Shalom, Belsize Square Synagogue,
What do you say when it is your last time to address the congregation you have served for the past ten years? Sadly, this is our last communication in Our Congregation and time for me to let go and move on.
Looking back over a decade of the privilege you have bestowed upon me as your spiritual leader, your rabbi and teacher, I can only thank the Almighty for the vast experiences and triumphs we have shared together. There are so many things to remember. I have given over 1300 sermons, led over 1500 services, channelled through the education, Bet Din and mikveh for over 60 Jews by Choice, four of whom became Israeli citizens and made Aliyah. We have had hundreds of classes and some incredible trips abroad to Jewish sites in Berlin, Israel, Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
Our congregation has grown in size and stature since I started here in January 2011. Belsize Square Synagogue is a recognised voice and presence for Israel Bonds, the Zionist Federation, Faith Matters of Camden, the Israel Diaspora Trust, the Masorti movement and more.
We have heard the voices of Natan Sharansky and Maxim Vengerov here, two of the Jewish world’s most famous and talented persons. Who will forget the concert that my friend Maxim gave a few years back, and then played his violin at the Israel Embassy residence for Ambassador Mark Regev. We have welcomed Douglas Murray, Professor John Barton, Dr Alan Mendoza (Henry Jackson Society), Rabbi Dr Ismar Schorsch (former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary), Dr Jack Wertheimer (former provost and professor of Jewish history at JTS), and many more leaders in the wider Jewish world. And what an honour it has been to have among our very own members Professors Tessa Rajak and Antony Polonsky, two of the Jewish academic world’s most outstanding scholars.
We have had over 200 B’nei Mitzvah, countless weddings, too many sad times together at shiva minyanim, but celebrations at the synagogue for sacred life cycle moments.
Most importantly, it is the strength and will of all of you—as much as I have tried my best to give you my heart and soul, completely and totally, each day, each year, it is your friendship, support and encouragement that made that task one of total joy and fulﬁlment.
I am not going to even try to mention all the people here who have so enriched my rabbinical life at Belsize Square, so I will just mention those who have worked with me in a professional capacity: Gordon Larkin and Paul Rowland whom I thanked in my January letter. Jennifer and Varsha in the ofﬁce – thank you for all your help through the years, Jagdish from the years past. Ben Wolf – our incredibly talented music director. Cherish him and keep him here for years to come. We will continue to collaborate on future music projects, no doubt. The choir—I am going to miss them so—they are all gifted and have brought the voices of angels into our midst each week.
Adam Rynhold: my able assistant, my partner in making sure that the Torah scrolls were set, keeping me straight with our honours, with services, with communication, with all problems and situations that needed attention. His father, Isidore, z”l, welcomed me from day one and I will never forget his kindness and his wisdom May he always be remembered. So, thanks Adam.
Lee Taylor (and Henny Levin from my early years), thank you for our work together. Lee is not only a talented and devoted administrative director, he is a dear friend of mine and I will miss working with him—we have been in communication virtually each day since he has been with Belsize Square and every moment, every challenge has been a partnership.
Cantor Paul Heller: I knew Paul years before he joined us here at Belsize Square Synagogue. We have always meshed well together and he has brought his incredible voice and talent to us each and every week. It is not always easy to ﬁnd rabbis and cantors who get along as well as we have over the last decade and more. He will always be my friend and in touch regularly. I feel that Cantor Heller’s arrival at our synagogue was one of the milestones of my tenure.
And much thanks to everyone who been a support along the way: Rabbi Emeritus Rodney Mariner; Mike Cayton, the brilliant musician/organist who is a gem to us all; Eve Hersov and Dorothy White for their devotion to our congregants; Cantor Norman Cohen-Falah, who was a superb partner my during ﬁrst years here; Jeanie Horowitz for the tireless devotion and support over all the years she gave to our children and their Jewish education; and Caroline Loison who has been a light of enthusiasm since she began her tenure as our Education Director. I will always remember the smiles on the faces of our youth whenever they shared their learning with them. To your continued success. Finally, Jelena and Misha for being the kindest people a rabbi could know.
To all our lay leaders, too many to mention by name, thank you for everything you have done for me and my family, in service to the entire community of Belsize Square.
Rabbi Gabriel Botnick – you have the same privilege that was given to me ten years ago. You will see that you have been blessed with a wonderful and unique community. Hazak v’Amatz – as Moses gave that charge to Joshua before he left our people, the same to you: be strong, be resolute in your love of the Jewish people, of Israel, and of our Judaism. God, Torah, Israel – that triad has served us well throughout our history, may it continue to guide you and the congregation for years to come. As Rabbi Tarfon said almost 2000 years ago – it is not our obligation to complete the work, but to plant the seeds for the future. May you and the entire congregation continue to plant those seeds of growth, of Yiddishkeit and devotion to God that will ensure our survival and strength for many years to come.
Please stay in touch, everyone, as I leave for my new home in Sarasota, Florida. There’s still much work and writing for me to do and I will be sharing all that with you in the years ahead. If anyone is interested in joining the ﬁrst trip I have planned for next July 2022 to Budapest, Vienna and Prague, please let me know.
L’hatzlaha to Belsize Square Synagogue – blessing, shalom and success.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler