Monthly Archives: May 2020

Chairman’s message 27 May

Dear Friends,

I have had a very adventurous week since my last email. Sadly, not a long trip to somewhere exotic but on my reduced horizons I ventured up a ladder and onto the roof of our garden shed to chop away the neighbours’ ivy that was taking over our green roof. What you may ask has this got to do with you. Well, sitting up there I realised that I had a different view on what I usually take for granted. The trees that seem tall were not so huge, the bushes that I don’t normally see on the other side of the fence were bright and lovely and the neighbour who I don’t really know looked up and waved. It made me think that this is a time when we have the chance to check and rethink our view of others before we come out of lockdown.

Speaking of views, many of you will have looked at the Synagogue website over the past few weeks. If you have done so recently I hope that you will have noticed some changes. Over the last month or so the Synagogue website has been undergoing a ‘spring clean’, with a small team of volunteers led by Adam Hurst spending time improving the menus and navigation, refreshing some of the pages that were a little out of date and also adding in new pages. There is still some more work to do but for anyone who hasn’t explored the website for a while I’d encourage you to take a peek.

We are also looking for some volunteers in two areas. Firstly, once we are physically open again, to become ‘honorary photographers’ to help refresh some of the photos on the website and then going forward take photos of our events so we can keep them up to date. And secondly if there are any lawyers with experience in GDPR we are planning a short project to review and refresh our current policies. Please contact Lee ( if you are able to help in either of these areas.

In another area of work we have spent some time looking at our Safeguarding policies both for virtual and face-to-face meetings. The Synagogue has appointed Frank Joseph, Chair of the Education Committee, as our designated safeguarding lead for Cheder and Youth. Deborah Cohen, a Board member with experience in this area, is currently working on a safeguarding policy for adults.

Keren’s Nursery has been closed during this period of lockdown but in accordance with the Government guidelines will open again next Monday 1st June. We have been in discussions with them and they will be observing all the Government guidance on social distancing and will also have a strict cleaning regime in place. We have agreed with them which parts of the building they can access and they will not be able to enter either the Sanctuary or the Hall. Security will also be in place from Monday during the nursery hours.

I thought that you would be interested to know that throughout the lockdown our Conversion Class led by Rabbi Altshuler has continued every Monday night 7pm-8:30pm. Our students are still preparing for the Bet Din which consist of three Rabbis and is taking place by Zoom at the moment. The ritual obligations of “immersion/mikveh” will take place later when we are permitted to do so safely. I want to remind you that all congregants are invited to join the lessons, the current unit is on “Jewish History”. If anyone is interested in coming to the class, just email Rabbi Altshuler (

Lastly, please do remember that tomorrow evening at 7.30pm we will be holding our Tikkun Leil Shavuot. The programme is interesting and you will have received an email with the Zoom details. If you can’t find the email please contact Adam Rynhold ( )

That is all from me this week. As always, stay well and stay safe.


Click here for full information on how we are operating.

Gardening Tips

From Henny Levin
Having just been for a lovely walk in a woodland setting around Mill Hill, I enjoyed the sounds of the birds which inspired me for this week’s gardening tips.

  • Have you ever thought about putting a bird feeder in your garden, balcony or screwed on an outside wall? They come in all shapes, sizes, fixtures and fittings from garden centres or on-line. The seeds can be purchased from the same sources.
  • In our garden we see robins, green parakeets, gold finches, blue tits, magpies and pigeons. One can spend hours watching the little birds peck at the seeds when the coast is clear with the pigeons and magpies waiting patiently underneath the feeder for the bits that fall down. The birds come at any time to feed. Oh, I should have also included the playful squirrels who are so athletic and ingenious.
  • A bird box can be so much pleasure to watch early morning or before sunset. We have one for blue tits. The chicks have just fledged but I have been watching for several weeks the parents flying back and forth with food for their babies. They are so careful before entering the nest with the food in their mouths, watchful and very alert to danger. It’s even better that watching the telly.

From John Alexander

  • Prune late spring or early summer flowering evergreen Ceanothus after flowering to ensure a sturdy plant for next spring.
  • Alliums are coming into their own now. After the colour has gone the seed heads can be retained for structural interest or cut for indoor flower arrangements.
  • Aphids and greenfly are on the increase now with the warm weather before the ladybirds and wasps arrive to feast on them. To protect your roses and other flower buds, spray now with an insecticide, of which there are many, but I prefer Provanto Ultimate Bug Killer.
  • Dig up and divide Daffodils if they have formed a big clump.
  • Sow seeds now for summer and autumn flowering annuals. Sow directly onto soil that has been raked into a fine, crumbly texture. Keep moist.
  • Don’t forget to water after the sun has left the garden and remember to water pots and hanging baskets daily.

Chairman’s message 20 May

Dear Friends,

It is 8 weeks since we all went into lockdown and I am surprised at how quickly the days go. I seem to spend a lot of time catching up on things that I have been meaning to do for ages. This week we sorted out our books and 30 paperbacks went out into the street with a “take me” sign and were gone within a day. However, none of them were cookery books, I enjoy them too much! With Shavuot approaching next week I wanted to share with you my very quick and no-bake cheesecake recipe. I would love to say that it is an old family recipe but actually it comes with thanks to Mary Berry from one of her cookbooks and with a disclaimer that we like the cake and can only hope that you will too. You can find the recipe below the Gardening Tips.

Still on the subject of books, we have many authors in our community and if you have recently published a book please let me know and I will include it in my email. You will already have seen Victoria Slotover’s book in News From the Square under our new charities section. Two other books have also been published recently, although buying them does not include a charitable donation. Ben Ford, grandson of our members Helen Grunberg and Sue Arnold and son of Kim Milton has written a cookery book “Wings and Things: Lip-smacking chicken recipes” and our member Naomi Stadlen has written : What Mothers Learn: without being taught”. Both can be found on Amazon.

Last week I talked about our own planning work for the High Holydays and wanted to let you know that the Government have now established a Places of Worship Taskforce. This Taskforce will develop a plan to enable the phased and safe reopening of places of worship, which will happen “when the evidence shows it is the right time to do so” and in any event, not before early July. The Taskforce members are:

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Cardinal Vincent Nichols,
  • Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis
  • Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf, The British Board of Scholars and Imams
  • Rajnish Kashyap, Hindu Council UK
  • Jasvir Singh, City Sikhs
  • Daniel Singleton, Faith Action

Cheder is now on a two week break for half term but families are invited to join Caroline Loison at 4pm on Sunday 24 May for a Zoom Dingbats session. Everyone is welcome and no previous knowledge is needed although you do need to be able to read. Please bring a pen and paper, plus any drinks and nibbles to enjoy, as Caroline leads adults and children alike through a fun world of word puzzles before she reveals all the answers. Contact Caroline ( for the Zoom Login details and feel free to invite other friends and family to join.

One of the hardest parts of lockdown is not being with your family and friends and for me the wider Belsize family. The Shabbat Candle lighting Zoom Group have been meeting for the past eight weeks. Numbers vary from week to week with so far a maximum of 14 people joining in. There is something magical about seeing all the candles lit simultaneously and singing Sholom Aleichem and kiddush together. The group start at 7.30pm straight after Cantor Heller’s Live Kabbalat Shabbat. If you miss talking with friends and other congregants, as you used to after services, this is an opportunity to do so. The group have got to know each other better and started developing new friendships which I’m sure will last long past this pandemic. All are welcome. If you want to give it a try (whether or not you have any candles) please contact

I want to remind you that Kikar Kids continues to zoom along every Shabbat for children 7 and under. It’s a lovely chance to meet up, sing songs, learn new ones and hear stories. Every Shabbat at 11am. If you haven’t tried it yet please come – complete with your own saucepan and toy food for virtual chicken soup making. And if you have come, then help to spread the word. Any questions or if you want the Zoom details then please – email Richard Pollins and if you want to be added to the Kikar WhatsApp group let him know too.

That is it from me for this week. Please keep your information about activities, books and volunteering opportunities coming to me, I love including them in my emails.

Stay safe and stay well


Click here for full information on how we are operating.

Gardening Tips

From Henny Levin

Although the sun has been shining this past week it has been quite cool, especially at night, so don’t plant out very tender summer bedding plants for another week.

Wonderful news, Garden Centres are now open again. If you can get to one, why not try to grow some vegetables. The satisfaction of grow-your-own and the pleasure of picking and eating tender and tasty naturally grown vegetables is a wonderful experience.

  • Cherry tomatoes bought as small plants can be transplanted into a growbag, pots or a trough making sure the trough has drainage holes at the bottom. The plants will need to be staked as they grow so that all the tomatoes get some sunshine. Liquid feed once a fortnight also helps them to produce more fruit.
  • Peppers, again bought as small plants, can be potted on into a larger pot and kept on a windowsill. If it becomes very hot in the summer, the pots can be transferred into the garden.
  • A variety of mixed herbs can be planted in pots outside or inside on a windowsill and can be picked as and when needed.
  • And, finally, when buying plants always read the labels so that they are planted in the best place, sunny, half shade or shady.

From John Alexander

We are sadly missing out on our annual visit to the Chelsea Flower Show. A virtual show with specialist presentations can be viewed this week on . Also, most of the regular suppliers have their usual Chelsea offers available on line.

  • Some gardeners favour the ‘Chelsea Chop’ – cutting back some perennials now, such as sedum, to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show, to lengthen their flowering season and create more compact, self-supporting plants with more (but usually smaller) flowers – but I’m not keen!
  • Use organic slug pellets weekly whilst new fresh shoots are growing.
  • Plant up pots for the patio now that frosts are behind us, and water daily. Annual bedding plants work well, including trailing lobelia, alyssum (scented) Nicotiana (tobacco plants- for evening scent) and Marguerite, Fuchsia, Lavender, and Geraniums.
  • If you want to propagate from existing plants, e.g. Buddleia, Fuchsia, Hydrangea, Lavender, Penstemon and Pelargonium, now is the time to take cuttings of soft, flexible, young shoot tips. Plant them into compost and keep it moist until well rooted, usually two to four weeks, then plant out. Alternatively you can just cut off growing stems and pop them in moist earth – some may take!

Mary Berry Easy Lemon Cheesecake

For the base
10 digestive biscuits crushed
50g melted butter or similar
25g demerera sugar

For the cheesecake
150ml single cream
1 x 379g can of condensed milk (do not use evaporated milk, I made that mistake once! The cake does not set)
175g low-fat soft cheese
Juice of 3 large lemons

Mix together the biscuits, butter and demerara sugar for the base. Put into a 23cm flan dish (or similar) and press evenly over the base and sides. Leave to set.

For the cheesecake filling, mix together the cream, condensed milk, soft cheese and then add the lemon juice a little at a time, whisking until the mixture thickens. Pour into the biscuit case and leave to chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight.

Chairman’s message 13 May

Dear Friends,

As you will know yesterday was the festival of Lag B’Omer. This minor holiday occurs on the 33rd day of the Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. It creates a break from the semi-mourning of the Omer and key aspects of Lag B’Omer include holding weddings (it’s the one day during the Omer when Jewish law permits them), lighting bonfires and getting haircuts. This year there was no chance of doing any of those three things and yet it still made me feel how comforting the Jewish festival cycle is. The Festivals come round regardless of any lockdown or virus and for me, particularly this year, that pattern provides a solid anchor, regardless of how we do or don’t celebrate them.

Still on the subject of Lag B’Omer, last Sunday we had nearly 40 pupils who joined us to celebrate Lag B’Omer at our Cheder ONLINE. There was an Assembly as usual with Havdalah and the Shema and then everyone split into Breakout rooms for 40 minute Jewish Studies sessions. Years 1 & 2 created paper bonfires and made Carob Truffles with Susannah Alexander, Years 3 & 4 played a Lag B’Omer Battleships game and had great fun doing a Kahoot quiz with Benji Nathan, Years 5 & 6 went on a (virtual) pilgrimage via Google Earth to Meron in Israel and ate S’mores ( a traditional campfire food) around a (virtual) bonfire with Caroline Loison and Years 7 & 8 discussed the importance of freedom and rules and when/if rules should be brought in, thinking of some of their own rules, with Jeannie Cohen. Our iGCSE class also met virtually with Marion Godfrey and they discussed if people are turning towards or away from religion in these tricky times and the importance of having a state religion and the pros and cons of this. Next week our brilliant Online Cheder team will be planning some more fantastic and hugely creative sessions for our pupils to learn about and enjoy celebrating Shavuot. All children in school Years 1 and above (and regardless of whether they have been attending Cheder or not) are welcome to join. If you or someone you know would like to join then please contact Caroline Loison (, for more information as well as the Zoom log-in details. Meanwhile a thank you from all of us goes to Caroline and the team of teachers, for creating this fantastic virtual event.

While I am writing about Festivals I want to let you know that I have formed a small group of people including Rabbi Altshuler and Cantor Heller to plan for the Autumn, looking at Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. At this point we have no idea what the Government guidelines will be on religious gatherings and so we are planning for all eventualities including normal services, Social Distancing or at short notice a further lockdown. We are including Youth and Kikar Kids Services in our plans. I will write again about this once there is more information from the Government, which is likely to be in early June.

I thought you would like to know that Belsize thrives on BelsizeLIVE!!!
When we installed our live stream in 2013, following generous funding from The Six Point Foundation, it was originally for the benefit of our elderly members, particularly those who were Holocaust survivors. Soon, many other housebound members and families, spread all over the world started to join our services. Now, in 2020, and thanks to occasional, generous donations, BelsizeLIVE is still going strong and is enabling all of us to be able to enjoy our beautiful Shabbat services from the safety of our homes.

It is not always easy to see how many people are watching at any one time. When you log on to BelsizeLIVE the number of viewers is displayed, however as more join this number does not always change and therefore doesn’t reflect the true viewing figures. Also, multiple family members are often watching around one device. I was astonished to learn that since lockdown it is estimated that our services have been viewed over 2000 times. We will always be indebted to our donors, and we also owe a huge debt of thanks to the IT skills of Cantor Heller and to both he and Rabbi Altshuler for bringing their spiritual guidance, and inspiration into our homes. A special thanks also to David Pollins for his technical support which ensures that the whole system works for us.

Rabbi Altshuler and I have a regular call every Monday morning and this week we were discussing what else you might find helpful and supportive in these uncertain times. Starting next week Rabbi Altshuler will be available every Thursday afternoon between 2pm and 6pm for anyone who would like a one to one phone call or Zoom meeting with him. You will need to book a time to talk to him by emailing with you phone number and the time which suits you best.

Mike Schraer, a member and Warden at Belsize, is a Trustee of the Jewish Historical Society of England, an institution which may be familiar to some Belsize members. It produces an excellent quarterly journal and the latest edition covers the Kindertransport, with a whole series of articles about all sorts of aspects. We are seeing if we can organise a Zoom talk for the community by selected authors but in the meantime here is the link to the journal:

That is it for this week. Please keep sending in ideas and information, it is great to be able to include what is happening in the wider world and in our Community. As always, stay safe and stay well.


Click here for full information on how we are operating.

Gardening tips

This week’s tips from Henny Levin:
I am no expert at gardening, I just love it – pottering each day in the fresh air and checking out what needs doing. This year is particularly difficult as it is very dry and we need to adjust out planting regime to fit in with the weather pattern. Also, it is very difficult to get hold of summer bedding plants and seeds. Hopefully, garden centre restrictions will be lifted soon.

  • Look after your finished spring bulbs for next year. Do NOT cut back the foliage but allow it to die back naturally. Add liquid fertiliser all around the clumps. This will help with next year’s display.
  • Water is very precious in the south of England so optimise your watering regime doing it early and late in the day – and start collecting and recycling water whenever possible.
  • Thin out clumps of hardy annuals like wild geranium bushes. They are lovely but very quick to grow and invasive. They stop other plants growing.

And from John Alexander:

  • Water only after the garden is no longer in the sun as hot sun will burn wet foliage.
  • Sprinkle slug pellets sparingly but regularly, say once a week, if your garden is plagued by slugs.
  • Gradually acclimatise your baby plants and tender ones kept under cover during the winter before letting them out into your garden permanently.
  • As your Hostas come into growth, it’s a great time to divide them. Keep them well-watered as they establish.
  • Bamboos need regular watering during dry periods. They require a high level of nitrogen in the spring and a balanced fertilise through the growing season until late August.

Chairman’s message 7 May

Dear Friends,

This Friday is the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. Just in case you didn’t know this fact, there were two V-Days that occurred during World War II, VE Day and VJ Day (Victory over Japan). VE Day stands for Victory in Europe Day on 8 May 1945, when the German Army offered a complete and unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces. There will be much coverage in the news and we will mark it in our Shabbat service. In the lead up to it I remember reading a recent newspaper article, which said that today, during this pandemic, the modern NHS is the equivalent of the World War II air force, army and navy. I agree and this has made me think about the bravery of those who continue to work with patients at the moment, whatever illness or need that they may have and who put themselves at risk each day. In our Community we have GPs, hospital based doctors in many specialisms, anaesthetists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, midwives, dentists, carers and many others. I would like to thank them for all that they are doing (you know who are you are) and when we stand up this Thursday to clap for the NHS, let’s all clap with those in our Community in mind.

This Shabbat, as well as marking VE day, we will be honouring Ruth and David Rothenberg. You will have read in Our Congregation that Ruth has just retired as editor of the magazine having worked on it for years and years and made it a truly enjoyable read. It is David’s 80th birthday and he has just stepped down from being a warden, a role he has carried out for many years. It is also their 55th wedding anniversary. We had planned a Kiddush to thank them for all they have done for us but now we send them a virtual Mazel Tov and Thank You instead.

I have been asked a few times over the last few weeks about what arrangements can be made if you suffer bereavement and want to hold a Shiva. Sadly, we have had a number of deaths in the congregation and some of our families have chosen to have shiva minyanim by Zoom which Rabbi Altshuler or Cantor Heller will conduct. One family had over 150 people tuned in for a Maariv service, rabbinic words, and shared memories by family and friends. Some families are also talking to Rabbi Altshuler about future services in person, in memory of the individual. If you are at all concerned about any of this please do contact Rabbi Altshuler at

With Shavuot fast approaching, Rabbi Altshuler is working on our annual Shavuot Tikkun. Full details of the programme will be sent out shortly but please add this to your diaries – the evening of Thursday 28 May.

I had some interesting information passed to me this week which was sent into the office.  One of our members has put together an anthology to raise money for a mental health charity and asked if we could publicise it. In the past we have had a policy to decline to publicise any charity fundraising other than if it related to charities that we as a Synagogue officially support. Your Honorary Officers and I discussed this request and we are aware that times have changed and there are charities working in areas that are important to us all during the lockdown. For instance those creating food for the NHS, or working with food banks, mental health, or people at risk. From next week we will therefore include a new section in News From The Square any information about initiatives that you are involved in, that relate to these type of charities. Please send information to

I have also had brought to my attention that there is an organisation called Paperweight which may be of interest to some of you. Paperweight is the Jewish community’s Citizens Advice Bureau and is there to support you through the current crisis if you need them. They offer free services for all those needing guidance on legal, financial and welfare issues. Their website is

Lastly, we have been contacted by UK Jewish Film. At the moment, whilst cinemas are closed, they have a large selection of films available to see online, so you can access Jewish content from the safety of your own homes. New material is added to the site all the time. All of the short films are entirely free to watch, but if you want to watch a longer new film then you will need to pay to rent it. You don’t have to pay to access the site and you can find it at

That is all from me for this week and as always stay well and stay safe.


Click here for full information on how we are operating.

Gardening tips

  • Lift tulip bulbs to minimize risk of disease in the early autumn. If you do not lift them then dead head them
  • Bunch up but do not tie or cut off daffodil leaves to allow them to die back without covering surrounding plants
  • Prune shrubs like camellias and forsythias that have finished flowering to give them time to grow new flowering stems for next year
  • The large leaves of alliums may be cut off to allow plants underneath to get light
  • Hellebores should be deadheaded

For the Love of Israel

Shalom Belsize Square Synagogue,

I am writing this message while still in isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and hope that perhaps during the span of this Our Congregation, we will be able to return to our normal routines, open the doors of the synagogue and share time together.

Around this time we mark some crucial historical moments in the life of the Jewish people, beginning with Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance for the fallen soldiers of the state of Israel and victims of terror) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). Those are followed by Yom Yerushalayim, the celebration of the capital of the Jewish people since the time of King David. This year we celebrate on 22 May. The reunification of the city enabled our people to rebuild the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and tear down the barbed wire and barriers that kept us from the Kotel (Western Wall). Now the city is home to all three monotheistic faiths, a city undivided and free.

Then, on 28-30 May, we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot, Matan Torateinu, ‘Giving of the Torah’. The purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was to enable the Jewish people to receive the Torah from God and become a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 2).

I have had some memorable opportunities these past few weeks while in isolation to engage in some interesting discussions regarding the state of Israel. Thank you to those of you who wrote me such wonderful notes on the subject. I want to let you know why I am a passionate Zionist and devoted to the cause of ‘ahavat Yisrael’ the love of Israel. I was raised in a wonderful Jewish home in Los Angeles,where Israel was core to our very existence. My parents were very involved in Zionist causes. My mother was president of her Eilat Hadassah group for more than 20 years; my father was involved in every Zionist organisation in the Los Angeles area.

My great-great-uncle Samuel Altshuler in Kaluga, Belarus, was among those early halutzim (pioneers) to go to the malaria-infested, Ottoman Empire-controlled Eretz Yisrael in the 1880s. After the great pogroms unleashed by the assassination of Alexander II, and the publication of Auto-Emancipation, a pamphlet by Dr Leo Pinsker arguing for Jewish self-determination, the Zionist movement began to form in this region. Samuel went with four other families and were the first settlers in a place they named Rehovot, today a city of 135,000 people. Mr Altshuler bought land that no one else wanted, paid a steep price to corrupt Ottoman absentee landowners, and planted orange trees there. Those orange groves still exist today.

According to our family history, when Theodor Herzl visited the area on his only visit to Eretz Yisrael in October 1898, he heard Hatikvah for the first time, sung for him by none other than Samuel Altshuler. Herzl loved it and immediately adopted it as the Zionist movement’s anthem. I still get chills each time I sing Hatikvah.

My cousin, Nakdimon Altshuler, was born in 1886, in Rehovot and continued the work of his father in planting orange trees. I had the chance to meet the elderly Nakdimon when I was a rabbinical student in 1977, and what a character he was! He prided himself on having only one suit, one pair of trousers, one pair of shoes: ‘That’s all I need, that’s all we needed, we were building a nation.’

Nakdimon’s son, Gideon, and Rutie and their five daughters showed me what a miraculous place Israel is and the sweat and labour that went into building it. My cousin Mor Altshuler was a scholar of Jewish Thought. My cousin Gideon, a highly decorated veteran of Israel’s wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, was Ariel Sharon’s second in command, putting into action all of General Sharon’s orders, including the daring surrounding of Egyptian troops that brought an end to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I will never forget this bravery and it is embedded in my soul to this day.

My daughter Elana Rahel was born in Jerusalem, probably the first Altshuler from our side of the family born in Israel since our family left Judea in 70 CE. My son Eitan Meir lived in Israel for seven years and now, having received his Master’s degree in the US, is moving back. By the way, on my daughter’s birth certificate issued by the United States Consulate in 1978, the location of her birth was given as ‘Jerusalem’ only – at that time, the US did not recognise that Jerusalem was a part of Israel. It still hurts, but thankfully as we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim this year, not only does the US recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it now has not a Consulate in Jerusalem but its Embassy.

Yom Ha-Atzmaut Sameach to all of us. Israel’s birth, and her incredible story of existence, is perhaps the greatest miracle of all Jewish history. I cherish it and wanted to share why. I hope you are staying well during this coronavirus plague and that we will be back together as a community in our beautiful synagogue soon.

Yours in shalom,

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler