Yearly Archives: 2020

The privilege of freedom

Following our intense time together during the Holyday season – from the serious observation of our lives during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the celebration of joy, nature and gratitude during the Sukkot week, to the reflections of Shemini Atzeret and then to the end of the yearly Torah reading cycle marked by Simchat Torah – we are now back to the days of routine, or as routine as they can be during this strange pandemic.

It is one thing, say our Sages, to have heightened spiritual and Jewish awareness during these moments of celebration, and another to take the affirmations we made, the prayers we uttered, the hopes that we shared, and to inculcate them all into our daily lives. That is the challenge for each of us, and I hope that these days are used to learn, bond with our Jewish heritage, affirm our relationship with God, increase love and justice in the world, and to enable us to always be mindful of the preciousness and sanctity of each passing moment of our lives.

This month there is an important Presidential election in the United States and, regardless of the result we would like to see, it is good to remember that there are precious few nations in the world whose citizens can freely choose their leaders. I am often expected to ‘answer’ for America – its President, the country, its people, its faults and blemishes, along with its strengths, of course. It’s an unfair burden on me, one of over 330,000,000 citizens of a country as diverse as any in the world. I do hope that no matter who is elected to take on the next four difficult years, they will always heed the words of Abraham Lincoln, in his address at his inauguration for his second term as President in March 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Those words were delivered as the United States was in the last throes of a brutal Civil War, a country divided by internecine conflict that took the lives of almost a million citizens. The message is a reminder to us all about the value of democracy, of our values, of healing wounds rather than stoking mindless hatred and violence. This is my prayer for the United States, and for every nation in the world. As many of you know, I recently became a citizen of the United Kingdom, in addition to my United States citizenship. Both countries have provided our people with the freedom and dignity that few places around the world have given to Jews.

But democracy, as we all should know, is a fragile institution that will rise or fall depending on the values of its citizenry and we must protect it. That protection comes from each citizen accepting responsibility for the culture and values of decency and goodness. That is the only way our great nations can survive.

My own appreciation of democracy and freedom was crystallised in the 1980s, when I made numerous trips to the former Soviet Union, a country that deprived its citizens of basic freedoms of speech, of the media, of culture, of language, of religion. I saw first-hand what oppression was all about, especially the way the Soviet regime persecuted and tyrannised its Jewish citizens. During those trips I was reminded why my own grandparents left Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to seek freedom in the United States, and why my grandmother kissed the soil of a country that gave her family freedom, Jewish freedom. I am certain that we all have similar feelings regarding our families that sought haven here in the UK from Germany, from Austria, from Eastern Europe, or earlier from tsarist Russia. I believe that we should express our gratitude each day that our ancestors had the courage and resolute will to leave the past behind and seek a better future for us, their descendants.

Therefore, regardless of the challenges facing the United States and the rest of the world, let us remember where we are, the context of history which brought us to these lands of freedom, and do everything in our power to sustain that gift. And in the spirit of Chanukah, when our Maccabean ancestors battled for religious freedom, let us also remember what it was and is like to fight foes who try to take those freedoms from us.

May you all have a wonderful couple of months. Celebrate Chanukah and rejoice in the freedoms that we too often take for granted. Remember our history and our heritage.

In shalom always,
Rabbi Altshuler

Chairman’s message 21 October

Dear Friends

A few weeks ago I became an Honorary Freeman of the City of London. As it is an Honorary title it gives me no rights but it is interesting to know that were I not “Honorary” I could drive my sheep and cattle over London Bridge; have a silken rope, if hanged and carry a naked sword in public. I can’t say that I will miss any of those privileges!

I was given this honour by the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers & Tobacco Blenders, one of the City of London’s renowned Livery Companies. Like all Livery Companies, it encourages fellowship, supports charities and education, and plays an integral role in the City of London’s governance. The Company was originally founded in 1619 as a trade association tasked with regulating the manufacture of clay pipes. Since that time, it was twice dissolved and re-established, and so – despite its 17th century origins – it is now listed as a Modern Livery Company having been re-formed in 1954. John joined the Company in 1991 when he was granted The Freedom of The City of London. He was Master of the Company in 2009/10, hosting his Master’s dinner in Mansion House and participating in two Lord Mayor’s Shows. I was his Mistress (yes that is the title!) and so I am an Honorary Freeman as a past mistress (but I am pleased to say not yet a past wife).

I took my oath of allegiance on Zoom and quaked as I did it. It made me consider how we take for granted that members of our community are willing to stand on the Bimah and participate in or lead all parts of a service. I want to thank everyone, adult and youth who takes the time and trouble to learn our Trope, our Minhag and our music and who participates so wonderfully, without looking nervous at all. I also need to mention our Bnei Mitzvah and applaud the commitment it takes to stand in front of the congregation. This coming Shabbat is Rio Beckwith-Leever’s Bar Mitzvah who has been taught by Joe Hacker. Rio will be in the Synagogue with his family and if you are not attending please do join us on BelsizeLIVE to celebrate with them.

On this subject, I am delighted that our Joe and the Jews sessions led by Joe Hacker for Bnei Mitzvah will continue online on Zoom. They are happening on the 14 November and 5 December at 10am when the participants will discuss the parasha and other relevant subjects for our future bnei mitzvah youngsters.

You might be interested to know that the Executive met recently and discussed a number of matters including the fact that Cheder is remaining on line this term. We have a Board meeting in November where further discussions will take place.

I thought you would also like to know that our Honorary Officer, Rob Nothman, has been interviewed by Maccabi GB. Rob spoke about his career in broadcasting and answered some questions. If you would like to watch this it is on:

This coming Sunday 25 October there are two events that the synagogue is hosting – a quiz for the Youth and a Concert for the whole community:

  • Caroline Loison will be running an ONLINE Trivial Pursuit-style quiz for B²/BSS Youth this Sunday at 4pm. Everyone is welcome for an hour of fun. Questions will vary in difficulty for all ages. Please bring a pen and paper to write your answers down and a drink and some nibbles to enjoy whilst you quiz! Caroline will be ONLINE from 3:50pm – Please join her.
  • From 7pm, Music at Belsize is delighted to present an orchestral concert, which will be professionally recorded live in our synagogue and released as an exclusive video premiere on our website. The concert will feature the incredibly talented London Young Sinfonia, conducted by Elias Brown, with guest conductor being none other than our member, Philip Keller. The orchestra will perform Haydn’s sparkling symphony no. 90, followed by the epic symphony no. 4 by Beethoven. What a treat to have this available to us, particularly as this year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

I have also been told about an event run jointly by InsidersOutsiders and the AJR on Sunday 25 October 5pm-7.30pm when there will be an online talk: Restitution: Gimpel vs the French Government – a Seven Year Saga. For seven years, the grandchildren of eminent art dealer René Gimpel (1881-1945) mounted a campaign to recover three paintings by André Derain, which they believed were seized from their grandfather in forced sales during the occupation of France. Finally, a verdict in the case – Gimpel vs the French Government – was reached on 30 September 2020, after copious research, forensic detective work and two high court proceedings. One grandson, also called René Gimpel, will recount this extraordinary saga, and describe how during the war his grandfather, his English wife and their three children were involved in Resistance activities throughout occupied France. This event is free but you need to register and to do so please go to the InsidersOutsiders website at

That is all from me for this week. Gardening tips are below.

Stay safe and stay well


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • Although there are still flowers in some gardens, such as fuchsias, dahlias, asters, chrysanthemums and even the odd stray rose, most perennials are ready to be cut down and tidied up for the winter. The ground in the beds should be cleared of debris and made ready for planting bulbs.
  • Climbing roses should be pruned by the end of the month.
  • Watch for the first signs of frost: leaves on plants such as dahlias and cannas beginning to go black. These plants, and begonias can either be cut back and lifted and stored in a dry, frost free place or else, if they are in a reasonably sheltered place, covered in mulch after being cut down and left to come back in the spring.
  • Containers with summer flowering plants that still look OK can be kept going for another two or three weeks before replanting for winter colour and spring bulbs.

Chairman’s message, 14 October

Dear Friends

As I sit down to write this email I have realised that it is my 30th one! When I started I didn’t expect to be doing them for so long but thought I was just giving out some important information at a time of great uncertainty. Yet now, they have become a part of my life and my routine each week revolves around writing them. I scour the Sunday news for a relevant or funny story (no luck this week), I spend Monday thinking about the previous week and if anyone would be interested in what I have done, I spend Tuesday deciding that my life is not interesting enough and then sit down early on Wednesday morning to write to you. This week I find that my head is still full of Synagogue melodies and so this email isn’t about what I have been doing all week but it is about our wonderful services that started with Selichot and ended with Simchat Torah.

Our two Zoom Simchat Torah services were a joy to participate in. We had 30 screens joining in for each service. Stewart Kerry was our Chatan Torah and read beautifully. Rabbi Altshuler was Chatan Beresheit and it was an honour to hear him. An enormous thank you goes from all of us to Cantor Heller who organised the Zoom, produced some uplifting videos with songs for us to watch or sing at home and of course delivered the Zoom service as well. As I said on the Zoom at the Kiddush, I thank both Cantor Heller and Rabbi Altshuler for embracing screens, masks, social distancing, hand sanitising and of course technology and giving us the most wonderful experiences throughout this period.

I also need to thank the Choir and Ben Wolf, you may not be aware that not only did they sing at our services but they came in to record services in case we couldn’t have them live (indeed last weekend we had to use the recordings) and to record for Simchat Torah. Thank you!

This was the last year that Dilys Tausz will lead the Youth Services and I cannot thank her enough for all the hard work she has done with her team (thank you to all of you too) over the years in encouraging our youngest members to participate and in leading these services. Thank you also to Richard Pollins for leading Kikar Kids and continuing to do so.

I have already thanked many people over the last few weeks but don’t want to forget Gordon, Paul and all those who deep cleaned our Synagogue so many times over the last few weeks, so that those who wanted to could participate in live services. I will finish by thanking Adam Rynhold, David Pollins and Lee Taylor for all they have done in keeping our services Covid compliant and streaming to those at home.

Talking of the Pollins family, I am delighted to be able to tell you that Richard has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Many of you will know that Richard was born without legs and that Vera, his mum, has Motor Neurone Disease. Last year Richard did a 40 kilometre “No Legs Walk” to raise funds for Motor Neurone Research and raised £66,614. He was honoured for this. I send congratulations on behalf of all of us.

This coming Shabbat we are celebrating the Barmitzvah of Max Slotover which will take place in the Synagogue. We are pleased that the latest restrictions have not impacted on our ability to host Bnei Mitzvah at the synagogue and look forward to welcoming Max’s parents, Victoria and Tim, their family and friends. If you attended services pre-Covid on a Shabbat morning you will have seen Max and his brother Joey at most of them. Please join on BelsizeLIVE to celebrate with the family.

On Sunday 25 October at 7pm, Music at Belsize is delighted to present an orchestral concert, which will be professionally recorded live in our synagogue and released as an exclusive video premiere on our website. The concert will feature the incredibly talented London Young Sinfonia, conducted by Elias Brown, with guest conductor being none other than our member, Philip Keller. The orchestra will perform Haydn’s sparkling symphony no. 90, followed by the epic symphony no. 4 by Beethoven. What a treat to have this available to us, particularly as this year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. The flyer is attached to this email.

You will already have seen the announcement about Mitzvah day which this year is on Sunday 15 November. We will again be running a number of activities both in the Cheder and also the wider community, including collecting and distributing food and other essential items for the Camden Food Bank, as well as putting on a virtual concert for the residents of the Wellesley Road Care Home in Camden. Please look out in News From the Square for the list of items most needed by the food bank as well as times for you to drop them off at the Synagogue on Sunday mornings from the start of November. We are also asking for volunteers who either play a musical instrument, would like to sing or tell some (audience appropriate!) jokes to join the concert and let the office know by 25 October so we have time to put a programme together. Please contact Adam Rynhold at if you would like to be included.

Lastly I have been asked by our member, Emily Marbach, to let you know that if you are venturing out, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute (located at the Bulgarian Embassy, 186-188 Queen’s Gate, SW7 5HL) have an exhibition inspired by the 77th Anniversary of the saving of the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust. Emily’s artwork is on display at the exhibition which finishes on 20 October.

That is all from me this week. Stay safe and stay well.


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • I was asked this week how to overwinter geraniums as the plants did so well this summer. The hardy geraniums, those wild looking plants with many single flowers that bloom all summer are actually perennials that can be left in the ground. Like all perennials, they should be cut back now or as soon as they have died down at the end of their flowering season.
  • Tender geraniums are actually pelargonium – this is what we all usually think of as geraniums – the ones that look so lovely in all the window boxes throughout France. They can be taken up and potted and then kept away from frost on a sunny windowsill in a shed, garage, kitchen or in a heated conservatory – anywhere with light, so long as they don’t catch the frost.
  • As soon as the earth has dried up a little, start planting spring bulbs outside – although they can go into containers now. However tulips must not be planted until after the first frost. They can be planted right up to the end of the year, until the soil is frozen solid. They rot and get diseases in warmer soil and only start putting out roots when it’s very cold. However, remember, squirrels love tulips – but not chilly powder!
London Young Sinfonia flyer

Chairman’s message 7 October

Dear Friends

You may remember my story in the Spring of being on the roof of our shed. Well, I haven’t had to do that again but we have now cleared it out. Our house is small and so everything that we don’t use but “may need some day” ends up in the shed. It took us a whole day to do and meant that we filled up the car with black bags full of things that went to the tip. Some of it was easy to throw away, broken plant pots, footballs with holes in them, dried up paint pots, cushions that were never going to recover from the damp. Some of it was quite tough, riding boots that I hadn’t used for 15 years and never would again but kept “just in case”; the lost opportunity of seeds that we had bought at a garden show years ago but never got round to planting, so the mice had enjoyed them instead; a broken children’s tent where, looking at it, I could still hear the laughter over many years. Yet at the end of it, we had space (which we are already filling up with new “may need them some day” items) and a great sense of achievement.

I watched our Succot services on BelsizeLIVE and was thinking that yet again they were, thank goodness, what I have always known our Synagogue to be. We have not filled up a metaphorical car boot and thrown parts of what we do away, so that we can fill up with the new. We have managed to embrace a “new normal “ while keeping our minhag and sense of community. Our Ministers and Choir have played a large and key part in that but so have you. You have watched the services and emailed with comments and thanks, you have volunteered, you have attended, you have read my emails (!!) and for that I thank you all.

On thanks I wanted to mention and thank Justyn Trenner, Carol Cohen and everyone who volunteers for Security. Justyn stood outside the Synagogue for most of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and he, with support from Carol, organised all the Security protocols. Without them we would not have been able to hold our live services. Thank you!

Now that the Festivals are almost at an end, please do send me information on things that you hear about that people might be interested to follow as the days get shorter. If you have ideas for Belsize Community events or speakers that we might be able to hold on Zoom then please send them in.

You will have seen the booking email for Erev Shabbat & Erev Shemini Atzeret on Friday 9 October, and Shabbat & Shemini Atzeret morning service (including Mazkir) – on Saturday 10 October. These are live services in the Synagogue and if you would like to attend please do book but they will also be streamed on BelsizeLIVE.

Our Simchat Torah services will be held on Zoom this year, this is the first time that we are doing this, so please do try and join us. Rabbi Altshuler and Cantor Heller have been working hard on the content of these services and of course on the Saturday we will also hear and honour our Chatan Torah, Stewart Kerry and Chatan Beresheit, Rabbi Altshuler. The services are on Saturday 10 October at 6.45pm and Sunday 11 October at 10am.

I wrote several weeks ago to say that we were hoping to open our Cheder after half term. Last week, we held a meeting to discuss this and made the difficult decision that we would keep BSS Cheder ONLINE for the moment due to the current uncertainty surrounding the Pandemic and the direction that it is taking. We will, of course, be reviewing this situation on a regular basis and we will keep you informed of any updates as and when there are any. We continue to have an innovative and engaging online Cheder, and Caroline Loison is constantly coming up with new ideas, so whilst we would all like to be back in the building I am very proud of our Cheder online.

I have been sent a link to a wide range of free podcasts from the last Limmud. It does seem that there’s something for everyone. The Limmud sessions are available here

The Wiener Library have a new online exhibition : The Persecution of Black People in Nazi Germany: Ronald Roberts’ Story. This exhibition explores the life of Ronald Roberts, born in Germany in 1921 to a white German mother and a Black British/Barbadian father. You can find it on the Wiener Library website at:

That is it from me for this week but I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to email me or Lee about the Festival Services so far and to also comment on my community emails. It is all much appreciated. Please keep doing so.

So for now, the gardening tips are below. Stay safe and stay well.


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • Not wanting to trespass into Henny’s field (or allotment), Gardeners’ World is providing advice on what vegetable seeds can be sowed in October for next year’s crop of peas, salads, lettuce, broad beans and cauliflower. Check it out here.
  • Given the torrential rain of the past week the garden is too wet to plant bulbs other than in pots and containers. We’ll have to wait for a few dry days and perhaps even sunny spells. Until then keep any bulbs already delivered in open boxes in a dry and airy location. When planting, start with daffodils then hyacinths and tulips when its cooler.
  • Continue to keep the beds and lawns free of fallen leaves. Be considerate of neighbours if you feel it necessary to use leaf blowers or vacuums.

Chairman’s message, 30 September

Dear Friends

As I write to you, I still have the synagogue melodies in my head from Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, I am given the honour of making the Board announcements on Kol Nidre to a packed Synagogue. This year there were no announcements but our Synagogue was still “packed” just split into many different locations. In our house we connected our laptop to our television, watched all the services and we stood up and sat down in all the right places. As I said last week, I felt a sense of belonging and that people were there with me even if I couldn’t see you. The familiar music and rhythm of the services kept me emotionally and spiritually engaged for the full period. I hope you had a similar experience.

Many of you have written in or sent messages saying how much you enjoyed the services too and I wanted to share a couple with you.

“We were glued to our iPad and were very happy with what we heard and saw. Rabbi Altshuler’s Neilah sermon was outstanding. We miss our London family. We have not seen each other for about six months. Zoom and WhatsApp are a help. And so was Belsize Square Synagogue. Shana Tova”

“I just want to write to say how much I enjoyed joining in the Live Stream services over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Belsize Square Synagogue. I felt that I could really take part in the Yom Tov services and feel uplifted by them. So thank you to all at Belsize Square for widening your services to the wider community and enabling us to enjoy the Yom Tovim in these strange times.

We have also heard from you how disappointing it was that Livestream failed during Rabbi Altshuler’s morning sermon where we lost the sound and connection for a short period. I am happy to say that Rabbi Altshuler will be recording that sermon again this week and we will send a link out to you so that you will be able to listen to it.

For those of us organising the service the loss of Livestream was a tense moment and we were wondering if we would have to spend the rest of the day streaming our recorded back-up services whilst the “live” service continued in the Synagogue. Fortunately, Lee Taylor in the office at the Synagogue and David Pollins from home, managed to get Livestream working again. A heroic effort on their part!

As with Rosh Hashanah I thought you would be interested to know that we continue to have an astounding response to the BelsizeLIVE streaming. As I explained last week we count this by individual devices tuning in to a service, so when you read these figures please remember that we could have two or more people watching each device. We have had many messages from individuals who are not members who have told us how uplifting our services are and how grateful they are that we make it them available to the wider community all over the world. On Kol Nidre 1702 devices tuned in for the service with 698 devices the most watching at any one time; on Yom Kippur the maximum number we had at any one time was 597 and overall we had a total of 2040 different screens tuned in at some point during the day.

Another tradition in our Synagogue is that as Chairman I wait until the Simchat Torah Kiddush to make a speech thanking everyone who has participated in the services. I will write more after Simchat Torah but I want to thank Rabbi Altshuler now, for his thought provoking sermons and for the commitment he has shown in making Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a memorable and involving experience for us all, wherever we are. As he reminded us, this is his last High Holydays before his sabbatical starts and we had all hoped to be in Synagogue with him during this period in order to honour him. I would like in some small way to honour him instead with this email message on behalf of us all and to say that he has a place in all our hearts.

Some of you will remember that on Yom Kippur last year Rabbi Altshuler announced that his friend Maxim Vengerov would come to our Synagogue to play Kol Nidre, before joining us in prayer. Sadly Covid-19 made that an impossibility but I wanted send a message to Maxim that he and his family are always welcome at Belsize Square Synagogue and we send them our good wishes.

On my early thank you list is also Cantor Heller, who has sung so magnificently and movingly over the Festivals so far. Over the last few months and quietly in the background he has also created back-up recordings of our services and recordings for youth services. We would be lost without him and “thank you” is inadequate but heartfelt.

I could go on but more will follow after Simchat Torah. In the meantime I can say that our Yom Kippur youth services, Kikar Kids and youth activities were also a success. Around 40 screens joined our Zoom services and the youth activities organised by Caroline Loison had 20 young people join the sessions throughout the day.

You will already have received the email about booking a place in Synagogue for our Sukkot services. Please do reply and if you prefer to be at home then please do watch on BelsizeLIVE. I am chairing a planning Committee meeting tonight to make sure that all arrangements for the remaining Festivals are in place. Can I also remind you not to bring Lulav and Etrog with you this year if you are attending .

This coming Shabbat morning at 11am we will hold Kikar Kids in the Synagogue Hall. The first “live” one was a lot of fun and if you would like attend then you must book a place. Please contact Adam Rynhold on

Many of you will not have seen the Yom Kippur Zoom Youth Service this year and I would like to end with a link to a recording that was used. It is our Youth Choir singing Adon Olam. I am very proud of them and they will producing another recording for Simchat Torah. Please go to

That is it from me for this week, the gardening tips are below. Stay safe and stay well


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • It’s now time to plant spring flowering bulbs, except for tulips that should wait another month until the ground is cooler. It’s also a good time to move or plant new trees and shrubs to give them a chance to establish their roots before its gets too cold.
  • Keep deadheading to prolong the flowering season of asters, rudbeckia and dahlia.
  • Keep lawns clear of fallen leaves to avoid them suffocating the grass. It’s also a good time to repair patches of lawn by reseeding or replacing bare patches with new turf.
  • Do not prune spring and summer flowering shrubs and keep the dead flowers on hydrangea to protect next year’s flowering buds.

Chairman’s message 23 September

Dear Friends

Last week I wrote about how strange this Rosh Hashanah was going to be. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy the services for all the reasons that I gave last week and yet, I found myself easily following the services at home and humming along with the choir. No need to worry if I was out of tune, no concerns over whether I was whispering too much in the silent parts, no scramble to find my place in the prayer book if I got distracted. Above all though, I felt a sense of belonging and that people were there with me even if I couldn’t see you. I was “home” in all senses of the word, both physically and spiritually. I hope that you experienced this too, whether attending a service or watching on BelsizeLIVE.

I am pleased to say that all our services in the Synagogue over Rosh Hashanah were full and I have had wonderful reports from people who attended one. Rabbi Altshuler and Cantor Heller made it a moving experience and the choir sounded superb. For those of you who were not there and have asked the question, yes they were singing live, it was not a recording. One member who attended wrote to me:

“Thank everyone for an absolutely exquisite service. We were privileged to get tickets today and, moreover, to belong to such an international, wonderful Synagogue.”

We also had an astounding response to the BelsizeLIVE streaming. We count this by individual devices tuning in to a service, so when you read these figures please remember that we could have two or more people watching each device. On Erev Rosh Hashanah 272 devices tuned in; on Rosh Hashanah first day 698 devices tuned in ; on Rosh Hashanah evening 95 devices tuned and on Rosh Hashanah second day there were 506 devices tuned in. That is a total of 1571 screens tuned into services. We know that people watched from as far away as America, Israel, Australia & South Africa. We have had messages telling us how wonderful the services were, such as:

“I joined you via streaming for Rosh Hashanah. I live in Sussex and although there were Services being held locally, I am having to shield. I have to tell you that for me the Belsize Square Synagogue Services were beautiful. The Rabbi, the Chazan, the Choir all gave such Spiritual uplift and I really deeply appreciate the amount of work involved. Thank you all so much and I look forward to being with you on Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur.”

Whether you were at home or in the Synagogue, I hope you agree that it was very special to be able to have Cantor Heller open our Ark and for us to see all the scrolls for the first time since lockdown.

A question that I have been asked this week by people who watched at home is, how could we have someone blow the Shofar in the Synagogue when it is against the guidelines? Well, I can reassure you that the Shofar was blown outside the Synagogue. There is an emergency exit door at the side of the Synagogue by the Bimah and Patrick Sciamma stood outside in the open air with a microphone and blew it from there. We had placed a plastic screen across the door so that no droplets would enter the Synagogue. You will also have seen Adam Rynhold moving screens and microphones during the services, this was so that they could be thoroughly cleaned between each person using them.

Our Youth and Kikar Kids Zoom services were also a great success. 20 young people took active parts in the Youth Service in Hebrew and English with many more watching with their families at home. On the second day Rosh Hashanah there was a Family Quiz related to the Festival with prizes. Here are some quotes from participants about the two days:

“ I just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the Rosh Hashana youth services ……. I found Sunday’s service particularly warm and intimate, not an easy feat through a screen.”

“You still managed to ensure the children were involved, took part and felt comfortable through your encouragement as you would have done had we been doing it live.”

If you don’t have a place at the live services for Kol Nidre or Yom Kippur please do watch on BelsizeLIVE. The link is Don’t forget about Youth and Kikar Kids services and also all the activities for young people on Yom Kippur. Details are in the booklet that we sent out but if you don’t have them any more you can find it here

I thought you would like to know that before Rosh Hashanah three things happened. Firstly, between the Honorary Officers and myself we signed greetings cards with messages to every member (sometimes one card to the whole family). In addition, 12 volunteers baked 43 honey cakes that were delivered to some of our more elderly members who said that they would like to receive them. Thirdly, every member aged over 30 received a phone call or message from the Tikkun Olam Committee phone volunteers. Thank you to everyone who made this happen, baking, phoning, writing, delivering and organising. This is what defines us as a Community, we truly care for and take notice of everyone. I hope you know that even if we don’t see each other, you are still part of this wider family.

I am attaching to this email this year’s D’var Torah booklet containing the pieces written by each of our young members who have had their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We usually publish this in hard copy but as you have it with this email please do take time to read it. It is inspiring.

I would like to finish by letting you know that the Board of Deputies have sent us the Rosh Hashanah messages sent to the Jewish community by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. You can find them at:

That is all from me this week. Stay safe, stay well and if you will be fasting then I hope you fast well too


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • Although many of the summer flowering plants are coming to an end, Fuchsias will keep going until the first frost. You can also buy Persian Cyclamen in flower, which will flower into the winter and winter flowering pansies which will flower throughout the winter and into the spring. However I’ve found that winter flowering pansies are best if bought now in full flower as in my experience they don’t put out many new flowers until the spring. Ornamental cabbages are a favourite of ours. They come in many different colours and should be planted now and will usually last all winter. Often in spring they produce a tall spike of yellow flowers which is a bonus.
  • The past week has been very dry and warm so gardens and pots still need watering. Even though rain is forecast it probably won’t be enough so do keep up with the watering.
  • Dahlias are in full bloom now, but as soon as the flowers fade cut their stalk down to the nearest leaves to ensure new flowers open.
  • Remember to order your spring bulbs as they’ll need planting before too long.

Chairman’s message 16 September

Dear friends

I am finding this week to be very strange as we come up to Rosh Hashanah. Normally I would be spending my time shopping for last minute fruit and vegetables for three large meals, cooking chicken soup (of course!), sorting out beds and toys for our Gibraltar family to stay and generally preparing to catch up with family and friends. I would also be checking our Synagogue service arrangements, looking at my Synagogue door rota and generally looking forward to catching up with everyone at Synagogue and hearing their news.

Whatever your usual plans are for Rosh Hashanah, I am guessing that for many, you are feeling the same as me. On the plus side (and I am always a “glass half full person”) I am definitely less stressed, I don’t have to fit in a visit to the hairdresser (I have a constant worry that someone will see my roots if they are sitting behind me, is that too vain?) or have my nails done (you can’t hand our prayer books with chipped nails!) or work out what to wear over three days. On the minus side, I just miss everyone. I miss the joy of seeing friends and acquaintances, meeting babies for the first time, squashing into the back of the youth service, popping into Kikar Kids and chatting in the tent after the service.

In case you think that this is a sad email at a time of celebration, I am immensely looking forward to watching the services on BelsizeLIVE and attending one service in person. It will be different but it will be what we each make of it. I intend to follow the services, listen to the Sermons and enjoy it. I shall think of everyone else who is also listening and for me that sense of belonging to a strong and vibrant community will fill my house and carry over all the three days. I hope it does for you too.

Our festival services started with Selichot and Rabbi Altshuler held a very successful Shiur for 20 people. More than 80 people watched Cantor Heller and the choir in the Selichot service. This is more than in a usual year and it was, I hope you will agree, a very uplifting service.

You might be interested to know that last week we held a Board meeting on Zoom and we approved our adult safeguarding policy and received training on this subject. We appointed Deborah Nerva-Cohen as the Synagogue’s designated safeguarding lead. We also reviewed the arrangements for all High Holyday services.

I wanted to let you know that Limmud have launched a digital publication, featuring submissions from across the community. It contains stories, pictures, recipes and poetry and is very interesting. It is free and can be found at where you need to type in “Renewal by Limmud Festival”.

I have been sent the recent AJR newsletter and I am really pleased that they are letting their members know that they can access services through BelsizeLIVE. To the individual who has just joined our Congregation as they watch and enjoy our streamed services and wanted to support us, welcome and thank you so much. It literally makes me smile all the time to think of your support.

That is all from me, I wish you all a sweet year ahead, shana tova umetuka.

Stay safe and stay well


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • It’s an exciting month as spring bulbs I’ve ordered are being delivered. It’s a bit early for planting but it will be something nice to do during Succot! In the meantime it’s a good time to clear away debris that may have built up.
  • Deadhead Dahlias as flowers begin to fade, cutting back stems to the first leaves. Keep them staked so they don’t fall over in the wind or break under the weight of the big blooms.
  • Keep watering, especially in this lovely warm, dry weather. It’s interesting that we usually celebrate Rosh Hashanah in good weather. Let’s hope it is the start of a good and above all a healthy year for us all and enjoy this last bit of the summer!

Chairman’s message 9 September

Dear Friends

I read in the paper yesterday that Catherine Zeta-Jones, the actress, has collaborated with a company called Butterflytwists to design and promote a new line of vegan shoes. My first thought was that this was an act of kindness for vegan dogs and cats who might love shoe chewing (seriously, it was exactly that!!). Then I realised that actually these have been designed and launched with perfect timing, for all of us who do not want to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Catherine will know about Yom Kippur as she is married to Michael Douglas whose father, Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, was Jewish. Michael’s mother was not Jewish and he had no formal religious upbringing from either of his parents but he identifies as Jewish. You may not know that Michael was the 2015 winner of the prestigious $1 million Genesis Prize, granted each year in recognition of professional achievement, contribution to humanity and commitment to Jewish values and Israel. He was recognized for his cinematic work and advocacy for disarmament as a U.N. Messenger of Peace. He directed his award toward projects promoting diversity and inclusiveness in the Jewish world. So on Yom Kippur as you deny yourself leather footwear, you could be wearing something that will later on in the evening make your cat or dog very happy.

On a more serious note, you will have seen on the Shabbat booking email yesterday that we have a few members who are not social distancing at services and are standing chatting to each other and the Ministers. I implore you to take the social distancing seriously, as hard as it may be on you. The government guidelines are very clear, no socialising is allowed before or after a service. With the spiking of the virus that we read about daily in the press, if we are reported for this as it has been visible on BelsizeLIVE, we could be shut down. Please think twice before you go up to anyone to chat.

We held out first live Kikar Kids service in the hall. We have created another milestone! It was a great success with five families participating form their own space, each family had musical instruments to play and the Shofar was blown from just outside the Hall for everyone to hear. Do watch out for more information about Kikar Kids over the High Holydays and on the first Shabbat in October. A huge thank you goes to Richard and Sara Pollins for making this happen.

I know you have already seen a number of emails about things that are happening this week but I wanted to remind you that tonight at 8pm we are hosting Councillor Georgia Gould – Leader of Camden Council, in conversation with our Belsize member, Councillor Neil Nerva. Councillor Gould will share information on the impact of Covid-19 on local communities in Camden and beyond. My thanks go to Neil for organising this event.

On Sunday at 11am we will have our annual Kever Avot when we gather at Edgwarebury Lane Cemetery to remember family and friends who are no longer with us.

Also this weekend we have the Bar Mitzvah of Noah Jacobson. He and his family will be in Synagogue and if you are not attending the service please do watch on BelsizeLIVE. Noah has worked hard for this day having his lessons on Skype and will share the maf. and haf. with us. As always, I am so proud of our young people and grateful to their parents for choosing to encourage and involve them in the Belsize Square Synagogue wider family.

Lastly, we all heard the Government announcement last night on social distancing and only meeting six people at a time. I will write again if this has any impact on our plans, for now we have no clear guidance

Gardening tips from John Alexander are back, Henny tells me that her vegetable gardening only really starts in the Spring.

That is all from me, stay safe and stay well


Gardening Tips

Just to remind you that whilst he is not an expert, John is happy to try to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Please email questions to Adam Rynhold at and he will pass them on.

  • Now September is upon us we are entering another busy period in the garden.
  • Make sure you’ve ordered your spring flowering daffodils, hyacinths and crocus for planting this month.
  • This is also the month to plant bulbs in containers for midwinter indoor displays of hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, amaryllis and the little Dutch iris. Some, like hyacinths, can be purchased already prepared for early flowering, others will need a few weeks in a cold dark place.
  • You can also plant new perennials outside later this month so order them now.
  • You can plant seeds of some hardy annuals directly into the ground now for flowering next summer. They may need some form of covering if we have a particularly heavy frost but it’s worth trying to get an early flowering next spring and summer. Try planting pot marigolds (they don’t need to be in pots, that’s just the name), cornflower, larkspur, honesty and some poppies – opium, Shirley and ladybird.
  • Keep your hanging baskets fed and watered.
  • With a warm spell ahead, keep plants, and particularly pots, well-watered and keep sprinkling slug pellets around.

Chairman’s message 2 September

Dear friends,

This Bank Holiday brought a great surprise to us. We were feeling very low before the weekend, cold weather, back in London from Cornwall and I forgot to mention last week that I had broken my little toe by stubbing it very hard on a chair in our Cornwall hotel. To cap it all we had just cancelled our next trip to Gibraltar, as we decided that we did not want to go through any airports. The phone rang late Sunday morning and my daughter in Gibraltar said she was flying in to see us that evening for 24 hours. She didn’t want to risk not seeing us for another six months and we hadn’t been together since February. We made the bed, brought out the masks, worked out what windows and doors we could keep open and she arrived. We lived outside in warm clothes for almost all the time she was here and it was wonderful. What a difference 24 hours can make!

Now that booking has closed I am hoping that all our plans for the High Holydays will bring you a feeling that Belsize is still as we know it, well almost. We have done as much as we can within the Government guidelines (we would all love to do more of our service, but we are not allowed to or cannot because of safety concerns for our two Ministers and of course you too) and have also tried to balance the experience of those in the Synagogue with those watching from home. Please do send me feedback as we move into the services.

As I said in my last email, the Planning Committee has met and we have decided that all Succot Services and Shemini Atzeret in October (Friday 2nd – Sunday 4th and Friday 9th – Saturday 10th ) will be held in the Synagogue and will also be streamed on BelsizeLIVE. Booking details will follow from Lee in due course. Erev Simchat Torah and Simchat Torah will be Zoom services so that you can participate and again more details will follow once the plans are finalised.

This weekend is Jack Loison’s Bar Mitzvah. I am sure that you remember the piece that Caroline wrote about planning for it a few weeks ago. Jack and his family will be in Synagogue, so please do watch on BelsizeLIVE if you are not coming to the service.

Cheder returns this Sunday online and in addition to the regular Sunday morning sessions we continue to offer one-to-one Hebrew lessons on line. If you are interested please contact (but not until after this weekend!). As I said in my email last week, Kikar Kids is also back this Shabbat live in our hall. We really are up and running and I am so proud of all that we are doing!

Eve Hersov our Community Co-ordinator has reminded me that if any of you are looking for help with job hunting then Resource an organisation based in Finchley can help you, by providing expert tailored advice, mentoring, networking and training skills. Have a look at their website at or ring them on 020 8346 4000.

I have not been sent any articles for this week but have seen a wonderful compilation clip of 1950’s artists (Fred Astaire etc) dancing to a modern song. It made me smile and so I wanted to share it with you. Go to YouTube and type in: Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk.

Still no gardening tips this week. So stay safe and stay well