Rosh Hashanah edition
From the Editors From Rabbi Jonathan If You Go Down to the Shul Today New Schools Guy’s Trust Mike Finest One Chuppah Poles New Babies Notes From the Library Introducing Takum Friends for Life A Cycling Journey Ask Rabbi Uriel Great Sermon Joke: No. 13 Enjoying NNLS, Like Everyone Else Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for All Single Mothers’ Support Group A Moving Experience Sending Messages Across the Movement Seniors in Search of Sir Moses Learning to Lead Introducing Intermezzo
1 4 8 6 11 12 14 16 17 17 18 21 21 22 23 25 27 29 31 32 35
weddings Suzanne Bogush and Edd Fitch
Laura Samuels and Andrew Abdulezer
Many thanks to: Claire Mandel for getting all the advertising together and for general help and advice. Rivka Gottlieb, Barbara Stern and all in the shul office for their help. Jason Kelvin for yet another faithful portrait of Rabbi Uriel. Special thanks to Adi Bloom, who feels as strongly about punctuation as we do, for proofreading the magazine and for delivering her copy early. When challenged to reduce her four-page article (on p4) to a tweetable 140 characters, she came up with this: Deena tends bees; they sting. Ruth does weddings; Bernard does more weddings. Hazel waters Biblical plants. She also straightens bent trees. Finally, thank you to the NNLS ‘Cleaner’s Cupboard’ for having the only apostrophe in the building. The cover photo is of (from left to right) Sophia Mocatta, Libby Rozenberg and Erin Ruback. Thank you to their parents, and to Gan Alon for letting us use it. If you take any photos of synagogue events we would love to receive them for future issues. We are also keen to have photos of new babies, bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings. Please email all articles and photos to: email@example.com
Judith Goodman and James Adley
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from the editors
n April this year, the synagogue of the Bradford Hebrew Congregation, where Anthony’s father Bryan grew up, was deconsecrated, bringing to an end a 107-year history. The Springhurst Road building was designed by, among others, Anthony’s grandfather Jack Reuben, and Eric Hoffbrand, cousin of another NNLS member, Barry Hoffbrand. A couple of miles away from the
Orthodox synagogue is the Reform synagogue in Bowland Street, where Anthony’s mother Catherine grew up. It has been threatened with closure for years, is down to about 30 families and is struggling to maintain its magnificent, Moorish-style building. In March, news emerged that members of the local Muslim community had stepped in to pay for urgent repairs to the roof. It is heart-warming to hear of people supporting other religious groups. We felt the same way about our local Bravanese community, which so shamefully had its buildings attacked and burned a few months ago. It was wonderful to hear about Rabbi Jonathan meeting leaders from other faiths to discuss how we could help, and also to hear that Eden Primary had provided classrooms for the Bravanese community’s children to have their religious instruction – you can read more about that on p8. It is sad, though, to hear how little Jewish life remains in Bradford, which was one of the main places in England that
Jews fleeing from Germany found refuge. Parts of it used to be called Little Germany. Also this year, Susan’s parents, Brian and Vera Posner, moved from Newcastle to London and joined NNLS. Brian’s account of having to abandon a second northeast community because of the declining Jewish life there is on p27. While we celebrate the extraordinary size, youth and vibrancy of our community at NNLS, it is sad to see the demise of communities elsewhere in the country. We can hardly deny any responsibility for this. Susan moved straight to London as soon as she started working, and while Anthony is a born-and-bred Londoner, he was the first in his family, his parents having left Bradford at the earliest opportunity. Nonetheless, as we try to encourage friendship and understanding across religious communities, it can hardly be a good thing that people in most of the country may never meet a Jewish person. Chag sameach, Susan and Anthony Reuben
From Rabbi Jonathan
how I’ve behaved towards people: words said carelessly, or left unspoken when they should have been said, sensitivities not appreciated at the time but piercingly obvious afterwards, unintended hurts that apology may, or may not, have adequate power to heal. The Mishnah, edited at the close of the second century and thus the earliest systematic exposition of rabbinic thought we have, states clearly that Yom Kippur offers no emotional short-cuts: we cannot seek atonement before God for wrongs we’ve done to one another unless we first endeavour to apologise and make good (Mishnah Yoma 8:9). The notion that we can be religiously or spiritually worthy, without being honest, just and kind in our everyday interactions is nonsense. We can’t evade our responsibilities and relationships here on Earth by running away to heaven. Yom Kippur is largely retrospective. It invites us to learn from the past, regret our
© 2013 Marion Davies
n the way to shul some years ago I met a man who stopped me for a chat. He asked me what I did for a living and, on hearing I was a rabbi, which is generally a painful conversationstopper, he said with a cheery smile: “I love the faith, but I can’t stand the faithful.” I doubt if his view is unique, but is it good enough? Isn’t it really more important to get on with the faithful, though I hope that over our lifetimes we can develop an everdeeper devotion to our beautiful faith as well? I’ve long appreciated the short saying of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa: “Whoever people respect and approve of, God respects and approves of too” (Chapters of the Fathers 3:13). As I reflect on my own conduct during these weeks before Yom Kippur, there are certainly ways in which I wish I had treated God, or at least God’s world, better. But most of the thoughts that fill my anxious conscience are connected to
mistakes and do better in the future. But against what criteria should we measure ourselves? Here are three ideals that I find inspiring and challenging – inspiring because I wish I could live by them, and
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challenging because all too often I fall short. Behaving according to them is part of my ideal of the person into whom I would like to grow. Although I’ve referred to the qualities as ideals, there’s nothing exotic or lofty about them. On the contrary, the situations in which we need them are so ordinary and down to earth that hardly any of us can avoid them virtually every day. The first ideal is proactive. When Moses descends from Mount Sinai and sees the Children of Israel dancing round the golden calf, he smashes the precious tablets God has just presented to him. But the broken pieces are not abandoned on the mountainside. By a deft reading of the text, Rav Yosef derives the idea that the shattered fragments must be placed alongside the two new tablets with the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant (Talmud, Menachot 99a). “From here,” he teaches, “we know that a scholar who has forgotten his learning is not to be treated with contempt.” It’s not clear if he’s referring to what we would now call dementia, or to the fact that even back then there were people who devoted much energy to their Judaism in one period of their lives only to neglect it later. We shouldn’t need to be told never to treat a person, however ill or weak, as if they were some broken fragment of their former self, deserving only of the leftovers of kindness and respect. Sadly, though, the reality of how so many ageing, ill and vulnerable people are marginalised or mistreated testifies to the truth that we do need to be reminded of the irrevocable and universal nature of human dignity. But Rav Yosef’s teaching can also be taken as a guide to how we should think of one another in general. Sometimes, when we’re upset or frustrated, we become liable to picture others at what seems to us their worst: we hear them saying the words we find most irritating and become fixated on a mental image of them doing what we find most annoying. In this way we only perpetuate our anger and sense of injury. It’s precisely at such times that we should try to see in the other not their broken self, the part that troubles us, but rather their good qualities, remembering the kindness they have shown and the better times we’ve shared. For example, my grandmother could on occasion be frustratingly obstinate in her old age. It helped me when trying to negotiate my way around this particular character trait
to remember, as my mother often told me, that it was this very determination and refusal to be moved that enabled her to confront the Gestapo with such courage and to save the family from the Nazis. We would treat each other with far greater generosity if, even in our quarrels and disagreements, we saw before us the whole person, not just the fragment of their personality troubling us at the moment. How much more gracious a place the world would be if we could help to raise each other up to our best selves and recall, even in those moments when our humanity feels cracked or shattered, that we all belong in God’s sacred Ark and wear the garments of God’s image. My second ideal concerns how we react in the moment. Even Moses lost his temper on occasion; very few of us, if any, never
We can’t evade our responsibilities and relationships here on Earth by running away to heaven. get into quarrels, become defensive, or feel misunderstood. “He’s getting at me”; “she’s angry with me,” we think, “and it’s so unfair.” Before we know it, we’ve often begun to hit back. How could we respond better? Sometimes petty quarrels are just one trivial feature of everyday life and we should either give in or argue back mildly and forget the whole thing within five minutes. But there are times when the hurts go deeper. Then it becomes essential to seek a space for understanding. In such situations can we, rather than reacting instinctively, take a step back in our consciousness from feeling the victim of the other person and think about how the world may look to them? Perhaps they’re justified? Maybe we’ve carelessly touched on what is for them an especially sensitive domain? Maybe we’ve misjudged how we came across and can now see with a moment’s reflection that what we thought was a fair comment was really rather hurtful? Equally importantly, can we think in this way not several hours later with the help of a friend
who calms us down, but in the moment, before we’ve given vent to some retort, which only makes matters worse and that we’ll soon regret? “A gentle response turns anger aside,” teaches the author of Proverbs. But what is the art of responding in such fashion? Perhaps the key is not to be so filled with our own feelings and perceptions that we fail to be aware of how the world may look to the other person. That world, of course, includes us, and which of us deserves to be so confident about ourselves that we shouldn’t be humbled by the awareness that maybe we’ve given others good cause to feel hurt or upset? Allowing such space for reflection is not the same as always agreeing with the other person and perpetually giving in. We may still feel that we were not in the wrong. But trying to comprehend rather than merely retort has the power to transform our interactions from adversarial confrontations into the shared pursuit of deeper understanding. This gives our relationships space for deeper growth. We may then find that what seems unfair or hurtful in the other person turns out to be the result of something we ourselves did, which evoked in them a feeling of vulnerability we had not previously appreciated. How often, when we really listen, do we come away thinking: “If only I’d realised earlier, I would never have acted or spoken like that?” My third ideal is retroactive. Few of us find it easy to say sorry. Usually it’s an issue of pride, of not wanting to lose face, even in private, let alone in public. But when we realise we’ve done wrong, albeit inadvertently, the sooner we apologise the better. More often than not, apology brings healing. If the other person does relish our abasement, that reflects more on them than on us, and is generally an insufficient reason for not following the path of integrity ourselves. I’m troubled by the fact that we live in a public culture in which it’s often considered a sign of weakness to be wrong, in which admitting to our mistakes is a strategic error to be considered only as a final resort. This cannot help us in the challenging task of being honest with ourselves. Obviously, we should try to do what is good and right in the first place, especially if public trust has been invested in us. But when we do make mistakes I believe that it’s a sign of moral courage to acknowledge them and
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to do our best to redress any hurts we may have given others. “One should apologise and make peace,” says the Shulchan Aruch, “even if one has only hurt the other person with words.” But what if our attempt to say sorry should fall on deaf ears? Jewish tradition teaches that we should offer an apology as many as three times. After that, unless we have committed some truly appalling offence, we have done as much as can be expected of us. We are not required to abase ourselves for ever. Bearing this in mind, we in turn should be open to accepting apologies with good grace; it shows a cruel disposition, says Maimonides, to repeatedly reject a sincere apology. I was recently at a wedding and noted that among the excellent choice of songs in the background music before the ceremony began was one that was not directly about love but about saying sorry. I don’t remember the lyrics, but the gist was that a heartfelt apology often allows the roots of love to descend deeper. I care very much about people, appreciate my many contacts with different kinds of people and find in other people a constant source not only of inspiration, understanding and wisdom but also of faith. I hope therefore that the three ideals I’ve described don’t seem rather ordinary and low, unlike the high moral aspirations about changing the world that one expects to hear at this season. But if each of us were to remember to see the best in others even when they frustrate us, to step back and appreciate their sensitivities even when we disagree, and to apologise when we are at fault even if we find it hard to do so, our homes, schools, places of work and communities would be very different. If we could behave in that way collectively towards other faiths and nations, the entire world would be transformed.
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21/06/13 2:34 PM
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If you go down to the shul today Adi Bloom meets...
Deena Kestenbaum looks after the shul’s beehive
t home, I keep chickens. I have tortoises and a dog; I also have some children. I’ve got a pond that has frogs and newts, and I have my own allotment. I’d heard a radio interview with a couple in Hackney who kept bees on their rooftop, and I was very taken by it. But it’s not something you can go into without a lot of training and support. Then, years later, I got a funded place to do a year’s beekeeping course. At the end of the course, they gave me a hive and bees: a queen bee, and about 10,000 others, which sounds like an awful lot, but isn’t really. The lifespan of a bee is three weeks or so outside the hive, so they need to be endlessly replaced. NNLS was very enthusiastic about sponsoring a beehive. And it’s a fascinating, fascinating world. Between March and October, I go once a week, on Sunday mornings. I open the hive up, go through each frame and make sure the bees look healthy. I make sure that there’s a good combination of honey and nectar in all the hexagonal cells. When I started, I couldn’t really see the larvae: they look like minuscule white caterpillars, in a C-shape. But one gets better and better at reading what’s happening.
Sometimes there will be a new queen’s cell, and I have to get rid of those. If a new queen is born, then the old queen will take half the colony and swarm, and you’re left with a much-reduced colony and unmated queen. I’ve been stung multiple times. And I’m allergic to bee stings. It’s actually quite awful: once one bee stings you, it releases a particular pheromone, which alerts the other bees that there’s a crisis. And that puts them in attack mode. I’ve twice had to go to the walk-in clinic, and was twice shouted at by the nurse. She just couldn’t believe what I was doing. But I got better, and I bought myself a hermetically sealed beesuit, so I’m safer now. The other thing I’ve learnt is that I don’t do anything, apart from brush my teeth, before going to the hive: no make-up, no moisturiser, no handcream, no suncream, nothing. They’re attracted to any perfume, so they were homing in on me. Now I go there looking like a hag. The hive was vandalised recently. I got a panic-stricken phone call on Sunday morning: I was waiting for two consignments of bees, and I had left a lot of frames, ready to be stacked into the
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that, there wasn’t enough honey for harvesting. You have to leave enough for the bees: that’s their food source for the winter. But, eventually, there will be honey to distribute to shul members before Rosh Hashanah. Meanwhile, I’m in conversation with the headteacher of Gan Alon, to try to take little kids to the hive just before Rosh Hashanah, and show them what happens. And I’m very open about having people to come and look at what I’m doing. I have a spare beesuit. I don’t do God too much, but I do nature. And the hive fills you with a sense of wonder and amazement and awe. If you’re an observant or believing person, then it makes you feel respect for God and creation. And if you’re not, then you’re just in awe of nature.”
hive. They’d been broken into pieces. Now that we’ve got bees in there, it’s padlocked. But if any intrepid kids decide to climb over the fence and take the roof off, they’ll be met by tens of thousands of bees. So, even if they don’t admit to it, we’ll know who did it. There’s a lot of planting going on around the shul, and people have been made aware of bee-friendly plants, and the particular importance of planting bulbs that flower early. Then, when bees first come out, they don’t have to go very far to gather up their food. Harvesting the honey will be a whole new experience for me. Last year, not only did I lose half my colony through a swarm, but 45 per cent of bees didn’t make it through the winter. Because of
pen. The man always has to sign first, and his name is above the woman’s. So, if a man and a woman are witnesses, I always make sure the woman signs first. It’s very petty on one level, but it just makes me very cross. I have a registrar’s suit that I wear: black skirt, black jacket. I think I’ve probably had that for about 15 years. It’s something I bought at a time when one dressed much more formally than one does now. I wouldn’t dream of wearing it to anything now, other than a wedding. But it’s smart, and you need to look smart, because you represent the law. Representing the law does feel like a big responsibility, actually. When you finish a register, you keep one copy for the shul records, and take the other to be filed with the local registry office. When you take the register in, the registrar looks at every page and makes a comment if she’s not satisfied with everything. So you really do feel that it’s a huge responsibility. We have a portable wedding kit: a bag that will take two registers, two bechers, wine, a glass to smash, ink and pens. At one wedding very early on, it poured and poured with rain. Rabbi Jonathan gave the glass to the chatan to break. Though the ground was completely waterlogged, he managed to break it. But we were digging tiny pieces of glass out of the ground for a long time afterwards. Now, we take a board to use under the glass. There was a big gap when we did virtually no weddings in the shul – in the old building, which was getting quite shabby. Now, thankfully, more weddings are in shul. But I’ve been to Bolton, Henley, Essex, Brighton. All over the place. Posh hotels. People’s homes. By law, when you have a chuppah and civil wedding at the same time, it has to be open to the public so it can be witnessed. I had one wedding outside at a hotel, and people on their way to the golf course were standing and watching. They did feel a bit embarrassed, but I said, ‘No, no. Please watch.’ It’s interesting watching chuppah fashion change. They used to be embroidered, very fussy. Now, we did one where you couldn’t have had a simpler chuppah. It was just four poles, covered with netting. Weddings are getting simpler and simpler. Another thing I love is when older couples marry, sometimes for the first time. Those weddings are very different from young people’s. These are people who’ve had different experiences of life. They’ve arrived at this decision to get married in a much more mature way. So the wedding has quite a different feel to it. But brides, of course, still get terribly nervous. I say, ‘Just allow yourself to be stage-managed.’ The main thing is that everybody should have a good time.
Ruth Nyman is shul marriage secretary
y Act of Parliament, the Jews and the Quakers can have joint civil and religious wedding ceremonies, like people do in church. But we’re not wedding registrars – we’re marriage secretaries. We represent the registrars. Bernard Schneider was the first marriage secretary. Then, after a few weddings, he couldn’t do one. So they said, ‘Would you like to be marriage secretary, too?’ And I thought, yeah, that sounds fun. I did the fourth wedding, in 1986. Since then, I’ve done more and more. This year, we’re going to fill a whole register. I had no idea what a commitment it would be. You don’t just walk in at the end of the chuppah, and say, ‘Sign here’. Because you’re there, and because they don’t want too many officiants, you also act as assistant to the rabbi. You hand him the glass of wine, or the glass to smash, or the ketubah. He just has to hold out his hand. There are two registers and a certificate to write for each wedding. You have to write the register in a special ink, which gets darker with age: registrar’s ink. With an old-fashioned fountain
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Hazel Stein looks after the shul gardens
y parents were very keen gardeners. They had a big garden – were kind of slaves to their garden, really – and had fruit trees and grew vegetables. My father grew asparagus, sweetcorn. Quite unusual things. Some of that must have rubbed off on me, because I did a degree in biology at Liverpool. Then I worked for a summer at the Weitzmann Institute in Israel. I was a lab technician, growing mung-bean seedlings. But I always thought that gardening was something for older people. When you have young kids, you haven’t got the time. I learnt a lot about gardening from my oldest friend, who I met at university. She restored an estate in Leicestershire with her husband. She did a course in landscaping, then came down and gave me lots of advice on plants. But you also learn every year, when you see what things have grown. And a lot of gardening is common sense: what goes where, what likes sun, what likes shade. There are several Biblical plants in the shul courtyard: we’ve got olives, we’ve got figs, we’ve got a pomegranate. We’ve also got a vine, which I’ve just noticed has a wonderful, healthy-looking shoot. Last year, it wasn’t looking healthy at all. It’s a bit of an uphill struggle in the English weather. The plants all like rain, but they could do with a bit more sun. There’s also an almond tree in the middle of the courtyard. We had an unfortunate incident with that: someone had a bar mitzvah, and the musician arrived and drove into the tree. But you
can straighten trees – basically, you get a rope and pull at the tree, and put it back into the position you want. When you look out from the Beit Midrash, you see the Manor House boundary wall. It’s a fantastic wall: it’s old, and the bricks are fantastic colours. We have some espalier trees growing in a fan shape there – they really do look lovely. I go once a week. I go on Friday afternoons, because it’s quiet, and do an hour or two of work. Last year I had a small team of helpers, and we weeded the main garden at the end of the building. But it got to be a bit of a worry, because it’s quite a large area. So, this year, we have a gardener to do that. Vito does about three hours a fortnight. He’s a fantastic worker, even though he’s in his seventies. Watering hasn’t been a problem, because there’s been so much rain. Last summer, the main garden flooded. Completely flooded. Water nearly came in the back door of the shul. Someone had to come in and wade about in wellingtons to deal with it. But the problem was resolved. Gardening is very therapeutic. It’s a lovely thing to do. You really appreciate the seasons: where the sun falls at different times of year. How much higher it is in summer. I go out in the spring and see things shoot. I see things that die down completely and then come up again, like from nowhere. That’s the really wonderful thing about gardening. When I go to shul, I go to the traditional service. I always sit where I can look out the back and see the trees. It’s just wonderful.
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We’re very lucky to have that. But I tend to think people arrive and head straight towards the building, without looking at the plants. Then one person came along and said, ‘I always think the flowers look lovely. Are you the person who does this?’ It really was rewarding that someone noticed. And Rabbi Jonathan is very aware of the garden. Goodness, he is. He’s so ecological. We are on the waiting list to have
Gardeners’ Question Time broadcast from the shul – that’s an initiative from Rabbi Jonathan. I do have a garden at home, but it’s quite small. I try to grow things like wisteria, clematis. Perennials are very good – they come back year after year, which is useful. Sometimes I grow seedlings myself and put those in the shul garden. If anyone else would like to do that, too, it would be super. I’d love other people to get involved.”
questions, whether they ask them or not. Just do the groundwork. A lot of people come because, oh, it’s got to be done. But then, suddenly, they’re starting to live the wedding. They usually come away happier than they went in. We talk about the practicalities. We allow, for example, the exchange of rings, which gives the bride the opportunity to say something, in the same way that the groom says something. Some people like to do their own choreography: to walk around one another three times each. Some people have friends they like to do a little bit here and there. As long as Rabbi Jonathan’s happy, there’s no problem. There was the groom who liked to be barefooted most of the time. I did warn him that he’d better wear shoes when he broke the glass. He hadn’t thought of that, so he had to change his plan for the day. When I began, the bride and groom both gave different addresses. That’s unusual now. Nowadays, it’s very often the couple who’ve arranged everything and probably paid for everything. It’s nothing to do with the parents – though the parents are invited. That changes the angle to a certain extent. I enjoy every one that I do. But there are lovely weddings and lovely weddings. One can’t tell which ones will be the most moving. It’s in the moment. I suppose the venue has something to do with it, as well. My favourite would be the shul grounds, where I was married. There were lots of people there, and the sun came out. I enjoyed that one. I do enjoy outdoors – when the weather is nice. I remember one in Suffolk. It was a beautiful day, and the chuppah was outside. Everyone was waiting for it to kick off, and then suddenly a little black cloud appeared. It got nearer and nearer, and then opened up, and it was relentless. We had another wedding with three tiny little flower girls. They were all very excited. Then the door opened for them to go in, and they froze. The first one was pushed out, and started scattering rose petals. And the second one followed, doing the same. Then the littlest one said, ‘You’re making a mess’, and started walking behind them, picking up all the rose petals. The question is: after you’re married, do you remember the ceremony? I’m not sure. My late wife always said she remembered regretting not eating any of the strawberries at the reception. A lot of people do come up and say how much they’ve enjoyed the ceremony. But it’s not much to do with me – it’s much more to do with Rabbi Jonathan, or the officiant. But they enjoy it and I enjoy it, and everyone’s happy. Win-win.”
Bernard Schneider is shul marriage secretary
became NNLS marriage secretary over 30 years ago. We had a wedding at the shul, and I was honorary secretary, so I was the natural person to do it. We didn’t have another wedding for a couple of years after that. It built up. Yes, it built up: this year, we have around two dozen. I think this year is our record year for weddings. When I first took on the job, I asked the registrar, ‘Do you do any training?’ He said, ‘No. Just get on with it.’ So you build up your own way of doing things. We’re permitted to do civil marriages, with a chuppah, anywhere in England or Wales. I’ve done weddings in deepest Wales, in Leeds, in the Midlands. It’s a day out. I like seeing Britain, so I enjoy it. It might be three or four hours on a Sunday afternoon. It takes time, but it’s a job that needs doing. I’ve always said, it’s better than doing the chevra kadisha: it’s better than dealing with dead bodies. (I do work part-time as a cemetery coordinator at Edgwarebury cemetery. I prefer the wedding work: there’s usually some joy at a wedding, but not necessarily at a funeral.) I also see everyone we marry for an interview of up to oneand-a-half hours. I take details, talk through everything. Answer
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New Schools NNLS members have been involved in the establishment of two new Free Schools in the area Peter Kessler, chair of governors, Eden Primary writes:
den Primary existed as an idea and a goal long before free schools were invented. The central concept behind it – a Jewish school where everyone is welcome – was something that drove the founders and seemed to touch a chord in many Jewish families in the neighbourhood. When the government announced the free-schools programme, it felt (almost) as if they had created it just for us. The timing was perfect, and the funding to turn the dream into a reality was handed over fewer than 18 months after we started discussing the project. Recently, we had an opportunity to put our pluralist vision to the test. As you may know, on 4 June this year, the Islamic centre of the Bravanese community in Muswell Hill was destroyed by fire. The Bravanese people are an ethnic minority originating from southern Somalia. Their population was threatened with genocide when civil war broke out in 1990, and they were forced to flee. Their community centre was a vital source of education, culture and support, and its destruction has hit them hard. In the days following the incident, leaders of various faith and local communities stood up in support of the Bravanese people and their plight, not least the NNLS community. Eden’s headteacher, Jo Sassienie, and I, felt that we might be able to help. Rabbi David Mason was an inspiring central figure, organizing a meeting at Muswell Hill synagogue. It was an historic event:
around one table sat representatives of the Islamic community, Orthodox, Reform and Masorti Judaism, Methodists, Catholics, Church of England ministers, Quakers and Bravanese leaders – as well as Eden Primary. They were clear from the outset that one of the most
pressing needs was to find some classrooms for the Bravanese children’s after-school tuition. Of course they go to normal schools, but every evening from 5pm till 7pm they also have religious education (imagine Haderech every evening) and, since their building had been destroyed, there was nowhere for them to go. We were truly delighted and honoured to be able to offer our classrooms. But first I had to check that there wouldn’t be any undue security considerations. I was concerned that perhaps whoever had set light to the Bravanese centre might hear of their new location and attack Eden. I spoke to the CST, who applauded the intention behind our offer, but sounded a sensible note of caution: they pointed out that we knew nothing about these people except that they were Muslims, and that we should take care in case there were any anti-Israel sentiments amongst them. Then we had to check with our insurers. They wanted to know if the Bravanese teachers had CRB forms, and did they have public-liability insurance? Hard to say, since all their paperwork had gone up in smoke. The next day I was reading a story to
some elderly ladies in Hackney (this is a regular Wednesday morning activity – I wasn’t just doing it by accident). I had chosen, at random, a story by the Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel, called “The Story of my Dovecot”. I hadn’t even read it myself before setting off. The story is a memoir, told from the point of view of a young boy in Russia in 1905. On the day that he wins a place in secondary school, his father rewards him with a new dovecot. But on the same day, there is a pogrom in his town. The young boy, excited about his gift, doesn’t understand what is going on around him, until the reality of it hits him at the end of the story. Jewish buildings are burnt down, and his own grandfather is killed. After reading the story I was hit by a sense of synchronicity. Yes, security is an issue. Yes, insurance documents are important. I don’t dispute any of that. But, within recent and living memory, Jews have been forced to watch their own homes and community centres being burned to the ground, while others have both helped and turned their backs in the face of such outrages. Ultimately there was no decision to be made. It is both our responsibility and our good fortune to help now – because we can. Jo Sassienie and I wrote to all the Eden families explaining our intention, and the response was one of overwhelming and moving support. For the next two weeks, we welcomed about 50 Bravanese children, aged from six to 12, and their teachers into the school. The children were impeccably behaved, absolutely devoted to their studies, happy, friendly and beautiful. I think, for me and Jo, the central moment of the whole period was when we showed our Aron Kodesh and Sefer Torah to Abdishakur, one of the Bravanese community leaders, and he explained the similarities between so much of the Quran and the Torah. The ideal of being a Jewish school where everyone is welcome seemed to crystallise before our eyes. And, as we looked around the school, the similarities in the holy texts seemed mirrored in the faces of the children in the classrooms around us.
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Eden headteacher Jo Sassienie and chair of governors Peter Kessler with the children and teachers of the displaced Bravanese community
Martin Blain, one of the founders of Alma, writes:
chat in a cafĂŠ in Finchley with Matt Plen and Claire Mandel was the start of our new school project, and we started by circulating a survey to as many local shuls and Jewish organisations as we could. As well as testing attitudes and inviting registrations of interest, we asked for volunteers to help get the project going. This trawl produced a roomful of the most creative and energetic people I have ever met. Alongside experts in Judaism, education and management, we also found valuable skills in property, finance, marketing and law. People were quick to
volunteer their time, and eager to respect other peopleâ€™s expertise while engaging in a lively but constructive debate on all issues. People came from all walks of Jewish life, from Orthodox to Liberal, and
NNLS members were well represented. These core volunteers evolved into the project team, numbering about 10, which met weekly to update our plans. To see the full list of those involved, readers
will have to visit our website, but I need to mention three. In the middle of the process I got a new job and continuing at Alma would have presented a conflict of interest. So I resigned from my position as chair of governors to be replaced by Natalie Grazin and David Steadman. Probably feeling, as Truman did in 1944, that a bale of hay had just fallen on them, they ably led the team in the complex negotiations and myriad tasks involved in readying the school for its September 2013 opening. Another significant figure is our founding headteacher, Marc Shoffren. Poached from North London Collegiate, and with great experience at Clore Shalom, he proved to be exactly the figure the parents wanted to see leading the school. It had always been my dream to set up
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A family day at Alma Primary a school, and the government’s free-schools programme seemed to offer just the opportunity. Applicants needed to come up with an idea for a school, which satisfied a local need that was not being met within existing provision. The need then presented itself to my family: not only were we too far from other Jewish primary schools for our children, but our house seemed to fall in a no-man’s-land between the catchments of three local schools, and there was a strong chance of their having no school at all. We heard horror stories from others, and rumours that Barnet was 300 primary school places short. At an early stage in the project it became clear that the group wanted some specific features in our proposed school: a small school where every child would be known; a very academic school; a school where Jewish studies would be high quality, ensuring that pupils were equipped to embrace Jewish life fully; an inclusive school where our children would not just mix with Jewish children. Were these irreconcilable requirements? We didn’t think so. The initial survey went out in September 2011. The first meeting of volunteers took place on 4 December, and we needed to decide whether to attempt to write our application in two months (a process usually taking a year). On 16 December I met our official advisor who expressed some surprise at how fast we were attempting to do this. On 24 February 2012 our 138-page application hit the Department for Education’s doormat. We gave details of 80
registered children. On 8 May our four-person interview team attended the DfE offices for a detailed grilling. Well prepared as we were, we could not be sure what the competition was like and whether the Department had reached its informal ceiling on the number of Jewish schools. On 13 July “white smoke, green light”, came the e-mail, as we were named among the 100 new free schools for 2013. In September, the search began for our headteacher, with the appointment made during the first round of interviews. On 18 September the project team named the school Alma. On 18 October we held the first of two big open meetings, which was a sell-out. From December 2012 onwards, we recruited the receptionclass teacher, business manager, administrator and learning support assistants. Throughout the spring of 2013, there was statutory consultation, with lots of chances for prospective parents to meet the headteacher. In April 2013, the funding agreement was signed. There was no going back: this was our final approval. Offers were made to 30 pupils for September places. In May 2013, we took possession of our temporary site in Moss Hall Grove, in the site that used to house Morasha. A permanent site will be secured in the next few months.
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Mike Finest One Judith Usiskin on her late husband, Mike Finestone
e so delighted in saying, “Mike Finest One” whenever people asked how to spell his name. And indeed, that name suited him very well. My memories of him go back to when we first met in our student days, when he was an earnest young student of optics at Tech (which was what we called UMIST). His first wife Anne and I were at Manchester University, supposedly studying hard but actually discussing politics and the latest fashion and gossip over innumerable cups of coffee in the university Union. (Incidentally, in those far-off days, there were separate unions for men and women.) Mike, meanwhile, slaved away over improbably small pieces of equipment in the Tech. I was in fact more friendly with Anne than with him, although, as aspiring Zionist pioneers, we were in the same circle of friends. I registered him as a quiet but friendly guy with a cheeky smile, who had a penchant for long telephone calls and needed a supply of friends to practise eye-testing on. When he and Anne got together they kept their relationship secret from their friends for a while and delighted in telling us all – surprise! – that they were planning to get married. I missed the wedding as it was in August and I was on holiday, but I was invited, and when I married Ronnie some years later they sent me a lovely Denby teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl (kept for Pesach so they lasted for years). The family made aliyah in 1970 and I think the last time I saw them in Manchester was when they came to the shiva for my father. They went initially to Arad, where Anne’s brother Michael “Copey” Copeland led the WUJS scheme. We all thought they were very brave to uproot themselves and their three children to return to student-type living,
but they were able to find employment and a flat in Tel Aviv where they made many friends. Mike founded an optician’s business where he worked for many years and his expertise was greatly respected. He took an early retirement, though
continued to keep up with the profession as an occasional locum, and took up a new profession, translating medical court reports into English for insurance companies based in the UK. He was extremely proud of his three children and his 11 grandchildren, who are all delightful and caring people and high achievers. He spoke so admiringly of his daughter, Benita, that I used to say to her that if she were not so lovely I would have hated her! He delighted in having long and earnest conversations with the grandchildren, explaining various scientific phenomena with much patience. He used to prepare for these sessions very carefully, to get the facts correct and to present them in an interesting way. His grandchildren really loved him and appreciated the trouble he took. Mainly because of Anne’s efforts, we had kept vaguely in touch, as one does, over the years either in London or Tel Aviv, and met at least twice. I was even invited by his daughter to contribute some words
to their surprise ruby wedding anniversary album. When I heard the sad news of Anne’s death, I wrote to him and the family. Some years later, after the untimely death of my husband Ronnie, while I was catching up with old friends in Israel, Mike and I met and talked at some length on a more serious note than we used to and arranged to meet again. Then he visited me in London. Gradually we grew closer, so that it seemed sad to part each time. With very little confusion and the support of our six children we agreed to split the year between London and Raanana and it worked pretty well. I could see he really enjoyed the time in London, catching up with old friends and concerts, museums and plays, as well as trips to the continent and even to Australia. And, as in Raanana, he loved to walk down the streets, greeting cheerily all his acquaintances and being hailed warmly by them all. In both countries he participated in choirs, thoroughly enjoying both the music and the company. For my part, I had a loving companion and was able to realise my dream of participating fully in the life of Israel, which I had loved and visited so often with my family over the years. It was a particular bonus that all our children and grandchildren were tolerant and accepted us as bimcom and I think we both were able to make room in our hearts for the new families. We often spoke of how lucky we were with all of them and the many good friends we had made in both countries. Many people contacted us during the period of Mike’s illness and then when he died. I was surprised and delighted at the messages that came from London where he had only lived for six months per year for nine years. I must say I was surprised, and much appreciated the respect and admiration people expressed by email, telephone and personal contact. Some people have expressed great sadness for me at having lost a husband for the second time, but I feel very lucky and proud to have been the partner of two very different but very beloved and appreciated men.
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Chuppah Poles Brian Plen
his May, we celebrated the marriage of my wife Noreen’s son Michael Landau to Jeanne Nohr. As part of the preparations, I went to the shul to fetch the chuppah poles for them. They had planned to use bamboo poles, but I was not happy with them as seven out of the eight had long, ugly splits. I asked about the set that were presented for the wedding of Leslie and Sue Lyndon and was horrified to see that they had all been snapped in half. Apparently after a previous wedding the carrier had delivered them back broken. I had spent time lovingly refurbishing them and replacing their gilded caps a while ago – about 10 years, I suppose - and they had been used at the wedding of Danielle and Immi Rubin four years ago. Well, the long and the short of the story is that, being a bit of a do-it-yourself expert, I went to B&Q, purchased some lovely timber and end caps and constructed a new set with brass clips and chains. I transferred and polished up Leslie and Sue’s old wedding remembrance plaque as well as the others to the new set. Noreen was not well pleased with the sudden extra-large task required on the eve of her boy’s wedding but she gamely held the poles while I drilled and screwed and she passed the brass hooks with enthusiasm. Jeanne wrapped the poles in a white tulle gauze with rose flower holders tucked in to the fabric. It looked lovely on the day. The official photographer’s photos aren’t back yet but I have attached some others so you can get a glimpse of the new canopy in action. We have now donated the set to the community and it is a nice thought that the remembrance of your wedding (and others) will continue to be used by future members. They can be used in their current white tulle wrapping or this can be removed to disclose their lovely beech wood grain. We hope that many people will have the pleasure of being married under this chuppah and also that they have as happy and productive a married life as we have had.
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13-278-AR Miriam RH Ad_GS 28/06/2013 12:45 Page 1
Charity Reg No. 802559
FIRST MY MUM FORGOT HER GLASSES. THEN SHE FORGOT HER ADDRESS. THEN SHE FORGOT HER NAME. THEN SHE FORGOT SHE WAS MY MUM. THEN I REMEMBERED JEWISH CARE. Dementia doesn’t usually happen overnight. It happens gradually. That’s why, at Jewish Care, we offer help and guidance to those living with dementia at every stage. From our family support team and dementia day centres through to our care homes and help in the home, like a strong purple thread that binds our community in love and responsibility, Jewish Care will be there every step of the way. So, as you celebrate Rosh Hashanah, remember those who struggle to remember. Please remember to donate by calling 020 8922 2600 or visiting jewishcare.org/donate
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Alma, a daughter for Clarissa and Avshalom Caspi
Benjamin Eliezer, a son for Yael and Michael Samuels, and a grandson for Linda and Basil Samuels
Alyssia Kayla, a daughter for Claudia and Anthony Williams
Daniel Joshua, a son for Leesa and Gary Sinyor
new Babies Solomon Jack, a son for Rachel and Joseph Hines, with brother Isaac
Eliav Samuel Morris, a grandson for Selma Shrank, named in loving memory of Paul Shrank
Rubi Gisha, a daughter for Evie and Michael Korn
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Elie Maurice, a son for Lea and Robbie Douek, and a grandson for Suzy Douek
Gabriella Kate, a daughter for Vanessa and Josh Berle, and a granddaughter for Judy and David Berle, with sister Francesca
Cobie Harrison, a son for Kim and Jonnie Milich, a grandson for Barbara and Nicholas Anders, and a great grandson for Helga and Abram Lerner
Maximilian Reuben, a son for Sandra and Jonathan Putsman
Zoe Louisa, a daughter for Miriam and Fredrik Martol, and a granddaughter for Judy and Roger Obrart
Leo Huxley, a son for Karen and Rob Wilson
Hannah Betty, a daughter for Sonya and Paul Orchover, and a granddaughter for Judy and Roger Obrart
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Notes from the Library Kenneth Zucker
f the many books generously donated to the shul library in the past year, two have intrigued me the most. The first is a very large book. It bears the title Front Page Israel – The Jerusalem Post. That title is in part misleading because the journal started life as The Palestine Post. It retained that title until sometime after 4 April 1949, when its name was changed to The Jerusalem Post. The book contains a selection in facsimile of 298 of the newspaper’s front pages, covering a period of 62 years, from its first edition dated 1 December 1932 until the issue printed on 11 December 1994. Here is a history of M a n d a t e Palestine and the state of Israel as it happened and without any benefit of hindsight. The first edition contains little of note. The main news included a report of a collision between a car and a train at the Ramle crossing. On 31 January 1933, the appointment of Herr Hitler as Germany’s Chancellor is reported. The ever-more menacing threat of Nazism to the Jewish people can be traced through these pages. On 20 May 1935, three columns are devoted to Lawrence of Arabia, who had recently died. But as the skies darken there is very little to lighten the pages. The events leading to the outbreak of war and its progress are recorded. The edition of Sunday 16 May 1948 has the banner headline “State of Israel is born”. The pages cover in graphic detail the Six Day War, Israel’s other wars and its political history through the first 48 years of its existence. But Jews never believe in ending on a gloomy note. The last page, dated 11 December 1994, records the award of the Nobel Prize to Rabin, Peres and Arafat. The second book is one quarter of the size of the first. It
appeared from the bottom of a large cardboard box containing many books. Though I had not seen a copy of this book for many years I recognised it instantly with a shudder: Reshit Daat. It was the universal primer used in the cheders of my youth. It married each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to the vowels: Ba, Bo, Beh, Ma, Mo, Meh and built from there MaMa, MoMo, MuMeh and so on. It had a few small pictures, for example, of a comb when it came to the word ‘Musrake’. But there was no attempt to translate words into English. Its object was to train the pupil to read the standard prayers set out at the back of the book without any understanding of their meaning: Modeh Ani, Mah Tovu, the Shema and so on. It had some oddities. Chapter 11 begins “Review of the preceding”, followed by its translation into German – “Wiederhollung des Vorgegangenen” – which no doubt pointed to its origins. Many chapters were preceded by instructions that grew more and more complicated. Chapter 46 has this: “The vowel which precedes a sounded ‘shevah’ takes a ‘messeg’ (a perpendicular line) as a tonic accent.” We all regarded Reshit Daat as intensely boring and a turn-off. When I moved from Edgware to Southend, I left Reshit Daat behind. In my new cheder, I was required each Sunday to read one line from the siddur, told that that was very good and that was the end of my Hebrew education. The result was that my reading of Hebrew remains blighted. On the other hand, a very experienced cheder teacher told me, when I mentioned that a copy of Reshit Daat had been given to the library, that it was an excellent book for teaching children to read Hebrew well. I fear she may be right, so it will remain in our library. My thanks to Annette Camissar for Front Page Israel – The Jerusalem Post and to Robert Craig for Reshit Daat. I hope he made better use of it than I did.
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Introducing TAKUM Josh Cass, NNLS Tikkun Olam project director
he idea of a global, social-justice beit midrash, involving NNLS and other centres of Jewish learning, giving participants an opportunity to learn with some of the most inspiring teachers in the world, has been mooted in the past. So I am delighted to be able to announce that October 2013 will mark the start of TAKUM, a TAKUM study programme that will 2013 / 14 combine rigorous Jewish learning with an engagement in social change, both at a national and international level. New North London is partnering with the Center for Global Judaism in Boston, Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, IKAR in Los Angeles and ATZUM and Yeshivot Talpiot in Jerusalem, to offer an exciting curriculum that will explore themes of migration, food justice, the environment and gender relations over the course of a year. The majority of learning will take place in local study groups at each of the five participating centres. However, teachers from other centres will give online shiurim and material covered at each centre will be made available online. That will mean that all can benefit from the learning in each of these fantastic organisations, which are at the forefront of thinking about what it means to engage in social action in a Jewish way. Participants will also benefit from being able to engage with some of the most dynamic and high-profile activists working to achieve social change. Participants will then reflect on the material covered during Jewish study sessions and with activists via online, international chevruta. Finally, participants will be directed towards and supported into placements with leading tikkun-olam (social-action) organisations so that the Jewish learning can be put into practice and participants can grapple with some of the critical
questions confronting social action practitioners. By participating in TAKUM, participants will be plugged straight into a global network of people with a profound interest in, and commitment to, Jewish texts and values, and a desire to see how those texts can be translated into a call to action for real change. NNLS is excited to be part of TAKUM, not least because it places our community alongside some of the most inspiring Jewish organisations globally. This is a great opportunity for us as a community to gain an insight into how other communities around the world engage with Tikkun Olam and, by doing so, to connect us to a network of committed individuals working to create a more just world. Participants will be expected to take part in all of the monthly study sessions (roughly 10 hours a month), and to make a similar commitment to hands-on Tikkun Olam volunteering. The first TAKUM session is pencilled in for October 6, 2013. email@example.com
friends for life
Mike Schlagman and Howard Gerlis today
or those of you wondering what synagogue stalwart Mike Schlagman looked like with hair, here he is (front left) circa 1960 on holiday at Westgateon-Sea. Next to him is another stalwart, Howard Gerlis. Theyâ€™ve barely changed, and despite supporting rival football teams they are still good friends.
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A Cycling Journey By Clive Sheldon
f you had said to me last Rosh Hashanah that this year I would be writing an article about my 180-mile cycling trip from Cordoba to Granada in southern Spain, I would have called you meshuggeh. You see, I have never really been one for concentrated physical exercise and, although I have always enjoyed a casual cycle ride, I had never taken it particularly seriously as a sport. Well, that’s all changed, and I am now a fully-fledged member of that parallel NNLS community: Sundaymorning cyclists. On any Sunday morning, when many of our brethren are devoting themselves to shacharit, helping out at cheder or trekking, large numbers of our congregation are donning their lycra, putting on their cleated cycling shoes, and tuning up their road bikes for trips out to Hertfordshire or the Chilterns. I decided to join this alternative
minyan so as to make myself fit enough for a sponsored cycle ride for the Langdon Foundation. Langdon supports young adults with learning difficulties to live as independently as possible, providing them with training opportunities and support with jobs and accommodation. This year’s Langdon ride was joined by eight riders from NNLS (the best represented shul): former NNLS chair, Brian Berelowitz; my co-chair of Masorti Judaism Nick Gendler; and fellow congregants Eli Silber, Andrew Morgan, Geoffrey Berger, Andres Virchis and Dieter Stein. We rode with 20 nonNNLS cyclists and three members of the Langdon community: Daniel, James and Richard, great young men with tremendous personalities. We were also accompanied by Cycling Country, a professional support team, and our very own sports masseuse! The ride took place in early June.
After our dawn flight from Luton, we made our way by bus from Malaga to Cordoba. There, we were taken on a walking tour of this magical, Unesco-protected, city: a city that was once home to thriving Jewish and Muslim communities, and more recently (well, since 1492) to a dominant Catholic population. We visited the sole surviving synagogue, built in a private residence in 1315, and had our photograph taken at the statue to Cordoba’s most-famous Jewish son, the Rambam (Moses Maimonides). We toured the incredible Mesquita, a cathedral built on the site of a former mosque (itself built on the site of a former church). For dinner, we had a wonderful vegetarian meal at the Sephardi-style restaurant Casa Mazal. And then to bed, ready for the first day of our cycling trip. Day one of the tour took us from Cordoba to Zuheiros. The first hour of the
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ride was uncomfortably on unpaved road: I surmised that the EU money had run out. We stopped for drinks at Castro Del Rio, where Pompey’s soldiers rested before their battle with Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. We then climbed some serious hills and made it to Zuheiros, a mountain village, in the late afternoon. We celebrated our arrival and the end of a good day’s cycling with drinks on a terrace beside a fortress, and later had a lovely dinner at our exquisite hotel, the Hotel Zuhayra. Day two took us to Alcalá La Real. This was a more gruelling day for me, as it was the first time that I had cycled on consecutive days. We climbed plenty of hills, surrounded by the never-ending groves of olive trees. Apparently, 10% of the world’s olive oil is made from Andalucían olives! The ride culminated in a steep climb to the castle sitting on the La Mota hillside. As we are approaching the Ten Days, I am prepared to confess that I got off my bike just before the summit: multiple rides up Highgate West Hill and Swains Lane had simply not prepared me
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for this final climb after five hours’ cycling in the baking heat. But, not to be deterred, I didn’t walk the remaining 50 metres, but after a quick gulp of water, I got back in the saddle and made it to the top. That evening, we were given a walking tour of Alcalá La Real, probably one of the dullest towns in Spain. The highlight was a stained glass window depicting a dog. Many of us NNLSers thought this might be of interest to our beloved rabbi, and we have already started a collection for its purchase. Day three saw us riding to Granada. This was the most exciting day of cycling. We rode, rather painfully, through the cobbled streets of the town of Montefrio. After a serious climb, we then rode downhill for 10km. I hated every minute of that descent. Whilst I (masochistically) love the climbing, going downhill is just too scary for a risk-averse person like me. As my NNLS and other colleagues sped past me, I couldn’t wait for it to end. We then cycled through lots of pretty villages, until we made it to Santa Fe - where Queen Isabella met Christopher Columbus
to discuss his forthcoming trip to the Americas. Our conversation was about less adventurous things, but we did manage to commandeer a café for well-deserved soft drinks and ice cream. We then rode together as a group to the beautiful city of Granada, at the foothills of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains. Entering Granada was emotional for me. I had done it. I had succeeded in my first multi-day cycling trip, raised more than £2,500 for a great charity, and had had a lot of fun. After a fleeting visit to the Alhambra, the palace of Yusuf I, sultan of Granada, I flew home, very satisfied with my achievement. Many of the group, including some of the hardier NNLS cyclists, stayed on for one more day to ascend the Pico Veleta, Europe’s highest paved road. Apparently, they relished the challenge and all did well. Did I regret not doing the extra day? No. It’s important to know your limits. For me, three days of riding was enough. Next year, Langdon might be cycling in Provence. I hope to be there.
From left to right: Dieter Stein, Eli Silber, Brian Berelowitz, Clive Sheldon, Andres Virchis, Moses Maimonides, Andrew Morgan, Nick Gendler, Richard Shinwell (Langdon resident), Geoffrey Berger
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ask rabbi uriel
chai. Personally, I’d recommend 19, because it’s a full lunar cycle, so the Hebrew and Julian calendar anniversaries will coincide. In conclusion, I would recommend that you wait for your 19th anniversary to say a bracha, but if you’re desperate to do so for your 10th, you should bring a new fruit or wear a new piece of clothing, to obviate any argument that you are saying the bracha in vain. As for benching gomel, I’ve found out from other sources that your wife would kill you for doing so, so it’s an idea best avoided, though whether this narrow escape itself gives you an obligation to bench gomel is a matter you’d need to discuss with your own rabbi.
es, he’s back: the man who puts the chic into halachic interpretation. It’s everyone’s favourite fictional, rabbinical agony aunt, Rabbi Uriel ben Shimon, known by his rabbinical nickname, the Rubb”ish. He’s here again to answer some of your everyday questions about religious practice.
Dear Rabbi Uriel My wife and I are about to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and I’d like to arrange to be called up, and for a misheberach to be said in shul, and for me to say a sheheheyanu to mark this auspicious milestone. I mentioned this to the shammas, who said that anniversaries aren’t a Jewish thing, and therefore inappropriate either for a mi-sheberach, or a brachah. He suggested that I might like to bench gomel as an alternative (though he may have been joking). Yours Quizzical, Queens Avenue Dear Mr Quizzical Your query raises a number of issues. You can have a misheberach for pretty much anything. I had to rule on Cup Final day as to whether a prayer for one of the teams could be followed immediately by a prayer for their opponents. The answer was that it couldn’t, and I gave priority to the supporter who had arrived earlier in shul – it was the first time we had started on time for years... but I digress. A sheheheyanu is a different matter, because saying a bracha that isn’t required (she’eina tzaricha) is a potential breach of the commandment about taking God’s name in vain. There are no birthdays in the Bible, apart from Pharoah’s, and certainly no wedding anniversaries. That said, you will see from numerous 19th century Festschriften that the German rabbis had a tradition of marking their 70th birthdays, often with a celebratory dinner, the idea being that they had not been struck down before their time. The Hungarian rabbis disagreed with this custom, believing it to constitute following the ways of the gentiles. Would the same apply to a wedding anniversary? I would think so, though frankly for a 10th anniversary you’d be lucky to get a biscuit at kiddush. Another disagreement is between those who say sheheheyanu only at prescribed times, such as on putting on new clothes, eating a type of fruit for the first time in a year, or seeing someone whom one hasn’t seen for at least three months, and those who believe that the bracha may be said at any celebratory occasion. The trend nowadays is to allow the bracha on general celebratory occasions, as long as they are likely to recur annually. I would question, though, whether the expiry of an arbitrary period without either of you asking for a get is really a matter for celebration. Is it any different from my celebrating not having been run over on my way into town today? Another objection is that 10 isn’t an especially significant number for Jews. One could justify an 18th anniversary celebration, as 18 is the gematria of
great sermon jokes: No. 13
t’s back, just when you thought you were safe: the repository of all the Jewish world’s most antiquated gags. Previously only seen by those with smicha, this dog-eared edition has been leaked to the NNLS Magazine, which has been releasing it one joke at a time. Would anyone want more than one?
The Future Son-in-Law Cohen is introduced to Levy, who wants to marry his daughter. Cohen asks him, “what do you do?” “I study Torah,” Levy says. “How do you expect to keep my daughter?” Cohen asks him. “God will provide,” Levy says. “And if you have children, how will you feed and clothe them,” Cohen asks. “God will provide,” Levy replies. Cohen goes home and his wife asks him: “What did you think of our daughter’s young man?” “I like him,” Cohen answers. “I’ve only just met him and already he thinks I’m God.”
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Enjoying NNLS, like everyone else Rivka Gottlieb, NNLS director of programming
ehind the scenes, a small, dedicated group of people has met regularly over the past couple of years to think about how we as a community can help people feel more welcome and included in community life. To whom does the term “inclusion” apply? Any one of us, at different times in our lives and for different reasons, may feel not quite part of things. On the outside. Excluded. So if “inclusion” means including everyone, where do we begin? And do we need to draw a line somewhere? That doesn’t sound very inclusive! I remember when Ron Wolfson, author of The Spirituality of Welcoming, gave a workshop at NNLS for Masorti communities a few years ago. One thing in particular left a lasting impression on me and produced a fair amount of soul-searching: he said that Masorti communities all over the world pride themselves on being welcoming and inclusive – it’s one of our core values – and, indeed, if you walk into kiddush at NNLS on any Shabbat, the atmosphere is buzzing with people chatting and catching up with each other. But, and this is the difficult bit,
what a lot of us often do, myself included, is to chat to people we already know, not even seeing the person who feels out of their depth or who feels left out whether they know people or not. It takes a lot more effort to walk up to someone you don’t know and start a conversation. Now imagine that you are not only new to the community, but you also have a disability, visible or invisible. People might avoid you because they don’t know what to say. You might be someone who avoids eye contact (because that’s just the way you are) and therefore people don’t realise that you really do want to talk to them. You might look different, you might just feel different, and how you feel is likely to determine your next action. This may be the last time you walk into a synagogue, because there is no place for you there (or so it feels). When I first joined NNLS, Rabbi Jonathan gave me some sound advice: choose a project that interests you and get involved, because the more you give, the more you get back. I went to every activity and event that interested me, taught cheder, volunteered, came to shul regularly… and
it still took me a couple of years to really feel part of the community. What’s more, it was hard work. I had to overcome the baggage of experiences in other communities, and it was demoralising at times. Everyone else seemed to know each other! And, as a single parent of an only child, I didn’t fit the “married with 2.4 children” mould either. It took time and effort, but it was ultimately worth it. (I ended up working for the shul, but that’s another story.) If I found it hard, how much harder must it be for someone with a learning disability? What about someone with a mental illness, who perhaps finds it difficult to leave the house? Our community is blessed with far more diversity than many people realise. Ours is a community of people drawn together by shared values, one of which is to welcome people in. We know that, but one of our challenges is to let people who have felt rejected elsewhere, or who worry that because they are different they won’t find their place in our community, know that too. To that end, a number of groups in the community have been looking at how we include people, and working on finding ways to let people who haven’t felt included before know that they are wanted and welcome. The inclusion team has focused on those who don’t have a voice and are often forgotten: people with learning disabilities and those who suffer from mental-health problems. Another group in the shul has been looking at how we communicate our welcome to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Jewish community. A project of which I am particularly proud is our support group for single mothers from across the Jewish community. You can read a participant’s perspective in this magazine. The group has been running since February 2012 and has so far directly supported 23 women and their children. An incredible, dedicated team runs the group and looks after the children, including psychotherapists Leora Zehavi and Debbie Mallandaine,
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retired teacher Barbara Burman, and Ruth and Tony Morris, plus a fabulous team of teenagers and other back-up volunteers. As part of our inclusion campaign, we have been working with Shoshana Bloom, Jewish cultural manager for Norwood, and have held communal Friday night dinners once a year for the past three summers, attended by 80 to 90 people each time: Norwood service users, their support workers and family members, and the NNLS community. Once a year may seem like a token gesture, but in fact the wonderful atmosphere and highly enjoyable evening has proven a perfect introduction to NNLS for many at Norwood, who would otherwise never have set foot in our shul. Following on from that, this year we piloted a series of monthly S u n d a y afternoon tea parties with singing and music called Sing for your Cuppa! – aptly named by Tali Chernick – and brilliantly led by songstress Ruth Morris, with capable and enthusiastic support from Tony Morris. All three of them are members of the inclusion team. Different members of the community also turn up each month to help serve tea, chat with our guests, and accompany the singing on various instruments. Rock ‘n’ rollers Ivor Jacobs and Jakob Stein are particular favourites, jamming away on their guitars, and it is not unusual for participants to get up and dance the afternoon away. These sorts of events give learning-disabled people the opportunity to become familiar with NNLS, and form relationships with members of the community, as well as to enjoy themselves. Also on our team are Graham Craig and Rabbi Amanda Golby, both on the board of the Judith Trust, another organisation with which we have been working. Sharon Daniels of the Judith Trust ran some training sessions for members last year, which we hope enabled greeters, welcomers and shammashim to feel more confident supporting people with learning disabilities in shul. We are keen to develop our buddy system, so that when someone contacts us and asks for a bit of support
coming to shul for a service or event, we can pair them up with a buddy to meet them and sit with them. Martin Aaron and Ken Bledin, also on our team, are involved with JAMI, the Jewish Association for the Mentally Ill, and were instrumental in bringing Tanya Harris, head of services at JAMI, to run training sessions about supporting people with mental illnesses at shul. Further training is planned, including mental-health firstaid courses, for which members of the community are warmly invited to sign up. Bar/bat mitzvah is something that Jewish parents look forward to for their children, probably with a mixture of excitement and dread! The prospect for parents of a bar or bat mitzvah for a child with a learning disability is much more c o m p l e x and we want families to know that a bar or bat mitzvah can be tailored to suit the needs and abilities of any child. However, if parents don’t feel able to bring their child to shul at all, then that also needs to be addressed. So, combining our professional expertise with our skills leading services in Assif and Hakol Olin, speech and language therapist Julia Benson, and I – as a music therapist – have developed Shabbat services for children with special needs who are unable to access mainstream children’s services. These have been a real joy for us to run, and are a wonderful opportunity for children to become familiar with the music and format of Shabbat services. There are also adults who missed out on marking their bar or bat mitzvah at the usual age, and we are keen for people to know that the opportunity to do so at any age is available. The point of inclusion, of course, is not just to ensure that everyone can physically access services and community activities – although clearly this is vital, and the reason we built an accessible building – but also to try to create an environment in which anyone, regardless of physical or mental health, disability or any other potential barrier, can feel that they are part of the life of the community and able to contribute.
If I found it hard, how much harder must it be for someone with a learning disability?
Bar and bat mitzvahs for all Martin Aaron
he social stigma attached to people with learning disabilities and mental ill-health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse. For people with a mental illness, it makes it harder for them to recover. Mental illness is common. It affects thousands of people in the UK: friends, families, work colleagues and society in general. One in four people is likely to suffer from mental illness and obviously that includes members of our Jewish community. There are thousands of people with learning disabilities, yet only 7% of them have a job, although 65% would like one. It’s easy to say that one wants to welcome more people into our community or our home. Choosing to make it happen can be a difficult decision, but it shouldn’t be. We are not always aware of people’s diverse needs. On some occasions we make mistakes, or are afraid of getting it wrong. Sometimes we are a bit afraid of people who seem different, but again we shouldn’t be. NNLS is an inclusive community, where everyone is welcome at the synagogue’s various services and communal events, irrespective of who they are, what they are, or where they come from. Everyone includes those who have sight, hearing, physical and all other disabilities. As part of this policy, we wish to hear from those among our members, families and friends who, for whatever reason, may have been denied the opportunity of bar or bat mitzvah. If you know of anyone who would wish to celebrate their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, please contact Graham Graig on 020 8455 4120. Regular services are held on weekdays, every Shabbat and on all festivals throughout the year, where everyone is welcome. We also have services designed particularly for those with special needs.
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Rosh Hashanah 2013
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Single Mothers’ Support Group A participant writes...
hile visiting the synagogue, I saw a flyer for the Single Mothers’ Support Group and knew immediately that it was an opportunity I should investigate. My children looked after while I talked to other single mums? What’s not to like? I had no idea what it was, what it did, or how it was run. One of the women leading the group returned my call and we talked for a while. Since splitting up with my partner two years previously I had found the stresses of single parenthood and the enormous responsibility it bore very difficult to navigate. I am lucky enough to have the support of friends and family but the opportunity to meet with other single mothers within the Jewish community, facilitated by experienced therapists, felt like a possible… lifeline? Ray of light? Or dead end? I really didn’t know. I was nervous but prepared to commit for six weeks of 90 minute sessions. I have found the group very welcoming and the time spent both significant and meaningful. My kids see it as a highlight of the week: they play with other children and lovely volunteers, while we get much-needed time to talk. I think it is really healthy for them to be with other children who are living in single parent households, many of whom have experienced the breakup of a relationships and are also negotiating their own path between two homes. Being a lone parent can feel isolating. Despite working, I often am either alone with my children or simply alone. Even this simple
time with other adults is a real boost. Sessions have helped me in many ways, some of them subtle and - I hope - accumulative. Firstly, I have understood and taken strength from our shared experiences, and the wisdom that we can all help each other with. Though we can’t solve problems for each other, the ability to consider other ways of approaching anything from a bedtime issue or a messy house to deeper emotional issues, has helped. Being able to share my experiences of the issues that coparenting can raise and to hear other stories and experiences has really helped me personally move forward and to try to shed some of the approaches that weren’t helping me in any way. Being validated by the group allowed me to gain strength and so I feel stronger now, having attended two courses. The course facilitators have been marvellous, steering and consolidating the discussions and reflecting back to us. Their training and ability to work with a diverse group has been invaluable. As a group of Jewish women we start from a very similar cultural horizon and so many of our aims and experiences as mothers are understood by each other. While we don’t discuss matzah-ball recipes, there is a shared experience that helps enormously and I have found far more support in the group than I could possibly have hoped for.
Shana Tova and thank you to all our supporters at NNLS! Follow news from over 300 Israeli social justice organisations which you've helped us support: @newisraelfunduk www.facebook.com/UKNIF www.newisraelfund.org.uk
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A Moving Experience Brian Posner
hen Spike Milligan was asked what he was doing here, he replied indisputably: “Everyone has to be somewhere”. If he had been Jewish, he may have said: “Everyone has to be somewhere else”. Since coming to London from the north-east we have realised that comparatively few of the friends whom we meet are Londoners by birth. The stereotype of the wandering Jew evolved as a result of centuries of persecution, and the concept is easy to understand. It is more difficult to grasp why we should still feel the urge to be mobile, living as we do in a tolerant society where we are not merely accepted but have prospered to a remarkable degree. It could have been expected that the immigrant communities that established themselves all over the UK would become a permanent presence in our towns and cities. Instead, we see a continuing emigration from the provinces, and the time may not be far away when a significant Jewish presence only survives in two or three large centres. Vera and I could never have imagined, when we started our married life in Sunderland more than 50 years ago, that this would happen in our lifetimes. A psychiatrist friend who was leaving to further his career about this time expressed the opinion that I would die in Sunderland. I did not demur and the remark gave me some satisfaction. However it was not to be, and Vera and I have now seen one north-east community disappear and another diminish by about 85%. We brought our children up in Sunderland, an exceptional community in which I had also spent my childhood. The 1,400 people there have now become less than a dozen and the synagogue is long closed. What made this community so special? The starting point was its homogeneity. Many of the founding families, although not our own, had come from Krotingen, a shtetl in Lithuania. Orthodoxy was strong and with it came the family values and moral standards that you would expect. They were achievers at every level and made an enormous contribution to the wider community. At the peak, I had 35 medical colleagues in the city; Jews, who comprised only 0.5% of the population, represented about one fifth of the doctors. There were Jewish scholars, leading rabbis, academics, mayors and councillors, and many successful businesspeople. More than one member of the community worked at Bletchley
Vera and Brian Posner Park during World War II. Sunderland was far more than an industrial city, and its sense of identity came from centuries of tradition. It was one of the three centres where Christianity was introduced into northern Europe after the departure of the Romans. The Venerable Bede spent much of his life here. The city was a centre for shipbuilding and glassmaking from late medieval times and it became the largest shipbuilding town in the world. During the Battle of the Atlantic, the shipyards were mass-producing one large cargo vessel per week to replace those that were sunk by German U-boats. The enemy was well aware of this and the intensity and duration of the resultant bombing was equalled in only a few other places in England. Sunderland Vera and I both worked in the NHS, and as a GP I enjoyed a relationship with my patients for 40 years, which is unknown nowadays. We understood our patients’ lives and circumstances and visited them at home. I remember thinking, when seeing five generations of the same family together admiring their newborn baby, that I had known this infant’s great-grandmother when she was a young girl. So why did Vera and I move to Newcastle, 21 years ago? The answer is so obvious that it hardly needs to be stated. Our children and those of our friends grew up and left, firstly to university and
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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: “she_who_must”
Many held positions of distinction, such as president of the Royal College of Physicians, Astronomer Royal or member of the House of Lords. Others brought authoritative views on their subjects from organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Wordsworth Trust, the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Vindolanda Trust. The tenth anniversary lecture was by Professor Geza Vermes, world authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Literary Society audiences were surprisingly resilient to the falling population. We had nearly 100 paid-up members for 15 years, but inevitably our numbers diminished. It was the same with the walkers. Not only did the size of the group decrease, but also the distances. We started with more than 40 participants, many of them doctors and their spouses, and 10 miles was not a problem. As the members aged, the range diminished by an unspoken consensus and eventually only three or four of us could contemplate a substantial hike. Our eventual move to London is one that has been replicated by many others, and for the same reasons. Two of our children live here with their families, as well as numerous friends, and we had been constant visitors. It was not a leap into the unknown, but a decision that was postponed for a decade, until it became inevitable. Vera and I are often asked whether we are happy here, do we feel settled, how does it compare with living in the north? We are very content with our decision, but of course life is never perfect and these questions do not have a simple answer. Anyone who has lived in the provinces agrees that a move to the metropolis involves considerable sacrifices, nearly all pertaining to the non-Jewish world. The standard of living is higher in the north of England and everything costs a great deal less. We miss having our friends within walking distance, the wonderful countryside and magnificent coast within a short drive and the relative tranquillity. One would invariably receive a greeting when passing a stranger in a residential street and it is a genuine surprise when this does not happen here. The drivers were nearly all courteous and to park one’s horn to signify some annoyance would be regarded as a sign of minor mental derangement. Even the temperate coastal climate has advantages with cooler summers and warmer winters than in the south but, it must be admitted, more wind and less sunshine. However, there are plenty of advantages to life in London, and to live in one of the greatest cities in the world with everything it has to offer, requires no elaboration. But these considerations, while important, are peripheral and disregard the most cogent reasons why we are now living in London. We are near many more of our children, grandchildren and friends and are becoming part of an exceptionally warm and
Sunderland Synagogue (built 1928)
Newcastle upon Tyne
photo by nicholas posner
then to pursue their careers elsewhere. The numbers diminished, key members of the community departed, and everyone became older. This is a demographic that is not sustainable and is repeated across the country. Until quite recently, Jews were to be found in every centre of population in north-east England, from the Tyne to the Tees. There had been about 10 synagogues and a flourishing religious life. By the time we arrived in Newcastle they had all disappeared and the three Orthodox communities in Newcastle, by now halved in numbers, had amalgamated to form a single congregation. The Chief Rabbi was moved to comment when he visited that this coming together was almost unprecedented – a miracle of shul politics! We moved seamlessly into our new life. Many of our closest friends already lived in the city or were about to do so, and the character of the community was changing. As a provincial capital it had never been quite as parochial as Sunderland, but it came increasingly to resemble it over the years. There was a rich variety of activity and we made our contribution by founding the Newcastle Jewish Literary Society and a walking group appropriately called the Scramblers. The fate of these two organisations was a metaphor for the direction in which Jewish life in Newcastle was heading. Our first speaker at the Literary Society was Geoffrey Paul, then editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and to our delight there were 140 people in the audience. The lecture was outstanding and set the tone for all that was to follow. We aimed to provide something different from other lecture programmes by crossing the boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish subjects. This also applied to our guests and, while it was not a matter of policy, it usually turned out that between one-third and one-half of our speakers in any year were Jewish. The lecturers were a mix of academics, historians, Jewish scholars, writers, scientists, lawyers and doctors.
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welcoming Jewish community. We have always felt drawn to the Masorti movement and have known NNLS as visitors for years. There was never any doubt which synagogue we would join when we eventually came to London. It is an extraordinary experience to join the New North London Synagogue, perhaps not fully realised by those for whom it has become familiar. The range of synagogue services and activities is astonishing and caters for every possible need. There can also be few communities that are so fortunate as to have a rabbi as inspirational as Rabbi Jonathan. We are joining in gradually. I have volunteered for a few roles, the most recent as a greeter, when my first contribution was last Shabbat. This gave me the opportunity to offer explantory service booklets to several people who turned out to be founder
members. We may be Londoners now, but we have not deserted our origins. Vera and I visit Newcastle regularly, most recently through an opportunity provided by our new friends. Several were aware that, for the last 15 years, I have been the English Heritage guide on Hadrian’s Wall. They had always wanted to visit this wonderful World Heritage site and so I recruited a group of 16, some from NNLS, for a three-day tour. We saw a great deal of the Wall and also visited Durham, the Newcastle Quayside and the coast. The weather was perfect and everyone had a wonderful time. Bernard Wasserstein, in his book Vanishing Diaspora, described the Jewish migration of which ours is a microcosm. We hope, with regard to NNLS and our family, that he is proved wrong for many generations to come.
Sending messages across the movement Matt Plen, chief executive, Masorti Judaism
n the ancient world, how did Jews know when to celebrate the festivals? There was no fixed calendar so the rabbis responsible for declaring Rosh Chodesh, the start of each new month, were dependent on witnesses who could testify that they had seen the new moon. Once such witnesses were received, the Sanhedrin – the supreme rabbinical court – declared that the new moon had been sighted and that the month had begun. From this point it was easy to calculate on which day any festival in the given month should fall. But how did the news of Rosh Chodesh reach communities across the land of Israel, not to mention the Jews of the diaspora? The Mishnah, in tractate Rosh Hashanah, teaches us that originally beacons were lit on progressively more distant hilltops, each being lit when the previous one was sighted, thereby transmitting the message to far-flung communities. But when this method proved unreliable – heretics sought to disrupt the calendar by lighting beacons at inappropriate times – it was abandoned, and the practice was instituted of sending messengers to carry the news in person. The exercise was one of binding the Jewish people across a geographical expanse when the limits of technology made this almost impossible. The challenge of uniting Jews is one that still faces us today on a micro-level in the Masorti movement. Masorti Judaism in the UK is a family of 12 communities, some large, some tiny, concentrated in London and Hertfordshire, but stretching from Leeds to Bournemouth. We make up fewer than 5% of all synagogue members, but our combination of halachic
practice, intellectual rigour and our inclusive approach to community life is a powerful message for Anglo-Jewry and has, I believe, the potential to revitalise the entire community. The question is how to get the message out. This year, Masorti Judaism has racked up amazing successes, proving what can be achieved when a clear vision is married with a determination to get things done. We’ve focused on bringing together our members and leaders from across our synagogues to share ideas, get inspiration and learn how to improve their communities. We’ve organised Yom Masorti, a day of learning and culture, for a recordbreaking 260 people; an annual dinner that brought together close to 200 people from almost every Masorti community; a series of conferences in London, Marseilles and Brussels for Masorti leaders from across the EU; Noam – Masorti Youth - summer camps for hundreds of young people in Wales, France and Israel; regular Marom – Masorti students – activities on 10 campuses across the country, as well as seminars for young adults in Lithuania, London and Jerusalem. And I’m delighted that, as always, NNLS members have taken an active role leading and participating in all these programmes. Next year we’ll repeat and grow many of these successful events, as well as adding more opportunities for our members to come together and communicate: a European Masorti leadership day in St Albans, a Jewish Community Organising training course for communal lay-leaders, a new Masorti website and series of publications, and we’ll also be supporting new Masorti communities that want to join the movement. Those are the “messengers” – bringing the movement together through chances to meet, build relationships, and strengthen each other’s Jewish lives. But what about the beacons, the fire at the heart of our work? Over the coming year, we’ll be launching programmes to raise the level of Jewish learning and literacy among our members, develop educational leaders for our communities, and train the next generation of Masorti rabbis. More details will be available in the new year. For now, from everyone at Masorti Judaism, I want to wish you shana tova – a truly good new year.
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Seniors in search of Sir Moses Shoshanah Hoffman
n a glorious day in July, our Seniors’ Club travelled to Ramsgate in search of information about Sir Moses Montefiore. We could not have had a better team looking after us. In particular, our blue-badge guide, Rachel Kolsky, familiar to many of you, was her usual enthusiastic and impressively knowledgeable self, imparting the astonishing life-story of Sir Moses and his wife Judith, but also many other interesting snippets of information along the way. In Ramsgate we visited the beautiful Regency-style synagogue, reminiscent of a smaller Bevis Marks, which Sir Moses built not far from his home East Cliff Lodge (sadly no longer extant) and which was designed by David Mocatta. His was one of several famous names linked to Sir Moses who, in his long life, befriended and helped Jews and non-Jews of every conceivable background, from royalty to the poorest of the poor, both in Britain and around the world. A unique feature of the synagogue is the chiming clock on its façade: the only one on a synagogue in England. It is inscribed: “Time flies. Virtue alone remains”. Next to the synagogue is the mausoleum, initially built by Sir Moses to house Lady Judith’s
tomb, now home to both of them. The Moorish design is a replica of Rachel’s tomb on the road to Bethlehem, which Lady Judith had paid to have restored. Above the entrance is the last verse of Adon Olam. The sun breaking through the window bathed the interior in a purple glow. After a short interval, in which we enjoyed our generous picnics by the Ramsgate Royal Marina, we were taken to the remaining parts of the Montefiore estate: the park, stable block and Italianate conservatory. The return journey took us past the Olympic site with its many extraordinary structures and features. All the lucky participants felt entertained, enlightened and entranced by the experiences of the day. Warmest thanks are due to the wonderful team of Rachel Kolsky, Anne Green, Sue Newton and Judi Warren, who ensured the all-round success of this tour. The Seniors’ Club activities range from outings to discussions to tea parties, and we would love to welcome new members. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Learning to lead Zahavit Shalev
remember opening a siddur for perhaps the first time at my Shabbat at people’s homes, very Orthodox Jewish primary school when I was not yet five. A where there would be a collection of different-sized typefaces with Modeh Ani jumping speaker, socialising, crisps out at me. That was morning davening. and chocolate, and perhaps We used to eat lunch in a big dining room with a wide serving some guitar-less singing. hatch. Above the hatch were six large plaques with all of benching At the youth minyan the printed on them. Every day, one child would have the honour of girls and women were either standing on a chair and using a special pointer to track every word silent, or else chatting among themselves and being shushed. If as we sang. I don’t remember there being different roles for boys you were very devout you would focus and say the words quietly and girls at that stage, though I know the boys had to wear tzitzit but your volume would never rise above a whisper. There really and kippah, and the girls didn’t. was very little point in being present; it made almost no difference In the juniors, we had to come into the hall for mincha after to the overall ambiance. lunch every day. We learned it by copying the others. I remember At the women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem where I spent my gap being outraged that during the silent amidah we were simply year when I was 19, we did mincha together in the afternoons. The expected to know what to do. male teachers didn’t join us, so one of the students would lead At the youth movement I attended, the madrichim would the davening. There wasn’t a minyan so we never said kaddish. Our sometimes run a session about the prayer was sincerely executed, dignified suffering in the Holocaust and we’d all sob. but nevertheless pathetic since it was Then our madrich would slowly pick up technically pointless. his guitar and start singing Ani Ma’amin (I One Shabbat, I attended the Mercaz believe with perfect faith in the coming of HaRav yeshiva, in Jerusalem, for Friday the Messiah). Only boys played the guitar night davening, and found myself on a and walked around song-leading. We balcony, separated from the action below loved a singalong and a campfire too. A by a tarpaulin, which entirely blocked beautiful voice was appreciated; someone the women’s gallery off from the electric who could also play the guitar even more atmosphere in the men’s section below. so. Girls loved to sing too, but we had to I was simply a spectator, far from the be careful about who heard us, because action and totally irrelevant to it. From the kol isha erva – the seductive eroticism of a perspective of halacha my presence was woman’s voice was dangerous. So the girls totally irrelevant. could sing in the company of other women We were encouraged, however, to and even perform for other women, but take as active a role as we could within never for a mixed audience. the Orthodox understanding of Jewish In my early teens I sometimes law. In the autumn, I attended a leftZahavit with Sam Cohen, attended a United Synagogue. Sitting in wing Orthodox shul on Simchat Torah Purim 2013 the women’s gallery, I would peer down and had my first call-up to the Torah. That and sometimes deliberately and highspring I learned to leyn a chapter of the mindedly not peer down at the men and boys below, where the Book of Esther as part of a women’s-only megillah reading. These action was. There was an air of ease, comfort, and command down practices were both technically permissible, although, at that there, it seemed. Occasionally, I went to the shtiebel, a tiny, intimate time, not commonly practiced. It was incredibly moving to hear shul in a converted house, which members of my extended family women’s voices, including my own. Late that summer, after my had helped set up. The women sat on the same level as the men, return to London, I learned to leyn a chapter of the Book of Eicha but there was a net curtain mechitza that you could see through. (Lamentations). I tried and failed to find a group of people who It had finger-sized holes in it that you could fiddle with. There was would participate in an egalitarian Orthodox reading for 9 Av. that ease again, and also tremendous devotion on the men’s side; I was a regular presence at synagogue services at my university silence in the women’s section. J-Soc. I was one of the principal singers at Onegei Shabbat and Later, I traipsed for 45 minutes every week to a youth minyan Seudot Shlishit where there was less neuroticism around kol isha. at a different United Synagogue that some of my school friends My friends and I could start and lead songs in a Jewish setting, went to. The guys would read from the Torah, and sometimes lead but we still couldn’t take an active role during actual synagogue the davening. We would also get together for Friday night Onegei services. I attended a Reform service once, but my world was the
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Orthodox way, liturgy and community and I couldn’t make the leap. After graduating, in my early 20s I still had no davening voice. I had been present at hundreds of services, knew every word, but my voice had scarcely been heard, even by me! When we started Assif, I began to learn to say the words in the chanting melody aloud with timbre and volume. We didn’t have a women’s section, so there wasn’t a specific patch of silence in one area of the room. But there was a distinct lack of female voices. I wasn’t the only one who had davened my whole life but never raised my voice. I started to enunciate words, to correct my own mispronunciations, to join in the melodic beginnings and endings of prayers, to assert my voice in the crowd. I would harmonise a bit louder than previously. Way before I was technically ready - but bringing with me a lifetime of longing - I began leading services, learning the melodies from helpful and experienced male daveners, working out how to start the congregation off, set them down, and then pick them back up in the communal prayers. I picked tunes, found a key that worked for me (and them) set the pace, took command. There are various different names for the person who leads a prayer service, but I like shaliach tzibbur (or shlichat tzibbur for a woman) best. It’s a humble, understated title, meaning messenger of the congregation, which may be shortened to shatz. The shatz is simply the one who has been elected to represent us all. They are the channel through which our prayer will be delivered on high.
I’m a shlichat tzibbur now, and have been for years – a reasonably experienced one for the few areas of the liturgy I know how to lead. I still get nervous and make mistakes. I have led parts of the High Holiday services and felt moved to tears at the awesome responsibility of it all. I’ve led Kabbalat Shabbat services for young families in my home. Being a shatz requires a bunch of different skills, ranging from the relatively obvious (you need to be able to read Hebrew, sing in tune, know the liturgy, and be sufficiently loud) to the much more subtle. For instance, a shatz needs to be able to lead, but they also need to be a bit selfeffacing because the role is about enabling communal prayer rather than performing prayer to the congregation. There’s a bit of conducting in there, a bit of prompting, and a bit of narrating. In all of these roles the shatz allows the congregation to sing out, all the while reassuring them that s/he is in confidently in control. I love leading services, but now that I have the chance to do so regularly I am so much more able to enjoy it fully when other people lead too. I’m particularly moved when young women lead parts of the service, and grateful that as a community we can appreciate them for their musicality, their skills, their humanity. I recall my own exclusion at that stage in my life, how I loved to sing and would have loved to lead. How I was taught that at best my voice was a distraction, and at worst I was an irrelevance. Being a shlichat tzibbur is an honour, but also, I believe, my birthright. I wanted nothing more than for it to be regular and unremarkable, as it now is.
I was taught that at best my voice was a distraction, and at worst I was an irrelevance.
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Rosh Hashanah 2013
the nnls magazine
Introducing Intermezzo: NNLS Lunchtime midweek concerts Richard Gold, Malcolm Miller, Sarah Manson & Michael Stein
NLS is launching an innovative community outreach project this autumn. We will be hosting free midweek lunchtime concerts (1-1.50pm) open to NNLS members, their family and friends, and also to people of all ages from the local community. The project, known as Intermezzo, will feature exceptional young musicians playing a varied programme of mainly classical music. Intermezzo launches in the Beit Knesset on Thursday 17 October with cellist Rebecca Herman and pianist Peter Foggitt playing a programme to include Mendelssohn’s Sonata in D Major and Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante. Rebecca Herman graduated with distinction from the Royal Academy of Music in 2012, and was selected as a 2013 Concordia Young Artist. She plays a Segelman Stradivarius (on loan from the Royal Academy) and has performed at major UK venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room, as well as at concerts in Israel, the US, China and across Europe. She has just begun a PhD. Peter Foggitt made his Radio 3 debut at 21, playing Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto. Known internationally for his classical improvisations, he is equally at home playing the most complex of contemporary works as conducting Renaissance polyphony. He directs the award-winning vocal ensemble, Cries of London, and has recently worked with Vocal Futures and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Strudel Café will be open in our lobby, serving lunch and snacks
before and after the concert, so this will be an opportunity to chat and meet people as well as to enjoy the recital: a perfect midweek interlude. We are in touch with local schools who would like to bring students to the concerts, including Christ’s College, Bishop Douglass, JCoSS and Akiva. We are also speaking to care homes - for example, we expect a few residents from Hammerson House. In addition, we will be publicising the event to local offices and residents. We will be scheduling two further concerts in the autumn and are talking to the Guildhall School of Music about showcasing some of their very talented final year undergraduates and postgraduates. We want these concerts to be accessible to everyone so we will not be charging for admission, although we would welcome donations (suggested £3) from anyone able to contribute as this will help us cover our costs, such as tuning the piano and paying honoraria to the performers. In addition, we are privileged to have the support of someone who is sponsoring Intermezzo in memory of her father, an excellent pianist who enjoyed sharing his love of music. Intermezzo is a pilot project so we don’t know exactly how it will develop, but we’re excited about it! We would like to thank everyone who has assisted so far, in particular Rivka Gottlieb who, as both a professional musician and the NNLS Programme Director, has been very helpful. Our special thanks also to Michael Isaacs, who gave the project its name.
RABBI URIEL SAYS: Everybody loves fairy tales! Everybody loves festivals! Well now, you can enjoy both at once with Rubb”ish Books’ new range of
Festival Fairy Tales! Suitable for absolutely any special occasion! For Pesach Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of matzah crumbs, find the gingerbread house and leave it well alone because it’s not kosher for Passover and anyway they’re sick of sticky, sweet confectionery. As a result, they and the witch live happily ever after. For Succot The three little pigs set out to build their homes. The wisest one builds his out of sticks.
For Yom Kippur Pinocchio sings Oshamnu – his nose grows so big that he can’t get out of the building. For Shavuot Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch the Ten Commandments. Jill is later written out of the story. For Purim Beauty is delighted to discover that the Beast is just wearing a costume.
For Rosh Hashanah The Pied Shofar Blower of Hamlyn makes such a terrible noise that all the rats, children and other residents leave as fast as their little legs can carry them.
For Chanukah Aladdin rubs the magic chanukiah. The genie appears and miraculously offers him 8 wishes.
SPECIAL OFFER: Buy all seven titles and get ‘Cinderella Dashes Home Before Shabbat Starts’ absolutely free!
SMALL PRINT The publication of Rubb”ish Books’ Festival Fairy Tales may be delayed by copyright and taste issues. The company takes no responsibility for the warping of any children’s minds. If you are not completely satisfied, books may be returned for a full refund on any day of the Omer, unless you forgot to count a day, in which case you have to start again and wait until next year. Do not attempt to huff and puff and blow your succah down at home, as it is all too likely that you will succeed.
Stephen Swain Photography
Sammy Bonham Rachy Brodtman
bar and bat mitzvahs
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