20/21 January 2023, 28 Tevet 5783

Just occasionally one has the opportunity to convene a conversation that one knows will change things for those present.

I feel this way about hosting Freddy Mutanguha and Janine Webber next Wednesday for our Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, and I am grateful to Robin Heller for the introduction.

Marking the liberation of Auschwitz and that hopeful yet hollow cry that reverted through Europe and the world: ‘Never Again’, we have the privilege of hearing about the Rwandan genocide of 1994, through the eyes of a man who dedicated his life to the commemoration of that tragedy. Freddy was eighteen when his parents and four of his siblings were murdered by those who had been neighbours and friends in what is understood now as one of the most horrific genocides in history. Now leading the Aegis Trust and memorial museum Freddy is well placed to discuss the theme of this year’s event Ordinary People and why their stories so illuminate the path of justice for us all – and what better fellow guest than Janine Webber, close friend of the synagogue whose life is given over to tell the stories of ordinary people like her who have become, for us, extraordinary people.

Thinking of Elie Wiesel who wrote “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the centre of the universe”.  (from The Kingdom of Memory:Reminiscences). That is the purpose of HMD and why we engage with alacrity.

The three events I wanted to remind you of this shabbat is the aforementioned HMD event, plus our Civic service and FPS hosting a Belarusian event. All are connected by people and how individuals are, of course, the centre of the universe.

Civic service: Celebrating our synagogue’s 70th year is truly celebrating all the individuals who built and sustained our congregation and the spot it occupies here in Finchley and in the wider borough of Barnet in London. We have much to celebrate and I hope you will join us as we kick off the year with this service that will show off all we are – the stories we tell, the music we make and the prayers we offer together as a community. So many honoured guests accepted our invitation and we need you there too. So looking forward to seeing you for this special Shabbat service. Sign up here.

Belarusian tea: After our Civic service next Saturday. As part of our twinning commitment with Mogilev Keshet community and Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, Alex Bud and Wika Dorosz are hosting an event with the Anglo-Belarusian Society all to promote friendship between the Belarusian and Jewish communities in Finchley. With the background of the war in the Ukraine this event of solidarity and cultural exchange feels all the more important. With music, the history of Jews in Belarus and food and drink it promises to be a special afternoon.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom in the midst of this cold and dark January,
Rabbi Rebecca