My grandmother didn’t particularly want me to be a rabbi. She thought it an odd choice of profession and one that would categorically impede my ability to make dinner every night. She was not wrong there. But what happened over the last 21 years of my rabbinate is that she grew to love it. She came to baby blessings at Woodford Progressive Synagogue (as was) and Rafael at Westminster Synagogue at the rather late age of 18 months, because third children suffer from after thought planning. But it was when she came to FPS that she fell in love with liberal synagogue services, familiar tunes and yet she admitted to me she rather liked the English that permeated the prayers.
Although I must admit she told me she was prouder of my roast chicken than any of my other achievements. It was her style of chicken and she was impressed I’d learned from her. And committed the recipe to memory.
And so this week’s dilemma of being both at her week long Shivah and also with my rabbi colleagues at the long planned retreat was interesting for me. But I know she’d like what I managed.
We Liberal Rabbis and the movement in general raised money to bring over the superb Rabbi Larry Hoffman to teach us and visit synagogues. Larry is both a liturgist and even more so a rabbi’s rabbi who’s greatest interest is in ritual and the power of synagogues to grow, be welcoming and make meaning for its members and friends. He suggests we have things to learn from Howard Shwartz the Starbucks founder who insisted We are not in the business of filling bellies, we are in the business of filling souls.
And as Larry said “if that was so for a coffee selling company all the more so for synagogues!”
Larry is with us here at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire for the Rabbi’s retreat, and he will be joining us for our Friday night Erev Shabbat service and we will hear from him then. I can’t wait.
Today I return to Shivah for my grandmother. This Shabbat is Parashat Vayeitzei and sees Jacob leaving Lavan. And on the way uses a stone for a pillow and sleeps and dreams his dream of the ladder; and the curious thing was that there were angels olim v’yordim.; going up and down. Generations of rabbis and commentators questions this, as angels usually come from heaven down to earth. Why the other way round here? It could not be more perfect for me this week as I mourn my grandmother. The angels here are grounded and centred on the earth, not in heaven. I hope not only that she is safe and at peace, but even more that her menschlikeit (humaneness) here on earth throughout her life, ascends with her. And that her resilience and generosity live on in me and all who loved and learned from her. Because unlike Jacob realising, ‘Truly, the eternal is in this place and I, I did not know it’, I knew how lucky I was every day of my life.
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