and we are met with Exodus 33 of Parashat Ki Tissa. This week’s portion is about love. It is about love and intimacy and the request to learn and know the others. It is Martin Buber’s seed, if you like, for his I and Thou and the understanding of true intimacy through seeing the other.
And so we stumble into this scene at Sinai when God tells Moses,
“I know you by name and you have pleased me.”
And Moses asks “Please may I see your glory?”
In this intimate moment between God and Moses, Moses is desperate to see, feel and experience God and God is warm towards Moses as well – and of course, it is all about love. And the message for us reading it now is how we choose to be open and part of things, and to understand that that desire to know and investigate is an expression of love.
In it, we see that Divine love triumphs over Divine anger, as Moses has no difficulty persuading God to abandon the plans for violence after the Golden Calf incident. So we see as Rabbi Professor Yochanann Muffs put it,
“Love is an act of bravery and tolerance at the same time.”
With great poignancy, this moment of Torah speaks to us now, this week, as we stand paralysed with fear and anguish at what is happening in Israel, not just that tiny land between Jordan and Egypt and Syria in the north, but the whole Jewish story that is ours here in the diaspora as well.
I speak with love even though my words may be hard for some.
The lack of knowing, of investigation and concern into the other, has possibly led to the extremists now holding power, people who once were considered too niche, too extreme to join the dialogue, who are now at the heart of the government of Israel. This is not a case of right, left, young, old. Even those at the traditional and hawkish end of the spectrum are calling for justice and what is right. We want to be awake and responsive to this moment now and to be part of this protest that seeks to protect the judiciary, democracy and human rights of Israel – and we can’t do that without love: without love for the land of Israel, ‘inspired by an age-old dream’ and all who live in it; without love for the Jewish journey and the challenge to ensure our own suffering makes us open and responsive to our neighbours; without love for the others as Torah reminds us 36 times “not to oppress the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Without love we would miss out on the extraordinary work of Tzedek Center, the NGO we are supporting through the NIF, that trains and enables collaborative work across all citizens. Without love we would miss the fact that the future of Jewish Israelis is bound up with the security and ease of their Palestinian neighbours. Without love we would miss out, as Dr Cornell West wrote “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public” and without it we are an impoverished version of ourselves.
These verses of Torah remind us of all of that. It matters.
Here is the link to the protest here in London on Sunday which I will be attending. Sometimes one needs to show up for love.
The Jews had light, happiness, joy and honour. (Esther 8:16)
Purim is a festival of the diaspora and we are nothing if not that. Here we are celebrating our own longevity, 70 years’ presence of a Jewish community here in our city of Finchley (Shushan!) So this Sunday we will taste a little of that light and happiness we are so good at creating here.
Our musicians will give us a concert capturing the last seven decades – an Anglo Jewish cream tea with hamantaschen of course. Those turning 70 this year will tell the story of Esther [and Vashti!), our children will sing and we will celebrate having sustained a liberal Jewish community, sometimes against the odds, right here in N12 – and yet we are here and hope to be at least for another 70 years.
This week’s Torah portion Tetzaveh affirms all of this when it begins with the instruction to keep a light burning always – in the sanctuary – a ner tamid.
And that is what we’ve been too.
An everlasting statue for all generations from the Children of Israel. (Exodus 27:21).
Purim for me this year has a new meaning, a chidush, (newness) that I am rather enjoying and very much looking forward to.
I hope to see you for this rather special afternoon on Sunday.
This week I opened an email from Boots, the Chemist, offering an opt out of Mother’s Day publicity, if one’s heart wasn’t willing. I was impressed by the sensitivity for those without mothers, those who mourn not being mothers or indeed just having uneasy relationships with mothers or children. We might think this level of sensitivity is new, but it’s not. There is evidence in Torah, this week’s parasha even, that ultimately everyone is motived by their own desires and comfort levels. Boots, the Chemist appreciates that and so did God in talking to Moses appealing gently to the hearts of others.
Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for ME a gift from every person whose heart inspires them to generosity….
Rashi explains this expression of the person whose heart inspires refers to willingness, openness etc.
Rashi explains that in old French, this refers to willingness, openness, “an expression of good will in French,” all to be given voluntarily, that is the most important thing.
We in the business of community organising, of enabling and empowering others to be part of things, understand that everyone gives of themselves when they want to, when they feel seen and their hearts motivate them. In other words, there must be self-interest. I think a great deal about that and how we nurture a congregation that should inspire this and be a place where we operate sensitively and ultimately, encourage willing hearts.
This Shabbat Rafael and I will be visiting Ruben in Scotland and our services here at FPS will be led by our phenomenal lay leaders whose hearts are very much willing and able.
There is one tiny line in this week’s portion that caught my eye.
You shall not put off (lo te’aher) the skimming of the first yield of your vats….
Why should Torah be concerned with timeliness in the midst of so many other mitzvot? What does God mean by not putting off and more to the point why does God care? I read some learning by Rabbi Jonathan K. Crane where he identified great interest in this sense of doing things with alacrity, not delay. Rashi, French commentator of the 11th century says don’t disturb prescribed order-Spanish Ibn Ezra a generation later goes a little further by suggesting this phrase speaks to couples not delaying their time together. Either way the message is seize the day, carpe diem. Moments don’t always last.
For me I am intrigued by this call to promptness. As someone as prone to procrastination as the next person I understand well the truth; if you know you want to do something good, why delay? How often I have had a good idea, or instinct for an act of kindness and I put it off momentarily and the moment passes? Amidst the sea of mishpatim-laws in this parasha the learning about focus and timeliness is useful. Last term our Taste of Torah class wrestled with the words of Kohelet;
When you make a vow/commitment, do not delay (lo te’aher) in fulfilling it for God has no pleasure in fools, what you vow, fulfil. Ecclesiastes 5:3.
Within the busyness of our lives how easy is it to put things off and be constantly caught up with other obligations. This is the reminder to us to approach and give time to everything we can – and to do so with alacrity.
We have so much to respond to in the life of our synagogue. This week we are called upon to support the rescue and support efforts in Turkey and Syria. World Jewish Relief as they so often do are leading the community to do so. Click here to donate.
Dear friend of the congregation Nsreen Kaa who came to Barnet with VPRS, has asked for financial support for her family caught up with the disaster in Northern Syria. Reach out if you would like to help her family. This on Shabbat Shekalim when we are called upon to think about our home and what we need to sustain it. Please see below invitations to join us for our first ‘Sip and See’ evenings for Renewing our Home. We want you all to be part of this.
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