Sadly, we are moving towards the end of my tenure at Belsize Square Synagogue, but my hope is that new opportunities and discoveries will open for both the congregation and for my own rabbinic journey that begins abroad on 1 July.
In the last Our Congregation I began to review my thoughts on some of the achievements and, at the same time, challenges that there have been and
those that lay ahead for the congregation.
A few more areas for us to consider:
1. Israel: You all know that Israel is a passion of mine. I am proud that many people in the congregation have told me that they have learned so much about the State of Israel, its history and reason for being, from our classes, sermons and time together.
Israel will continue to be a major source of debate in the community, but I do hope that we will all realise, regardless of our political leanings, that there is a general assault against our Jewish state that is not going away. In fact, it may get more heated as tensions brew with Iran and there may be less support from the new administration in the United States.
We have to be smart, informed, vigilant and ready for the arguments and the political posturing that may attempt to undermine Israel’s very existence. My hope is that you will all remain part of the front line against these abuses and canards as Israel will need every single voice of support, given the powerful vitriol against her. I am thankful for those who have cared for Israel during these past years and grateful for our trip there some five years ago and our meetings with Natan Sharansky, Ambassador Michael Oren, Rabbi David Rosen and other dignitaries. I am grateful for all of you who have made our Yom Ha’atzmaut dinners so successful, raising precious funds for our worthwhile Israel charities. But I am also grateful for the dissenting voices who have disagreed with me: the way we grow as a community is to invite healthy debate. Continue the good work. As the Psalmist says, If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…
2. Leadership: I am thankful that there have been so many wonderful leaders, committee chairs, members of the Board and Honorary Officers with whom I have enjoyed working over the past ten years. These are people who give their time and energy on a daily basis, just because of their love of the congregation. I would encourage you all to get more involved, to sign up for committees and get your voices heard. A vibrant congregation needs a constant stream of involved members.
3. Cheder and youth: I am grateful for having worked with the heads of Cheder, Jeanie Horowitz and now Caroline Loison. They have both brought their passion for teaching our youth and their love of Jewish life to the Cheder. Parents, stay involved, let your children know you support the efforts at making sure they have a good Jewish education and experience. It will happen with your involvement and assistance to Caroline and the teaching staff. Of course, as a rabbi, I hope that we will continue to “raise the bar”, extend our goals for Jewish education and think of ways we can keep our postBar/Bat Mitzvah young adults on a Jewish learning path. It is vitally important to have the youth more involved in a wider community youth movement, as it is virtually impossible to sustain vibrant youth groups as single entities. I hope that the synagogue will be able to find a way of making this happen.
4. Life cycle: I would have loved to have seen more weddings at the synagogue – the ones we have had have been so precious and beautiful. At the end of life, we have had amazing representation in the running of Edgwarebury Cemetery. Our funerals, our shiva minyanim and our marvellous Bereavement Support Group spearheaded by the brilliant Eve Hersov, have been shining lights of my time here at the synagogue. Keep up your wonderful work.
5. Social action: This is one area that needs a great deal of commitment and attention and I am pleased that the Tikkun Olam Committee has been set up, led by Deborah Cohen. We could be doing much more to reach out to other faith communities, to support our already existing programmes with St Peter’s and the local mosque and to make the sort of Mitzvah Day activities in which we have excelled a more regular part of our community agenda. As Rabbi Tarfon taught us: The work is much, we will never fulfil everything but we should try to leave a beginning for future generations.
By now you will have heard that I shall be starting my new position in Sarasota, Florida in July, so the next piece I write for Our Congregation will sadly be my last.
I wish you all a chag Pesach kasher v’sameach,
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler