October 31, 2014 admin


This week we begin a season of celebrations and reflections to mark our fortieth birthday as a community.
First of all, we should thank God with a grateful spirit who has kept us alive, preserved us and brought us to the present time.
Secondly, we should be mindful of those who founded our congregation and nurtured it through the difficult years when we went from church to church and hall to hall without our own home, and to all those who in the decades since have willingly accepted responsibilities, with all the pressures, irritations – and appreciation – this entails, so that we have reached the breadth and level of energy, activity, togetherness and diversity we are blessed with today. 
Thirdly, we should remember that we are not only a congregation of the present, but also of the past and the future. There are many no longer alive in body today whose spirits live in our hearts and values, and in the very core and ethic of our community. They continue to speak to us through how they prayed, in what they cared for, and in those they loved, whom we cherish and appreciate in our midst week by week. It is unwise to single out names, but among those who have been chairs of the synagogue or their partners, I think of Ruth Schneider and Paul Shrank, whose tenth Yahrzeit falls this very Shabbat. The Ruth Schneider  Memorial Trust has helped enable hundreds of young people to go to Noam camps and programmes. The Paul Shrank Scholarship, recently established by Selma, provides for a young person to study for a year at the Conservative Yeshivah in Jerusalem, before devoting him or her self to leadership and teaching in the movement. Thus the spirit and values of those who once stood at the heart of our community is transmitted to the future and will enrich the lives of those many children whose buggies every Shabbat line the path to the synagogue in such a delightful way and to whom we collectively carry a deep responsibility for their Jewish future.
Forty represents at once completion and beginning. It is completion, because after forty years of wandering in the desert the Children of Israel finally reach the Promised Land. But, as is always the case, when dreams and visions encounter realities, different, and often harder, challenges emerge: what does being a people, or in our case simply a community, actually mean? How do we agree on what truly matters and act on it? How do we disagree, in the true Jewish manner of debate for the sake of Heaven, and act on what we learn?
Every end, every anniversary is also a fresh beginning. I am always moved by how on Simchat Torah, within three minutes of concluding the final sentence in Deuteronomy we start again with Bereshit, ‘In the beginning’. The journey is never over and our deepest questions remain at the core of our quest, as if we were permitted to be young all over again and see the world as a child sees it, or as God sees it, and know that it is at once both ‘good’, and infinitely challenging. It feels like no accident that this week’s portion is Lech Lecha, when Abram and Sara’s travels, and with them the long journey of the Jewish family, commence. Our exploration begins all over again. ‘Go’ say the mystics, extrapolating on God’s first instruction to Abram, ‘to the land where you find yourself’, your truth, your values and your soul.
It is in relation to this search that I experience most of all my indebtedness to Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, may the memory of his righteousness be for a blessing. He brought to that quest incomparable learning coupled with an unbending commitment to truth. He always sought, with vast erudition and unshakeable faith in God, to enable Torah to grapple honestly with reality in all its complexity, understanding that it was this encounter which motivated the Jewish quest and its outcomes which created a traditional, faithful and dynamic Judaism.
I pray that in the coming years God will open and purify our hearts, help us expand our knowledge of Judaism, deepen our practice of and commitment to it, give us the vision, courage and devotion to live faithfully according to our values in every sphere of our lives, enable us to work together with communities of all other faiths and peoples, and protect and bless us, all Israel and all the world with peace.

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