It is that time of year again, time to take stock, to enjoy the quiet of the summer months, to recharge our energies for the coming year, and, hopefully, find a new perspective in renewed faith. We may have no control over the turbulence around us but we can look back over the past year at our Synagogue and see cause for pride and gratitude.
I have said many times that I feel so privileged to be the rabbi of this unusual and gifted community. I am blessed with remarkable students, the best of friends and a congregation that believes in the best of our Jewish ideals and spirit. May God continue to give us that strength. So, here are a few reflections on what we have accomplished together and where we are headed.
We began the Jewish year with powerful High Holy Day services and attendance. I spoke on aspects of fear, the choir was magnificent, the Cantor never sounded better, everyone took part. We had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah virtually every week, where our gifted children affirmed their Jewish identity.
We took 30 members to Berlin on a trip beyond all expectation. We learned so much and were impressed by the local activists we met at the Alexander Haus, thanks to our co-host, Thomas Harding. A big thank you to Claire Walford for arranging it all.
We had classes: our Sunday morning adult discussion class on modern western philosophy and Jewish responses from Hobbes to Moses Mendelssohn. We held our annual lecture with Rev Paul Nicholson on religious extremism in our respective faiths, and were joined by a leading
figure of the Shiite Muslim community.
Our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot was led by Alasdair Nisbet. Though small in number, we were mighty in the content of our educational endeavour. Maimonides was the glue and learning was all around us, as was the cheesecake. Our community second Seder attracted the largest attendance we have ever had. And we had a joyous Purim, a festive Succot.
Seven adults who have studied every week with me in the synagogue library were brought before the Bet Din and became part of the Jewish people. We also welcomed three children who followed their converted mothers. We had Hebrew “marathon reading” classes for the first time, to try to put those unfamiliar with Hebrew at ease with our services.
We are growing. Membership is up. Attendance is largely excellent. We are blessed with leadership, and this is a good moment to thank our outgoing Co-Chairs, Suzanne Goldstein and John Abramson, along with the Board and Executive, for their time and commitment.
Our office works hard and I personally am grateful that I work with such fine individuals as Jennifer Saul, Jagdish (bookkeeping), Adam Rynhold (my right arm), Gordon Larkin (our man who keeps us safe and organised!), and Lee Taylor, the very best Chief Executive, a man of incredible integrity and devotion to the community.
I also want to again note how blessed we are in our music, our professional choir, our youth choir director, Alyson Denza, our superb music director, Dr Ben Wolf, and, finally, my partner on the bimah, Cantor Paul Heller.
Our music programme has been revolutionised by Philip Keller and the the Music Committee. Concerts just get better and better. Our Israel Committee, led by Jeffrey Graham, arranged a memorable dinner, raising funds for our regular charities in Israel.
Our talented Education Director, Jeanie Horowitz, enhances our children’s knowledge of their Jewish heritage. Thank you, Jeanie, and thank you also, Eve Hersov, compassionate and caring, who visits our seniors and those who are ill and watches over mourners.
So, how can we do better next year? Well, we will certainly try! We will focus on ideals, aims and goals at the High Holy Days. We will organise another trip, most likely to Israel.
Our Monday night Introduction to Judaism course has 12 new students. We will continue our Sunday morning study of modern philosophy and Jewish thought. There will be more Hebrew reading opportunities. Stay tuned!
Welcome to Jackie Alexander, our new Chairman, and the Board of this great community, to all our committee chairs and, most of all, to our entire membership. You continue to astound with your energy, compassion, devotion to the community and passionate interest in seeing Jewish life thrive.
Have a wonderful summer and may God bless us with renewed faith and most of all, shalom.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler