This is the festival that insists on joy – and I intend to grab it this year, when it’s so easy not to, from the cup of coffee inside the sukkah to the end of our flowering plants in our autumnal fading gardens, to the re-read of Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ to the last few outdoor swims I can manage (I am not yet an all-year-round cold water swimmer!).
Sukkot, the next holiday of our HHDs, pulls us back to the corporal. Despite this festival calling on us to consider impermanence, fragility and temporary shelter, I am thinking of what lasts. Inspired by Paul Silver-Myer’s beautiful words on Yom Kippur, I am thinking of all those who stood inside the sukkah at Finchley Progressive Synagogue over these past 70 years. I am thinking of those who decorated and ate and squashed in for an outdoor service with the chill of Autumn and the wide night sky above. I am thinking of David Hoffman’s huge quantities of skach – the greenery for the roof and walls – which he and Ruth would always bring. I am thinking of Hilary Luder’s fairy lights and decoration. I am remembering years where we hung allotment harvests and years we have been rained out. I am thinking of last year’s car park sukkah that happily trapped many of us until festivities were finished. And this year Eti, Susanna, Annabel and Bobbie have returned to our traditional spot and made it ready for us this Friday. We will fill it with our waving of the Luluv and Etrog. The etrog is called pri etz hadar, “the fruit of a splendid tree” (or a goodly tree) and the scent of it lives up to its name. Exhausted you may be from the spiritual intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but the physicality of Sukkot has its place.
I am thinking of the first Sukkot celebration in the first building in 1963 – and how everyone managed and whether there are surviving photos recording the day.
I am remembering every year I sat in a sukkah, in other people’s before I constructed my own. Mine always have my drying pink hydrangea heads as decoration and some 1950’s vintage tea cloths from Israel adorning the walls. This year I have hangings from Zambia to add to the decor.
Although Sukkot is about tasting impermanence I’m thinking of longevity and where our sukkah will be when we have renewed our building and completed our renovations. It’s exciting and daunting and right.
See you on Friday evening,
This week sees us reading the last portion of Deuteronomy as we hover between the new year and Day of Atonement over Shabbat Shuvah. As Moses, prepares for his own death, he recalls and reminds the Israelites, on God’s behalf of their past and their future. The tension is touching
If they were wise, they would understand this; they would reflect upon their fate.
ל֥וּ חָֽכְמ֖וּ יַשְׂכִּ֣ילוּ זֹ֑את יָבִ֖ינוּ לְאַֽחֲרִיתָֽם
Rather than considering their lives, they are urged to consider their past and the temptation they had and then they are given a reminder of why regret followed by commitment is so critical
כִּי לֹֽא־דָבָ֨ר רֵ֥ק הוּא֙ מִכֶּ֔ם כִּי־ה֖וּא חַיֵּיכֶ֑ם וּבַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה תַּֽאֲרִ֤יכוּ יָמִים֙ עַל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה
For it is not an empty thing for you, it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land.
As I said on Rosh Hashanah, building for our next seventy years of Finchley Progressive Synagogue life is just this. Don’t forget to join us for the first of the Renewing our Home evenings Saturday 23rd at 5.30p.m.!
How extraordinary to read these words now as we hover in this time and place, considering our lives. Rashi comments on the weight of the word ‘empty’ and suggests the people were being reassured of the importance of this reflection and its life–giving properties.
On Saturday morning, before the service, we will have Book Club – reading the first part of Danya Ruttenberg’s Making Amends in an Unapologetic World and a chance to reflect a little before Yom Kippur begins. Then our Shiur on Yom Kippur will continue such conversations on the themes of regret and return. Yom Kippur will be filled this year with opportunities for conversation and also reflection through music. Our own beautiful musicians have been preparing and honing our liturgy and Daniel Dolan will play Bruch’s Kol Nidrei with his father David accompanying him at the start of Sunday evening’s service. Abigail Dolan will bring reflective pieces on her flute for marking the stages of the Musaf in the Additional Service on Monday.
I so look forward to sharing this all with you.
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.
Coming back from some days away in sunnier climes, I returned to several deaths in our congregation and families mourning their loved ones.
How do we offer comfort to those who are mourning and suffering? As the Bible asks, how do we speak to someone’s heart?
As a student, I learned from Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg that rather than, or as well as, wishing a mourner a long life, he wishes them a strong heart. I have been moved by these words and how they are received in the houses of mourning. Knowing what to say or what to do is something that our tradition helps us with; it navigates a path of speech and action in the most sensitive of circumstances.
I will always remember when I was at Westminster Synagogue, members there were dear friends of the Camerons (Prime Minister David and Samantha). When their young disabled son Ivan Cameron died, this couple was unsure, even as close friends, what to do and whether their Jewish tradition to visit and care for the mourners was appropriate.
We are taught how to comfort, which is something that is so useful and so important in how we negotiate death, grief and others’ pain.
Last Shabbat was called Shabbat Nachamu (Shabbat of Consolation) after the first line of the prophet Isaiah’s reading; Nachamu, nachamu ami, Comfort, comfort my people…” Isaiah 40:1. The next six weeks will have a haftarah of consolation drawn from the book of Isaiah that delivers a message of comfort in the seven weeks following Tisha B’Av and leading us to the period of Rosh Hashanah. Words intended to comfort do so often bring just that and understanding our role in inviting others to talk of their loved ones, not to be ashamed or embarrassed about recalling moments and memories.
I welcome this period of consolation and the different ways that we are encouraged to expand upon it. God is near to the broken hearted, says the Psalmist in Psalm 34. And that is our role too.
As we are in this period of comfort and consolation, here is Elana Arian’s “Nachamu”.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a reminder that Beverley and I are always looking for sensitive folk to join our team of visitors and those who want to offer comfort and share consolation. Let us know if it is you.
I’m away this week for some rest and relaxation, swimming and reading and eating of course.
The portion this week V’etchanan contains the Shema, which is a reminder to stop, to listen, to feel the connection of everything and to feel the blessing inherent within it.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Listen Israel our Eternal is our God. Our God is One.
A reminder to take a moment this summer to watch, observe and feel the pleasure of slowness. As I am taking a few days away here’s something I love for you; a poem by Marge Piercy.
See you on Shabbat morning.
But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.
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