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Meet my friends – old and new

One of my greatest thrills is to bring my past into my present – my dear friends from my previous life to my new family at Belsize Square Synagogue. In January we hosted Mona Golabek, the gifted pianist, actress and star of the one-woman show now running at St James Theatre. The Pianist of Willesden Lane tells the story of Mona’s mother, Lisa Jura, who came to London from Vienna on a Kindertransport in 1939.

At 14 Lisa was a budding classical pianist, and it was music that gave comfort to herself and other youngsters in the hostel, known as the “Children of Willesden Lane” through Mona’s bestselling book of that name. Most, like Lisa, never saw their parents again. We met Mona in Los Angeles when my wife, Ella, appeared on Mona’s popular radio show, Romantic Hour.

Shortly we will host another long-time friend of mine, Professor Rabbi Hanan Alexander, Dean of Students at Haifa University and a leading academic authority on Jewish education. The latest of his three books has drawn the attention of the education world through its focus on combining Jewish and secular liberal education. The bifurcation, especially in Israel, between the Jewish and secular world has created two societies, two worlds afraid of and largely ignorant of each other.

On Erev Shabbat 5 February, Professor Alexander will talk about criticism of Israel as opposed to demonisation. On Shabbat morning, after our Kiddush, he will speak about his own field: How Jewish is Jewish Education? At our Adult Discussion Group the next morning, he will discuss his latest book, Re-imagining Liberal Education.

Hanan and I met as eager young rabbinic students at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, now called the American Jewish University. At that time, students could study two years in Los Angeles, then transfer to the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. So that’s what these two guys from California did! Our memories and friendships with colleagues and mentors go back 40 years.

On the first Shabbat in April, we will welcome the eminent scholar and former Provost of JTS, Professor Jack Wertheimer, a leading historian of European and American Jewry. His 16 books and prolific articles for academic journals explore every aspect of Jewish life, such as schools and the rise and fall of movements. He will be with us, thanks to the support of our “angels” who have made this week possible, for our Shabbat morning Service and at our Sunday Morning Adult Discussion Group, as well as a special week-long programme for our patrons.

Jack and I met when I started at JTS and we have been close friends ever since. He mentored my doctoral studies, exams and dissertation, helped me edit my book and influenced virtually all my rabbinic studies. A wonderful teacher and brilliant scholar, and another incredible week ahead of us with an important person from my past!

From 1-5 May, I will be joined by a more recent friend, Thomas Harding, author, journalist and product of Belsize, son of our own Frank and Belinda Harding, as he leads a trip to Berlin. Thomas is a brilliant writer and speaker. You all know his first book, Hanns and Rudolf, about the capture of the Kommandant of Auschwitz. His second very personal book, Kadian Journal, chronicles his grief and reaction to his teenage son’s fatal cycling accident in 2012. With his third book, The House by the Lake, he returns to German history, tracing events of the last 120 years or so through their impact on the families who lived in a country house near Berlin, which once belonged to the Alexanders, his grandparents. Thomas is another friend whom I treasure.

And finally, on Sunday 25 September, the world-renowned violinist, Maxim Vengerov, will be joined by his accompanist and my wife for an unforgettable evening. Maxim and I go back some 20 years since we met in Chicago and we have become like close family. As an amateur violinist, I admire his virtuosity and warmth. He admires and loves my devotion to Jewish life and studies, and so we have this mutual admiration society.

Well, I’ve been in love with my Ella for over 22 years now and have never met anyone so brilliant and talented: composer and singer, with three CD records and film soundtracks – and now an author, with her book, The Orphan Sky, published last year. The novel, drawing on her youth in Soviet ruled Azerbaijan, received rave reviews.

The people I love from past and present will meet the people I love at Belsize Square Synagogue. Let’s rejoice and enjoy the wisdom, learning and music – together! See you in synagogue this month and beyond. May you all be blessed with a month of goodness, peace and joy.

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.

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.

Law, custom and folk belief

The problem of the “Mazkir Exodus”

We are still very much into our Holiday season, having just completed our Yamim Noraim and now entering the festivities of the Succot week, culminating in Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Please come to our synagogue and rejoice in the Holidays.

What I thought would be of most value to you is a little guidance on the following question: what exactly does Judaism require of me? What is law? What is custom? What is bubbe meise, or folk religion? The reason why I share this lesson with you is that each year at Yom Kippur, at Yizkor or, as we say at Belsize Square, Mazkir, there is a mass exodus from the synagogue as we begin to recite the memorial prayers, meditate upon the lives of our loved ones and recite our affirmation of love and faith with the words of the Kaddish, always in their memory.

The exodus from shul is one of the most interesting examples of how folk religion has in many ways come to replace the dictates of Jewish law and normative minhag, or custom. There is no good reason why it should have become such an odd replacement of traditional mandated behaviour, since there is no prohibition in any shape or form on reciting Kaddish and being in synagogue with living parents to remember our departed loved ones.

There is always someone for us to remember – a grandparent, friend, Jews of the past, anonymous individuals who need to be remembered. We miss a great opportunity, an essential part of our spiritual beings, in leaving just at the time we need to remember and do right by those no longer with us. Leaving is entirely bubbe meise, an unnecessary superstition.

There are three categories that dictate Jewish behaviour: halachah (Jewish law), minhag (normative custom or convention) – and then there’s bubbe meise. Halachah is mandated, required for each and every Jew after Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Halachah is mitzvah, commandment.

The halachot are rooted in the 613 Torah Mitzvot, a large chunk of which we can no longer fulfill because they require the existence of a Temple. In addition, there are later rabbinic halachot, such as lighting Shabbat or Chanucah candles, which carry the same weight as a Torah commandment.

Halachot are both ethical and ritual and they run to a long list. To take some well-known examples: asking for and granting forgiveness (Teshuvah), ethical business practices, giving to those in need (Tzedakah), studying Torah, keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, refraining from gossip and slander (lashon harah), and fasting on Yom Kippur.

Halachah is required of us but halachah changes. Some halachot fall out of use or lose their relevance, such as shatnez, the Torah prohibition against mixing wool and linen, which pales into insignificance in today’s wide range of materials. But these emendations to halachah are part of a process of legal interpretation, growth and evolution.

As an example of the evolution of rabbinic understanding of Jewish law, take the participation of women in Jewish ritual life. Not until the late 19th century were Jewish women allowed to study Torah in major Eastern European communities. Yet halachah has never restricted women in any way.

Minhag is a tougher definition since some “customs” do eventually find their way into normative Jewish practice while others fade away. We bow during the Aleinu, we eat honey and apples at Rosh Hashanah, we refrain from eating meat in the nine days before Tisha B’Av, we cover our mirrors in a house of mourning, we do not eat dairy after eating meat for either one, three or even six hours depending upon local minhag, we come the long way to the Torah for our Aliyah, we recite early morning prayers before the formal call to worship, and so on.

There are different customs for Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, as well as for Jews living in Israel today. All these customs have a vital role to play in how we as Jews express our commitment to halachah and Jewish values.

And then there are Belsize Square customs, customs that belong to no other Jewish community! Yes, we have our very own. You might have your favourites, here are some of mine: bowing at the Ark before the Torah scroll is removed, the Cantor shifting the Torah scroll from the right to left shoulder before the blessing of the coming month (birkat hachodesh), not announcing page numbers (in common, admittedly, with most British synagogues), calling Yizkor – the normal term for the Memorial Service everywhere else – Mazkir, and … starting services punctually on time and, following unspoken guidelines, taking one hour on Friday evening and two hours on Saturday morning!

Finally, there are superstitions, pure and simple, developed over the years. Many originated from the kabbalistic movement in the late mediaeval shtetls of Eastern Europe. They are mostly concerned with graveside and mourning practices. One belief I heard recently is that it is inappropriate for a grandchild to recite Kaddish for a grandparent while the parents are still alive. That’s totally superstition.

Reciting Kaddish is binding on the deceased’s children, siblings, parents and spouse. But there is nothing that precludes a grandchild, or anyone for that matter, from reciting Kaddish at the cemetery, in synagogue or in a minyan.

There is no bar on remaining in synagogue, even if both parents arealive, for the Mazkir/Yizkor service,which is also recited on the three Pilgrimage Festivals. And only superstition would stop a pregnant woman coming to the cemetery.

I hope this synopsis helps. If you have any questions about what Judaism requires of us through halachah, or suggests that we do because of minhag, or seems to prohibit by virtue of folk religion, just ask. That’s why I’m here.

My wishes to all of you for a week of Succot joy and celebration. To rejoice is a mitzvah. It’s an order! So mo’adim l’simchah (fixed times for joy). May your Holidays be celebrated with simchah, with joy.

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler

Ushering in New Year 5776

We are just a couple weeks away from ushering in another new year, 5776. These Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe) will be my fifth with the congregation and I, as each year, look forward to our sacred time together.

So much that has occurred during the past year – the terror threat of ISIS, or Daesh, streams of Middle Eastern refugees, continuing Israeli tensions, a likely change in Western relationships with Iran’s Shiite theocracy, the Greek financial crisis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Elections at home highlighted worries over immigration.

For Belsize Square Synagogue, there were more triumphs than not – increased membership and continued enthusiasm for our beloved congregation and its activities, with celebrations galore and glorious musical offerings from our multi-talented members, young and old.

The challenges remain the same: enhancing Jewish identity, raising educational levels, offering a vital home for our youth, developing leadership and new volunteers, and never taking our future for granted.

We may approach the holidays with our usual presumptions but there are ways we can improve. For many the holidays are an ordeal, attendance something we “have to do”, services boring and prayers written in a time hard to relate to. We are unaware of the symphony, history and moral genius of the liturgy. We come late, leave early and let our minds wander or talk to our neighbours.

Despite the regular assumption that I must be disheartened by the lack of attention, I am fully aware how difficult it can be for some of you. The Hebrew is difficult, translations even more so, and services are long. And while I spend days and weeks writing my sermons, it is always a wonder that anyone really listens to my words, whose theme this year is Fear: Fear of God (the Yamim Nora’im), terror, loss of health, life, relationships.

The biggest challenge for us is this: we have too blithely turned our services into a spectator sport. People come to watch the action take place on the bimah instead of in the seats! You can change that by doing something to make our time together more engaging.

  • So make some noise at services! They are not supposed to be quiet. I hope for a constant buzz of people singing along with the choir and Cantor and it is OK to chat to our neighbours, so long as we avoid long conversations that detract from the focus of the services and disturb others.
  • Make the services more meaningful before you even get here! Find someone to whom you owe an apology. Ask forgiveness and forgive others at home, work and synagogue. Do real cheshbon hanefesh (scrutiny of our lives and souls) to put us in the right frame of mind to use the service as a catalyst for self-improvement.
  • Da lifnei mi atah omed – Know before Whom you stand. If you are distracted in synagogue, have negative thoughts, get annoyed with this or that, say to yourself: “I stand here before my Creator and I must take account of who I am.” It will jolt us into experiencing truly meaningful prayer and devotion.

There is a tale of a wagon driver who took a rabbi from town to town. Passing an orchard. the driver said: “I’ll get some apples.” As he climbed a tree, the rabbi yelled: “He’s watching!” The driver scrambled down and ran. The rabbi drove till he caught up. “Rabbi, why did you yell: ‘He’s watching’? There was no one there.” The rabbi said: “I wasn’t talking about the farmer. I said – and he pointed upwards – ‘HE’s watching!’”

Come to our synagogue, a haven of sanctity. I want them to have a constant buzz, with all of you singing, thinking, engaging with God, Torah and the Jewish people. Then our ushering in of 5776 will be the best ever!

My wife Ella and our son Micah, with my daughter Elana and son Eitan, and I wish you all a sweet, healthy, blessed and peaceful new year 5776

Bivracha, shana tova u’metukah
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler

Top Russian wartime naval award

Bill Howard wearing the Ushakov medal (blue ribbon) and Russian 65th Anniversary Commemorative medal (red ribbon).

Bill Howard wearing the Ushakov medal (blue ribbon) and Russian 65th Anniversary Commemorative medal (red ribbon).

Congratulations to our 95-year-old member, William (Bill) Howard, on his award of Russia’s top naval honour, the Ushakov Medal, which was presented to him at home on August 20 by a member of the Russian Embassy, Oleg Shor. This is his third medal. In 2010 he received a Russian medal commemorating the 65th anniversary of the victory ending the Second World War. In 2013 he received the British Arctic Star for his part in the Royal Navy’s Arctic Convoys in October 1944 and March 1945.

Under the navy’s protection, the convoys took vital supplies of food and armaments to Soviet troops cut off in the far north-west Kola peninsula in the Arctic Circle. They braved fearsome weather conditions and German attacks from air and U-boats along the Norwegian coast. Bill was a petty officer on board HMS Bellona in the escort fleet, an amazing achievement in itself for a man born Horst Herzberg in Berlin, given the Royal Navy’s British-born personnel only policy. But his complete command of English and extraordinary ability to speak in any dialect or class accent won them over and made him a valuable asset. There is a photograph of him in uniform at the Jewish Military Museum, now housed in the Jewish Museum of London.

Hanging in there: Out of Chaos

Max Lieberman (Germany 1847- 1935): self portrait 1927, oil on canvas

Max Lieberman (Germany 1847- 1935): self portrait 1927, oil on canvas

A picture belonging to our Synagogue is on view at the Ben Uri Gallery’s centenary exhibition, Out Of Chaos, at Somerset House, WC2R 1LA.

The celebratory exhibition at the prestigious historic building on the corner of Waterloo Bridge and Aldwych, features works by David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Solomon J Solomon, Frank Auerbach, Jankel Adler and Joseph Hermann. Among the 100 or so paintings on view, out of its full collection of 1,300 artworks, is a self-portrait of Max Liebermann, which was left to Belsize Square Synagogue as part of the Zondek legacy.

Lily and Theodor Zondek were members of our Synagogue. Theodor was related to the artist, who died in 1935, and held the picture as a family possession. The couple had no children and left their estate to the Synagogue. This was common practice among our early refugee members, whose families had been destroyed by the Nazis and did not have their own next generation to bequeath their possessions to.

At the request of a relative, the Synagogue Board did not sell the painting but gave it on long-term loan to the Ben Uri in 2002, when the art collection moved into its current premises at 108a Boundary Road, NW8. The gallery considers this self-portrait to be among its most important works. Another version of it hangs in the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in Berlin.

Founded in the East End as an artists’ circle by Russian-Jewish immigrant Lazar Berson, the Ben Uri Gallery has embodied its recurrent theme of identity and migration by moving from one London location to another. In keeping with its history and ambitions, it considers its present home as a temporary address while it keeps its eye open for a spot in the centre of town.

The exhibition opened on 2 July and continues until 13 December. It is in the Inigo Rooms and entry is free.

 

 

Award for Oliver

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the Joni Jesner Award Ceremony

It was a big night for 11-year-old Oliver Abrahams when he received a certificate from the Jesner Foundation for his voluntary work in the community.

The ceremony took place at the Camden Centre, Kings Cross, on July 2 when Oliver, as co-compere, introduced the Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Mark Shooter, and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

Oliver, who is a pupil at JCoSS, the cross-communal Jewish Community Secondary School in New Barnet, was recommended by his school for his volunteering over the past year. This included providing food for the homeless, visiting residents in care homes, fundraising in scouts and visiting a long-standing member of Belsize Square Synagogue, Anne Simmonds, who sadly passed away in June.

Oliver used to visit her, accompanied by his brother, Harry, and his mother, Izobel, who attended our cheder as Izobel Kerry and follows in her parents’ footsteps as a member. They sang Hebrew songs to Mrs Simmonds and took her to synagogue and their home for the festivals. “I will never forget her kindness and sense of humour,” he said.

Yoni Jesner

Yoni Jesner

Oliver received his award from Marsha Gladstone whose son, Yoni Jesner, was tragically killed in 2002 in a suicide bombing on a Tel Aviv bus. The 19 year-old Glaswegian was actively involved in Jewish charity work and study before starting medical school. The Jesner Foundation was established in his memory to encourage Jewish youngsters to volunteer their time and help.

Oliver said: “Yoni has been an inspiration to me and I hope that I can follow in his footsteps with all the wonderful work that he did in putting others before himself. If you would like to volunteer there are many opportunities available on charity’s website.”

Exciting times ahead

Shalom Chaverim,

This is a wonderful time of year to recharge our batteries and begin planning our Synagogue calendar for next year, 5776.

Let me share with you some of my ideas to ensure that our congregation remains at the forefront of leadership, especially in Jewish education and affirmation.

Our Shabbat calendar is already almost filled with Bnei Mitzvah. I am also booked for weddings and speaking engagements.

We will continue our weekly exploration of The Great Thinkers and Jewish Responses in the modern period: Hume, Kant, Hobbes, Rousseau Voltaire and Sartre, with their Jewish counterparts: Mendelssohn, Hirsch, Zunz, Graetz, Frankel, Rosenzweig, Buber, Kaplan and Heschel. Sunday mornings sessions are followed by guest speakers and special events.

Field trips are planned to the Cairo Genizah at Cambridge, the British Museum and British Library.

Also in the planning stage is a visit to Poland with Professor Antony Polonsky, our distinguished member who is the world’s leading expert in Jewish Eastern European History, specialising in Poland, and recently appointed head of the Warsaw Jewish Museum. Together we will lead a BSS group on a unique tour, which will include the Warsaw Ghetto and Majdanek camp on the outskirts of Lublin.

Let me also invite you all to Cantor Heller’s autumn leyning class. Learning to read from the Torah gives us the skills to take a greater part in our services.

Our music programme continues, with a surprise concert bringing us the very best in the classical music world. We have an outstanding Music Committee chairman in Philip Keller. Stay tuned!

I will be away in July and August visiting family in the US and attending a Bible conference in Germany. While in Los Angeles, I will meet Rabbi Professor Elliot Dorff, head of the Committee of Laws and Standards for the Conservative Movement international. With a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University, Professor Dorff teaches Judaism and Legal Ethics at UCLA Law School and is a prolific writer and good friend of your Rabbi. I hope to arrange a visit for this leading Jewish philosophy scholar to speak to us. It will certainly enhance our educational profile.

One of the things I have initiated for the benefit of our wider community is the Camden/Hampstead/Belsize Park Interfaith Matters, an inter-religious clergy association. From a handful in January, we have extended our reach to leaders in over 15 religious institutions: Jewish Orthodox (2) and non-Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim Shiite and Sunni. The group has enabled us to hold important religious dialogue on extremism and the need to combat anti- Semitism.

Through this body, I spoke at the Islamic Centre of England (in Maida Vale), where I called for dialogue with a Sunni mosque which had invited a well-known anti-Semite from Qatar to London. Dialogue can make people aware of the dangers and reduce the damage.

In May we hosted the outgoing Mayor of Camden’s Interfaith Dinner, with 25 religious lay leaders of all faiths. I took the occasion to introduce them to Judaism. Such interaction is invaluable, and I firmly believe BSS can play an important role. It is a little known fact that one of the major failings of Jewish life in Berlin was the absence of inter- religious dialogue. By remaining insular, with no meeting ground to cultivate friendship and mutual respect, any possibility of averting the destructive hatred against Jews that led to the Shoah was lost. We are hoping to put together a Limmud-type study day for all religious faiths, as a huge step towards fostering better relations.

So there’s lots to do. Just a note: Yom Kippur services will begin at 9.30am rather than 10.00am. Pseukei d’Zimra (early morning Psalms) will be abbreviated to make time for later parts of the service and a 45-minute discussion before Mincha on The Jewish Future. We’ll uplift our services even more spiritually and intellectually.

My very best to you and your loved ones for a joyous and fulfilling summer.

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler