Monthly Archives: September 2020

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


The High Holydays: a time to remember

L’shana Tova to all of you,

We are approaching the New Year 5781 and my last year with you, my dear Belsize Square family. I look forward to sharing with you all the theme of my High Holyday sermons this year, ‘What Matters’’: God, Israel, being Jewish, Judaism, family, community, synagogue and our own lives. Despite the limitations on public gatherings, we will be with you via our livestream—a High Holydays for us all to remember.

That word ‘remember’ is a special one and particularly important for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe). After all, Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Zichron Teruah—A Day to Remember and to Hear the Sound of the Shofar. So, what shall we remember as we prepare for the coming of the new year and what does the sound of the shofar have to do with our remembrance?
There are quite a few indications in the Torah as to what we should be remembering, but let’s share a few:

1) Remember the Shabbat Day – Shabbat is the day for us to remember the blessing of creation and the miracle of life. It also embraces our highest ideals, of social equality and peace. So what shall we remember? The Fourth Commandment teaches us ‘Remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt’— remember who you are, what you believe in, what your ideals and values are, and those values and teaching that are eternal. And in case you think this is just a cerebral exercise, we have the reiteration of the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy, reminding us to ‘Keep the Shabbat Day’ – you need to do it, you need to hear the sound of the shofar to heal the world, to pursue peace in every path of our existence.

2) Remember what the terrorist Amalekites did to our people in the Sinai desert on their way to Eretz Yisrael. What do we remember? That there is much that is wrong in the world, that there is violence and evil. So embrace good causes, do not be blinded by forces that endanger innocent lives or by organisations that promote terror, violence and antisemitism. Sound the shofar! Be aware, get involved in Jewish responses to hatred, do not sit on the sidelines of our people’s righteous cause for our dignity and safety. As the Torah says, ‘Blot out the memory of Amalek.’

3) Remember what Miriam did to her brother Moses – her transgression of slander. So we remember the price paid by the innocent for gossip and smearing of reputations, so that we might become more sensitive to others. Sound the shofar! Let us improve our relationships and be careful not to hurt others, especially those closest to us.

4) Yizkor/Mazkir – finally, we will be remembering our loved ones who are no longer with us in the land of the living. In the traditional meditations we recite for our parents, spouses,siblings, children and loved ones, we pledge to give tzedakah in their memory. We remember our loved ones in order to sanctify their values and through us, to make this world a better place. That is the way we Jews remember.

So, the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah will remind us to ‘Remember’. This year we will be blowing the Shofar only on the second day as the first day is Shabbat. Whether we come to synagogue or remain at home we should try to remember what is crucial in our lives. Individually, the shofar call on us to do serious heshbon hanefesh, scrutinising our souls, to remember what we have done, in order to do better in the coming year.

Remember, remember who you are – remember the Jewish people, our relationship with God, the Covenant that was made with Abraham, how our people survived throughout history despite enormous pain and suffering and with obstacles that no other people on earth had to overcome.

In conclusion – hear the sound of the Shofar in order to do teshuvah, to return or repent, a proper return to where one should be before God. To ask ourselves how we can be better, but also to cherish the good that we did during the past year. We must all remember the preciousness of life and think of the pain that has been endured by millions across the world because of the coronavirus. We will hear the sound of the Shofar and remember, but also look forward to a better world, a new beginning and new life for the world, our own country, Israel, the Jewish people all over the world, our congregation, our families and our friends.

L’shana tova tikatevu – may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, thankful for health, life and the blessings surrounding us each day of our lives.

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler