Monthly Archives: January 2021

Chairman’s message 27 January

Dear Friends,

First of all thank you to everyone who took the time to email me last week, to say how much you enjoy my emails and are pleased that they are back. I really do appreciate it and it makes me feel very connected the Community.  

It is almost a year since John and I decided to shield ourselves and I find that is extraordinary as the weeks pass in our lockdown routine. However, I am sure that my week is like a Harry Potter staircase (always changing pace and direction) as the day to do the ironing seems to come round quicker than any other day. I think that I am fortunate as I have John to keep me company, my HR work and the Synagogue to keep me busy and no children living here to home school. I know that for many of you it is not so easy and I was recently sent this quote, part of which made me think “just don’t patronise me!” and part or which resonated with me. I hope some of it resonates with you too. The ideas come from Gyles Brandreth – writer, broadcaster, former MP, founder of the National Scrabble Championships. Here are some of his ideas to help us through lockdown: 

  • Be a leaf on a tree: belong to something bigger than yourself, a community of some sort. 
  • Cultivate a passion: have something in your life you really love doing. This can be anything, no matter how mundane or esoteric.
  • Break the mirror: we should stop thinking about ourselves, look up and turn our attention outwards. 
  • Audit your happiness: make a list of the things that make you happy and make a list of the things which make you unhappy, then try to make the first list longer than the second. 
  • If you want to be happy, act happy: it is possible to tell yourself to cheer up. A quote from the Dalai Lama adds to this: ‘Choose to be optimistic, it feels better’.

I hope by now that all those of you who are older members will have received a phone call from a volunteer who work with the Tikkun Olam Committee. We want to check that you are OK and just have a chat. If you haven’t had a call or know of anyone who hasn’t then please let Lee know in the office. 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. The AJR held their remembrance service yesterday on Zoom with Rabbi Altshuler and Cantor Heller taking part. We are sorry for posting the wrong details in last week’s NFTS but you can watch a recording of it here – We will mark Holocaust Memorial Day this coming Friday night at our Erev Shabbat Service.

On 11 February at 7.30pm the Jewish Musical Institute are holding a gala evening, which is free to join. The gala concert will be available on all JMI platforms worldwide – you will be able to simply click on either of the following links from 7pm and click in. or

The Leo Baeck School in Haifa is holding a free Zoom event on Sunday 7 February at 2pm: Rabbi Leo Baeck, Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times. This will be a conversation between author Michael A. Meyer and Lord Daniel Finkelstein. If you would like to attend this then please contact Adam Rynhold who will send you a link to register.

Lastly please don’t forget our synagogue events, The Big Belsize Square Synagogue Quiz this coming Sunday at 7.30pm (register for it by contacting the office) and our session with Jami on mental health, Getting Through Lockdown: taking care of myself and my friends. 

Stay safe and stay well,


Chairman’s message 20 January

Dear friends,

With encouragement from the Board I am starting my weekly email again during this lockdown. I had thought that the quote: “just when you thought it was safe to go into the water again…….” came from the 1975 film Jaws but on checking Google, I find that this is a warped version of the original. Jaws in known for two quotes: “ You’re going to need a bigger boat” (not really relevant to us!) and “You’ll never go in the water again” (also not relevant!). So I’m am going to stick with the first version, it summarises my thought that I hope you didn’t become bored with my last set of emails.

I think this current lockdown is harder than the previous ones and I am not quite sure why. Maybe it is the shorter and darker days, the unknown length or the constant stream of contradictory stories in the press. I have days when I am optimistic and days when I feel quite low, and on those low days I look forward to the familiarity of the Shabbat services which are so reassuring. I hope you are continuing to watch them on BelsizeLIVE even though none of us can attend in person. I would like to remind you that Claire Walford continues to run her Zoom Shabbat Candle Lighting and Kiddush on a Friday at 7.45pm. Please do join if you can.

We are working on providing some more Zoom activities/events for you, social and educational. We hope to do something linked to the service and also maybe a speaker during the week. More information will follow soon. As well as this, please do send me any information that you have on interesting events and speakers and I will add them to this email. Please do book into the Big Belsize Square Synagogue Quiz taking place on Sunday 31 January at 7.30pm, it is free and you just need to let the office know that you want to be part of it.

This coming weekend is Mental Health Awareness Shabbat. Jami are putting on a number of events and you can check these out here –

I am going to keep these emails short and for now there are no gardening tips, as my resident expert tells me there is nothing much to do at this time of year.

Stay safe and stay well.


A time for reflection

Despite the darkness of these Covid-19 days, with the quiet, the isolation, the uncertainty and the fears that I have along with all of you, they have given me a chance to reflect on my ten years with the congregation, as my family and I prepare to leave Belsize Square Synagogue by the end of June this year.

I am most grateful for the many friends we have made during these years, bonds that will come with us when we leave for the next part of our journey. I have tried to make this synagogue a centre of pride for the whole of our community, a place that is noted for its learning, Jewish commitment, idealism, warmth and vision. In trying to remember the things of which I am most proud, I have assembled the following:

  • Moving the congregation past its noted split on the issue of women’s participation in ritual and liturgical matters was a monumental development that was settled peacefully, despite the many warnings that it would lead to an irreparable breach in the community. That did not happen. In fact, it has accomplished the opposite — it has led to an increased enthusiasm, participation level and ideological consistency that had long eluded the congregation.
  • Since I arrived, our adult education offerings have not been matched by any other congregation. Our sessions on Sunday mornings have covered a vast array of subjects from Talmud to the History of Ancient Israel and seen the visits of many distinguished speakers along the way.
  • We continued our annual class with our neighbours at St Peter’s, led by Reverend Paul Nicholson, and over the past few years we added the participation of Imam Mehmed Stubbla. These opportunities for interfaith learning and dialogue are critically important for darkei shalom, the making of peace and better relations within our community. In the earlier years we enjoyed Lunch ’n’ Learn and have seen a steady growth of our annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a true highlight of the year.
  • Belsize Square Synagogue now has one of the largest conversion programmes in the London area, if not the largest. Our Jews by Choice have become integral parts of our congregation, three have made Aliyah and the others who had to leave the area for personal reasons have continued to be in touch with me as they all have continued their commitment to Jewish life. This outreach is critically important for the continued growth of the congregation. It has been a privilege to practice the mitzvah of keruv, of bringing newcomers to the Jewish people with warmth and with full hearts.
  • I am very proud of all our B’nei Mitzvah through these ten years. I have tried to make sure that each and every one had a positive experience, highlighted by their growth in Torah and their embracing and understanding of what it means to be a Jew in the future. Each young man and woman has been given personal attention, with the knowledge they have a home in the Jewish world, a sense of family and pride.
  • Liturgical changes: I am pleased that we formalised our annual reading of the Torah to ensure that the entire Torah was to be read over the course of a three-year period with no gaps at all. I have also tried to ensure that leyning is always done directly from the Sefer Torah itself, without the aid of a Chumash. Our services are filled with beautiful music on a weekly basis because of the wonderful guidance of our Cantor, Musical Director and choir, and I have tried to make sure that our services run smoothly, at a good pace, and always filled with learning and perhaps some inspiration as well.

In the next Our Congregation, I will touch upon some other areas – leadership, Cheder, Life Cycle, social action and others – that I believe need more attention: projects still unfinished.

I have purposely not mentioned any names because once you begin that process someone is inevitably left out, but I will compile all my appreciations before leaving. There are just two people I want to thank now, who rarely get the attention that they deserve: Gordon Larkin and Paul Rowland, our caretaker and assistant caretaker. These two gentlemen have been gifts to me and to the entire congregation since I arrived. They serve us way beyond the call of duty and I am grateful for all the assistance they have given to me personally, while also meeting many demands from the entire congregation. Thank you, Gordon, thank you, Paul!

I hope these two months are times of healing and health, for looking forward to better days and for enjoying the blessings of our Shabbats, families and friends.

B’shalom, Rabbi Stuart Altshuler