Monthly Archives: November 2015

Chanukah and the battle against evil: then and now

Certain events in history are watershed occurrences. Some have moved us forward, some weigh heavily on the souls and fibre of civilisation. The horrific Paris terrorist attack by ISIS, or ISIL, is one such tipping point.

Suddenly there are declarations of World War III, a security crisis and the massive human problem of dealing with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Our eyes have been opened to the necessity of waging war against radical extreme Islam.

ISIS now controls a territory larger than Britain, has recruited at least 60,000 militants and thrives in the heart of Iraq and Syria. It is bent on re-establishing the Sunni caliphate and destroying the “heathen” West. And now it threatens our nations, cities and way of life.

Well, it is Chanukah. The holiday begins on the evening of Sunday 6 December, when we light the Chanukiah, sing, eat latkes and doughnuts and retell the story of the Maccabees’ brave stand for freedom against the Greek Seleucid monarch, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who reigned from 175 to 164 BCE.

20141216_181130

The pre-eminent lesson of Chanukah is that in order to retain our values and live as Jews, freely practising our religion, we have to fight for the right simply to exist.

The war of the Maccabees was an existential fight, not so much for numbers, though scores of thousands died, but for the preservation of our Jewish soul, our right to live as Jews.

After being prevented in 168BCE by the superpower, Rome, from pursuing his dream of conquering Egypt, Antiochus returned to his Syrian realm to find that his Jewish subjects had reacted to a false report of his death in Egypt by ousting his choice of High Priest and reinstating the previous holder.
He vented his fury and frustration on Jerusalem’s Jews. Some 40,000 men were executed, around the same number of women and children sold into slavery, and their homes demolished.

He then turned on Judaism itself, banning Torah study and circumcision as well as converting the Temple to the worship of Zeus, with a daily sacrifice of a pig – he had already stolen the Temple’s golden treasures.

We learn from this heroic episode of Jewish resistance that evil exists, that our people have had to fight against those bent on destroying us.

Earlier this year, archaeologists discovered under a parking lot in Jerusalem the remains of the “acra” fortress built by Antiochus between Ir David, the City of David, and Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, on the site of demolished Jewish homes. It is all there, an archaeological miracle: the barracks, the watch towers, the spying on all Jewish activity – symbols of despotism and brutality.

In Israel Chanukah will be celebrated in grand style as Jewish history seen from the Israeli view, reminding us of Israel’s past and ongoing fight against forces bent on its destruction not just as a sovereign state but increasingly for the right of Jews to be Jewish.

Alarming claims from Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority that the Kotel, the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple, is an “Islamic shrine”, is the clearest denial of Jewish ties to Jerusalem, both historically and religiously.

The western world has been increasingly shocked by ISIS brutality. Its origins lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Sadat’s assassination in 1981 was carried out by a member of a Brotherhood offshoot. The 1979 Iranian theocratic revolution supported Hamas, another Brotherhood offshoot, in Gaza, as well as the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. All these factors have crippled the last remnants of “secularism”. Yes, even the brutal dictatorships of Nasser, Assad, Saddam Hussein and others are looking less threatening than ISIS madness.

The Jewish people, with our experience of fighting terror and evil around Israel, can play a crucial role in giving others strength and hope against pure evil.

  • We light candles to keep faith in our ideals, while never losing sight of the practical and brutal realities needed to stay alive as Jews.
  • We light candles in the hope that the Almighty will give us the strength to protect the persecuted and pray that we never give up our hope in a better tomorrow.
  • We light candles to remain strong in our Jewish convictions and determined to maintain our way of life.
  • We light candles so that we can continue to be a “light unto the nations” and teach our compatriots in this country, in France and throughout the free world that we can and will win this battle. We will never surrender to evil.

God bless our people, Israel, our families, our loved ones, and the vast majority of Christians, Jews and Muslims who desire not war, not terror, but peace.

Chag Chanukah Sameach
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler

Annelise Winter Celebrates Her Century

Congratulations to Annelise Winter who celebrated her 100th birthday on 23 November.
Cantor Heller visits Annelise Winter who holds her birthday card from the Queen.

Cantor Heller visits Annelise Winter who holds her birthday card from the Queen.

Born in Berlin in 1915, Annelise Clara Goeritz came to Britain in May 1939.

Her father’s second cousin had the foresight to leave Germany in 1933 with all his assets and she worked in his Staffordshire factory for 30 shillings (£1.50) a week, paying £1 a week for board and lodging.

Towards the start of war, the factory moved to Edgware and Annelise came to London with it. But she changed jobs to underwear firm Lux Lux Ltd, stitching shoulder straps to vests. She eventually responded to a newspaper ad for typists for the Civil Service. She passed the test and worked in a typing pool.

Both in Staffordshire and London, she experienced great kindness. She went to an AJR Youth Group for 25-35 year olds, where she met her future husband, Oskar Winter. They married on 28 October 1950 at Hampstead Registry Office. They lived in Kilburn before purchasing a bungalow in Mill Hill, where she still lives.

How Our Congregation gets recorded

Community care co-ordinator Eve Hersov explains how we produce the audio version of Our Congregation monthly magazine.

Each month four BSS members gather in a small recording studio at the KC Shasha Centre for Talking News and Books in Golders Green to produce an audio version of Our Congregation.
It takes our speakers about an hour to read the publication. Their work is recorded by experienced sound engineer, Adam Bradley, and the finished product (USB flashdrive or CD) is posted to our listeners.

Who are our listeners? Basically, they are our visually impaired members but there are also others who share a link with our community. One avid listener comments: “Klopstick brings back such
memories of my parents.” Another adds: “The first time I listened to Klopstick, it made me cry because his voice was so like my Tante’s husband.”

The recording experience is also valued by our members who volunteer as the voices of what is familiarly known as Our Cong. Antony Godfrey finds it a “privilege to read the incisive and wise words of Fritz Klopstick.” Jackie Alexander enjoys using her voice that she has often been told “sounds like a Weather Girl on the radio”. We have also recently introduced our listeners to new voices as we train members as readers. The range of voices has delighted our audience.

Readers Henny Levin, Jackie Alexander and Eve Herzog and Antony Godfrey record Our Cong

Readers Henny Levin, Jackie Alexander and Eve Herzog and Antony Godfrey record Our Cong

  • If you are interested in receiving an audio version of Our Congregation or know someone who might like to, please contact Eve Hersov or Lee Taylor in the Synagogue Office.

The right sort of fear: our High Holydays theme

Shalom Chaverim
As the days become shorter, we settle back into our routines. The test now is to infuse into our daily lives a spiritual and moral dimension. So here is a brief summary of the journey we made in our sermons during the High Holydays.

Erev Rosh Hashanah
I welcomed 5776 by introducing the theme of fear, because these are the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Fear (or Awe) when we confront our basic fears. But this should be put into perspective. While we have legitimate fears about health, finances, children or politics, when compared to earlier generations we are far better off in life span, health and security. We have the State of Israel and no longer need fear the pogroms and genocide endured by our grandparents and great-grandparents.

First Day Rosh Hashanah
On Rosh Hashanah, I expanded on our legitimate fears – including dentists and heights! – and looked at how our ancestors reacted. They were guided by a biblical fear, the fear of God (yir’at shamayim – the fear of heaven) the fear of doing the wrong thing. My examples were the midwives in Exodus, Shiphrah and Puah, who defied Pharaoh’s orders at risk of death because of yir’at Elohim, fear of God, and then the command in Leviticus not to “put a stumbling block in front of the blind nor curse the deaf … because you shall fear God”. No fear of thunderbolts here, just an awareness of doing the right thing.

Second Day Rosh Hashanah
Here I spoke about parents’ fears for their children’s future. This is the era of the “selfie”, of incredible narcissism, cynicism and a jaded attitude towards goodness. We need to ensure that our children do not forget their Jewish heritage and values or lose hope in the vital belief that they can make a difference through fulfilling the mitzvot.

Kol Nidrei
With antisemitism rising, another fear is a repeat of the Shoah. What lessons can we learn? My hypothesis is that, by dwelling on the means – the depraved torture, terror and murder of six million – we are in danger of forgetting the most important issue, the end. The aim was to annihilate Judaism as well as the Jews. On Kol Nidrei, the holiest night of the Jewish year, we must increase our support for the synagogue and what it represents. Especially in this congregation, we must be more determined than ever to make living Judaism our greatest priority.

Yom Kippur
Here I suggested we have two sides, as shown in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I was once asked at a Bar Mitzvah whether I really believed that the kind of ethics I had taught mattered because, as the guest said, “That’s not my world, Rabbi. My world is about success and achieving”.
In Genesis 1 we are told to “conquer the world”, using our powers to conquer space, disease, etc. In Genesis 2, we are told we are nefesh, soul, and must be joined to another soul to develop and nurture our love for others. Genesis 1 symbolises our power. Genesis 2 is Shabbat, a reflection of the part of us that lives for others. I asked you to be a part of “my world”. We are more than figures and achievements, we are also love and soul.

Yizkor
I addressed our concerns as to how to keep our loved ones alive in our minds. To keep their memory fresh by recalling their values and beliefs. Through living by their principles, we continue to be with them. And if we live in such a way, with love and devotion, our children and grandchildren will in turn remember us.

Neilah
I ended by reviewing our journey of fear. Despite terror, economic uncertainty or worry about our loved ones, we need to confront fear in the right spirit – with renewed hope, strength, faith, love of humanity and love of God. We become the “god” we worship. If we are cynical and negative about our power for good, that is the god we create. The God with whom our ancestors communicated is an optimistic God, believing in the power to make the world better, rather than dimming our vision and reducing our faith, confining us in a world of negativity. Have hope, courage and faith before the gates close!

Thanks
There are so many people to thank for our High Holyday experience but I do thank all our daveners, Torah readers, Haftarah chanters, shofar blowers, the leaders of our Youth Services, the children who led Yom Kippur Minchah, our Succah decorators, the professional and community choirs, our caretakers, crèche workers, security, youth leaders, sound equipment people, wardens, webcasting crew, our music director Ben Wolf and Cantor Paul Heller.
Join us each Shabbat and send a wish and prayer for your dear ones. A special prayer for peace for the people and State of Israel. You are constantly in our prayers and thoughts.

B’shalom

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler

A vocal anniversary

Sue HeimannnAfter the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Succot and its conclusion with Simchat Torah come as a joyful reaction. This year again saw our recent ritual of the fully unrolled scroll surrounding the congregation, as well as several women participating in hakafot, carrying the Torah in the circuits.

But this year the service also celebrated the 50th anniversary of soprano Sue Heimann’s choir service.

Sue Rosenberg, as she was, started in the Children’s Choir under the late Hanny Lichtenstern, whose professional singing career in Germany as Johanna Metzger was cut short by the Nazi regime. Hanny gave her heart and soul to perfecting the choir, which had been started by Charlotte Salzberger, wife of our congregation’s first rabbi.

Sue was Hanny’s star pupil and the youngest member when she joined the choir aged six. She hung around at the back of the class and choir loft and badgered Hanny until she was allowed to join. Hanny gave her three lessons a week from the age of 10 and she sang everywhere she went.

Hanny’s husband, Paul Lichtenstern, also a professional musician, taught her piano up to grade V, when she decided to concentrate on voice. At school she was only interested in music and sport. At 13, she was promoted to the Adult Choir, 10 years younger than normal, and flitted between both choirs. At 16, she took over from Hanny the rendering of Zacharti lach, (I have memories of you) the plangent verses from the Prophets, which is such a highlight of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service. She also sang it at weddings and at the funerals of Rabbi Jakob Kokotek and Rev Joseph Dollinger.

The Children’s Choir, which became the Youth Choir in 1975, when Sue was pregnant with her first child – it didn’t seem quite right to call it a children’s choir any longer – performed regularly at the old-age homes in Bishop’s Avenue (now closed). It was also called upon for the annual memorial service of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

When Hanny retired from conducting, handing over the reins to Sue Straus (now Mariner), together, they continued entertaining at the old-age homes, accompanied by Paul Lichtenstern.

As a child, Sue played with the Lichtensterns’ son, David. Another childhood friend was Peter Heimann, whose aunt was a close friend of her aunt. Peter had a tenor voice and was also taught by Hanny. Peter’s was the first Bar Mitzvah Sue sang at. They married in 1973 and continued singing together while bringing up their two daughters, Ruthie and Sarah.

Sadly, Peter died in 2008. A concert in celebration of his life, held at Wembley (United) Synagogue, raised funds not only for his family but Belsize Square Synagogue, Laniado Hospital where Peter had been treated when taken ill in Israel, and Chai Cancer Care.

Sue worked in a special needs school with autistic and Down’s Syndrome children, which she loved. She then worked for 10 years at the charity, Chai Cancer Care, in Hendon. She says: “I am thrilled that I now do ‘granny duty’ for my gorgeous granddaughters, Sasha and Olivia, who both have lovely voices, like my daughters.”

She is also thrilled to be able to sing still with both the Community Choir and the Professional Choir. “I thank them both for all the support they give me,” she says. “Long may it last!”

We wish Sue many more tuneful years. You can hear her on 13 November, when she will sing in the choir at the newly designated Henry Kuttner z”l Choir Shabbat.

Henry, who died in March 2014, aged 84, conducted the choir for 15 years, following in his father’s footsteps. He then spent 15 years preserving and computerising our liturgical music. The service recognises his contribution to the community.