This month begins our time for introspection, spiritual, moral and personal. Called heshbon hanefesh, or the soul’s account, it is considered in Jewish tradition to be the most intensive spiritual self-judgement of the entire year.
The theme of this year’s High Holyday sermons and services will be aims, goals and ideals. How does our faith that we are moving towards something l’eila u’l’eila (higher and higher), influence who we are?
We, the Jewish people with our Torah, left the world an array of gifts that had never before appeared to humanity: belief in One God (monotheism), belief in revelation (the still, quiet voice that addresses humanity), belief in messianism (the view that history moves toward a peaceful and idyllic future).
That last contribution is known as a linear view, the idea that history and humanity move toward a culmination. The pagan world had a “cyclical” view of history, meaning they believed in the cycle of nature, with nature making our lives spin round like wheels without end or resolution.
Then came the Torah, in which God begins Creation and moves matters forward to the family of nations, moral principles and law in a narrative, Exodus, which sees the beginning of a people’s history, a people destined to lead nations to unity and harmony.
We take seriously the words we recite from the prophet Zechariah at the end of every service in the Aleinu: Bayom hahu y’heyeh Adonai echad u’shmo echad, On that day God shall be one and His Name one.
As you see, I am in a frame of mind to look forward and I ask us all to do the same. It takes a lot of hard work but also encourages us to do real heshbon hanefesh, constantly examining our souls and destiny. Failure to do so decreases our spirit and diminishes our souls. I would love to hear your passions and thoughts on where our community should be going. Here are some of my ideas:
1) I want to keep investing in the highest goals of our tradition, and central to that aim is education. We will have four Sunday sessions from 12.30- 2.30pm teaching our members to read Hebrew. Our Sunday adult education class from 10.00am-12.30pm will look at modern philosophy and the Jewish responses over the last 200 years. This is one of the real highlights of my tenure at this synagogue.
There will also be a joint class with Revd Paul Nicholson of next-door St Peter’s Church in an intensive examination of our religious traditions and more Lunch ‘n’ Learn sessions after Shabbat services.
Our ongoing Monday night Introduction to Judaism, from 7.00-8.15pm, fills the Library with 14 candidates and their partners. But I would like to encourage any of you interested in a full survey of Judaism – its values, theology, holidays, life cycle, history, Bible and literature – to join an enthusiastic and bright class.
2) We need to continue to enliven our services and to think of new possibilities for participation of both young and old.
3) Music: Our ambitious plans continue with our concert on 25 September with my friend, the violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov, along with my wife, Ella Leya, a recording star in her own right.
4)Youth: Under our new Youth chairman, Simon Cutner, plans are afoot to revitalise our youth groups.
5) Social Justice/Tikkun Olam: With the amazing Eve Hersov, our Community Care Co-Ordinator, spearheading our Bereavement and Compassion Committee, I am hoping to establish a Social Justice Committee to re-ignite a passion for social awareness and gemilut chasadim, acts of kindness to others – refugees, the poor and homeless. We need to improve our profile in this area and if someone is keen on this, tell me.
6) Travel: Our trip to Berlin in May was an extraordinary success. We hope to visit Israel next and want to see who is interested in joining us for a 2017 trip. This will not be your normal trip to Israel. We will meet rabbinical, political and archaeological personalities and the human rights right activist, Natan Sharansky.
This is the month of Elul, a time for selfevaluation, for communal evaluation and renewal of our vision for 5777, the new year which comes in next month. I look forward to seeing you in synagogue.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler