Interfaith Summer Camp Breaks Down Barriers

A trailblazing interfaith summer camp that brings together children from different faiths to promote social cohesion returned this year after being recognised for its work.

Camp Unity, a five-day camp for primary school pupils, took place for children across the Borehamwood and Elstree area from 15 to 20 August after being recognised with a High Sheriff Award and a Hertsmere Borough Council award.

Children of 15 nationalities and a variety of religions attended – and were visited by the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire who brought along patrol cars in which children could take photos.

Camp Unity co-organiser, Rabbi Jeff Berger of Wembley Sephardi Synagogue, said the event had broken down barriers between children of different backgrounds and led to greater cooperation between faith leaders.

“Beforehand, these children would probably walk past each other on the street, and not have much engagement with each other, because they would be cloistered in their bubbles, so it was about building some social cohesion in our town,” he said.

“It helps them make friends from different backgrounds. It’s made us [faith leaders] aware of where we’re strong and where we’re lacking, and now we’re on really good terms.”

Alongside the police visit, camp-goers were taken to a ‘Splash’ session at the Venue Leisure Centre, to work on an allotment at Stapleton Road, and to the working farm and attractions at Aldenham Country Park.

New Year – New Opportunities: Rosh Hashanah 5782

Rosh Hashanah this year occurs in the same week children go back to school. Like all new beginnings, we’re filled with a bit of excitement and a tinge of trepidation. So, what does the Torah say about the start of another Jewish new year as we approach 5782?

It is unclear how many congregants will attend the High Holy Days. Many synagogues are opting for shorter services and a continuation of safety measures against Covid-19. Most communal leaders are taking a cautious yet encouraging approach.

In the three-day period leading to the Revelation at Sinai, God said: “If you listen to My voice and observe My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from among all the nations.” (Ex. 19:5). 

Mehilta explains that “all new beginnings are difficult but keeping one mitzvah enables us to keep further mitzvot”. 

The same can be said about recovery from a pandemic. We’re confronted at the start of our new year by a plethora of challenges – climate change, increasing inequities and an as-yet-unrealised mental health crisis. 

All that is before addressing the growing refugee issue, including the most recent victims of the Afghan civil war.

My late mother’s advice to me, when I was a child overwhelmed by the world’s seemingly immense problems, was to start by taking a few deep breaths and focusing only on things within my control (if only she’d realised that she was at the forefront of a trend today called mindfulness).

There are certainly things to be afraid of. But there is far more to celebrate. Many of us are vaccinated. We’ve resumed holding weddings and bar/batmitzvahs. And we are attending communal events, such as the Maccabi GB Fun Run and the new Interfaith Fun Run. 

The most important lesson I take into 5782 is that self-preservation requires unselfishness. There are countless good causes to support. Choose one – and let it bring you into a better future. Collectively we can have a significant impact. 

Tizku LeShanim Rabot – May you have many good years ahead.

Parshat VaEthanan – Leadership Lessons in Hindsight (23 Jul 21)

Is the Book of Devarim just an early example of a great leader in the twilight of his career writing a professional memoir?

Instead of giving courage to the Hebrew nation poised to enter the Land of Canaan, Vaetchanan is filled with frustrations: Moshe pleading with God to accompany them and repeatedly warning the Israelites not to stray into idol worship.

His reflections occasionally differ widely from the stories told in Shemot or Bamidbar. A careful reader of Devarim will spot these and cry out for explanations.

One example is Moshe’s statement that he was denied entry to Canaan – not because he ‘struck the rock’ but because of his leadership failure during the Sin of the Spies. Another is changing the fourth of the Ten Commandments – from Remember (Zakhor) to Guard (Shamor).

But the fifth book of Torah is far more than a memoir. It presents a spiritual challenge to the generation that would inherit the land of Canaan. And to us, 3,300 years later, it offers insight into the relationship between God, Moshe and the Jewish people.

Moshe repeatedly referred to God’s promises made to our forefathers. He explained (in a passage read at Pesah Seder), that ‘fulfilling God’s Mitzvot will be considered righteousness’ (Deut 6:25).

This links back to God taking Abraham to look at the stars and promising ‘so too will be the abundance of your offspring’ (Gen 15:6) where Abraham’s belief in God’s promise was also considered ‘righteousness’. The Hebrew word for righteousness is Tsedakah – it implies doing something generously and without hope for ulterior gain.

Our relationship with the Almighty is mirrored in our actions. The Shema commands that we love God with ‘all our heart, all our soul and all our might’. When we put God in the forefront of our minds, it creates relationship and connection. Doing so engender God’s love for us – an invaluable lesson from Moshe’s 40 years of leadership experience.

Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at


Tazria-Metsorah – More than Skin Deep (Apr 21)

According to NHS England, 95% of people aged 11 to 30 will experience acne caused by hormonal imbalances. Knowing the medical reason, however, doesn’t prevent the occurrence nor does it remove any feelings of self-consciousness.

By contrast, Tazria-Metsorah goes to great length to define the outbreak and purification process for those affected by Tsara’at. While these were non-contagious skin lesions on persons of any age, a Metsorah was deemed among the highest level of ritual impurity.

Treatment of a Metsorah was a spiritual matter brought to the Kohen. After a lesion was declared Tsara’at, the affected person tore their clothing (a ritual of mourning) and warned others to keep away. They left the camp to dwell alone for periods of seven-days, until the ailment was reassessed. (Interestingly, if a Kohen contracted Tsara’at, they too had to be examined by a fellow Kohen.)

After the Tsara’at cleared, the purification process involved two birds; one was slaughtered, and its blood was mixed in water. Before being set free, the second living bird, along with a piece of cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, was dipped in the crimson-coloured water and sprinkled on the Metsorah. Later, a separate blood ritual was performed on the right earlobe, thumb and big toe of the person.

The laws of Metsorah are Hukim, whose reasons we cannot fathom. But in them we see references to Parah Adumah (the red heifer burned with cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, whose ashes purified corpse tumah), and the Kohens’ Inauguration (a symbolic rebirth – affected by placing blood on their right earlobe, thumb and big toe).

Metaphorically, the Metsorah birds were linked to the 10th plague, when the Egyptian first born were killed while the Israelites, who used hyssop to paint their doorposts with blood, were freed. The connection is made because both are referred to as ‘Negah’ (plague).

We learned this past year that being forced to self-isolate involves significant vulnerability. Hopefully, it has made us more sensitive and attuned to looking after our friends, family and neighbours.

As humans we try to explain things, to give ourselves an illusion of control. One lesson from Metzorah is that often, what matters most is more than skin-deep … and sometimes it is well-beyond our comprehension.

Shabbat Shalom,


[For Wembley Sephardi Synagogue – 16 April 2021] (Also published in ALT-C Vol 348

Ki Tisa – Intimacy with the Divine

Ki Tisa is known for the disastrous incident of the Golden Calf, but less known for the second most important encounter in Jewish history. If the first was the Ten Commandments, the second was Moshe’s request to see God’s Divine Glory.

I shall make all my goodness pass in front of you and reveal the name of God before you. I shall show favour to whom I favour and mercy to whom I show mercy.’ (Ex 33:18-19) This is perhaps one of the more overlooked, perplexing sections in the Torah. Moshe already spoke with the Almighty face-to-face (33:11), what more was he asking of God?

Shemot Rabbah suggests he was seeking to understand the spiritual workings of the Heavens and the Earth. Maimonides (1138-1204) writes that he wanted to learn how the Almighty governed the Israelites. Rashbam (1085-1158) proposes that Moshe pleaded for God to continue caring for the people directly, not through an angel. Practical concerns one expects from a leader under immense pressure.

In response, Moshe who was favoured by God, was taught how to pray during times of trouble. Concealed in the cleft of a rock, he called out in God’s name and was shown the 13 Attributes of Mercy (34:6-7) which we still recite daily. And the Israelites were promised a new covenant (34:10).

While the Ten Commandments instituted Divine justice in the world, these verses promise then and future generations Divine forgiveness. Together, both are essential for us to exist in a relationship with the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe.

The Israelites, on the verge of destruction, were rescued by Moshe’s unfaltering dedication and intervention. His intimacy with the Divine averted a near irreconcilable spiritual crisis. Instead, he sought and received further assurances of God’s clemency and set into place a model for all times.

Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at


Mitzvah Day Celebrated in Borehamwood & Bushey – 15 Nov 2020


Mitzvah Day volunteers at a food hub created by charity Gratitude. Credit: Valeria Fazekas

Faith leaders, schoolchildren, parents, a charity, a Jewish youth group and supportive members of the public came together in a display of unity at the weekend.

Mitzvah Day, a Jewish-led day of social action, was marked differently this year because of the pandemic.

But volunteers and guests were still able to carry out charitable and community-led activities on Sunday across Borehamwood and Bushey, with the theme of ‘Food Brings us Together’ and ‘Celebrating Diversity’.

As part of the day, a video was streamed live in which messages of peace and friendship were shared by faith leaders from Hertsmere’s Christian, Jewish, Hari Krishna and Muslim communities, together with the coordinators of Gratitude – a charity which supplies food and other goods to people in need.

The video also featured drawings from schoolchildren, at Yavneh Primary School and Yavneh College in Borehamwood, as well as welcoming the Muslim community to their new mosque in Maxwell Road, Borehamwood.

Over at Hartspring Lane Community Centre in Bushey, regular volunteers were joined by those from Jewish youth group FZY and Muslim community leaders to participate in a lively food distribution session, performing Mitzvot and good deeds for the wider community.

As part of the week’s activities, Gratitude also ran a kosher food bank at Yavneh College.

Organisers had planned for volunteers to help redecorate the new mosque premises, plant flowers in its garden and conduct a litter pick at neighbouring Maxwell Park to help the environment – but the lockdown regulations meant this was no longer possible.

Mitzvah Day project coordinator, Dr Dan Ozarow, said: “I would like to thank all of the children, organisations, faith leaders and volunteers who contributed to making this truly beautiful project such a success, especially at such short notice and under difficult conditions with lockdown and the pandemic.”

Rabbi Jeff Berger said: “As interfaith advisor for Mitzvah Day, I applaud the Borehamwood & Bushey project. Though we were restricted by lockdown from doing the outdoor planting and DIY originally intended, this community-building spirit gave us all a sense of inspiration and pride.”

The Imam of the Borehamwood Islamic Society said: “We are honoured here today to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity and we are humbled at being welcomed finally as part of the Borehamwood community.

“It is only through consideration, compassion and cohesion may a community truly flourish and which makes a nation stand apart.

“To work alongside our wider community with our multi-faith and non-faith leaders to make Borehamwood a better place for people from all walks of life.”

Alliance for Full Employment – 18 October 2020

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for full cross-party support for Alliance For Full Employment as multi-faith leaders pledge their support


The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Archbishops of Edinburgh and Arundel & Brighton and the Head of the Methodist Church in Britain have joined senior Rabbis and leading Muslim scholars to pledge support for the the Alliance For Full Employment.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a special appeal for broad cross-party support for the Alliance describing it’s ambition of full employment “as a social and political virtue.”

The Alliance was formed last month by the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Metro Mayors of Newcastle Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool  and London City Regions, the Mayor of Bristol and the First Minister of Wales around a set of proposals which if adopted by the government could stop the Covid crisis from becoming a major social and economic catastrophe.

In a joint statement published today (Sunday) representatives of Britain’s many faith groups write,  ”As faith leaders we welcome the creation of the UK-wide Alliance for Full Employment to focus on alleviating the risks of unemployment, on helping young people into work and training and on the need for proper protection for families facing the loss of jobs and a cut in incomes.”

And in a public letter to Mr Brown published today on the Alliance’s website ( Archbishop Welby makes a moving spiritual rallying call of support for the Alliance.

“The idea of work and employment as essential to human dignity is a deeply Christian concern and is rooted in the Bible from Genesis onwards,” writes Archbishop Welby.

“ Responding to the necessity of reflecting this scriptural and theological priority Archbishop William Temple, when Archbishop of York in the 1930s, worked tirelessly to promote full employment as a social and political virtue. It was also part of his thinking when working with Beveridge and Tawney when Temple was Archbishop of Canterbury.

“In the post war years it was never a party-political issue and should not be so now. It is a fundamental matter of respect and love for our neighbour that in our nation the economy is meant, among other things, to serve the cause of fulfilling work for all.

“I call on all those of good will across the political spectrum as well as employers and businesses and a wide range of employee groups to support and encourage what you are proposing. I hope it can rapidly gain cross-party support.

“My hope and prayer is that these different initiatives may lead to a clear policy aim for governments of any party and to a willingness across society to make creating and sustaining full employment a matter of conscience.”

Welcoming the support of faith leaders for full employment as a matter of conscience and social good, Mr Brown said,  “Many leaders, of different faiths and denominations, agree the pressures of the Covid-19 crisis now being faced by families and communities across our nations and regions is of moral as well as economic and social concern.

“We all agree about the damage done to an individual’s self-worth, to  family life and to the social fabric of communities when mass unemployment hits.

“I have looked back on the Faith in the City Initiative of the 1980s and many other faith interventions calling for action when unemployment was at its post war highest.  And we all want to come together to sound a warning that something has to be done

“I know faith groups are making representations on the damage done by high levels of  homelessness and debt and the threat of rising child poverty.  But it is important too to show how high levels of employment and decent wages  can help reduce poverty and our Alliance is seeking to do this.“

AFFE’s growing support also comes from trades unions, business leaders,  cross-party MPs, MSPs, Welsh Ams and Northern Irish MLPS, more than 70 across England Scotland and Wales, council leaders and 2,000 councillors from the isles, regions and nations of Britain.

ends –

Note to desk 

Signatories (made in personal capacity) to the inter-faith leaders statement of support for the Alliance for Full Employment are:

Reverend Sonia Barron, Diocesan Director of Ordinand & Vocations, Church of England

Rabbi Jeff Berger, Ramban Sephardi Synagogue, Hertfordshire

RC Bishop Richard Moth, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton,

Reverend David Butterworth MA Minister, Methodist Church in Britain,

Sheikh Imtiyaz Damiel, CEO Abu Hamifah Foundation

Mustafa Field, Director Faith Forum For London

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Imam Murshad Habib

Rabiha Hannan, New Horizons in British Islam

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Alia Khan, Islamic Fashion and Design Council

Shahda Khan, Community Activist

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, Finchley United Synagogue

Bhaen Pathak, Director Yog Foundation

Dr Lindsay Simmonds, London School of Jewish Studies

Reverend Dr Tom Wilson, St Phillip’s Centre, Leicester

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, New North London Synagogue

Dr Tamra Wright, Curriculum Development Advisor, Faith in Leadership

Archbishop Leo Cushly, Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews.

Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The full text of Archbishop Welby’s letter to Mr Brown can be found at


Shemini Atseret – In Search of Joy & Gratitude

Sedra of the Week: Shemini Atzeret

Rabbi Jeff Berger looks ahead to this week’s portion of the Torah

Tefillat Geshem: The Prayer for Rain | My Jewish Learning

Shemini Atzeret has a dual identity. It falls on the eighth day, immediately after Succot. It is a festival in its own right, but without rituals. Yet, like Succot, our prayers refer to it as ‘the time of our happiness’ (zeman simhateinu).

One tradition identified in the Talmud is to recite the Prayer for Rain (Tefillat Geshem) in the Shemini Atzeret Musaf service. 

From ancient times, water was perceived as a precious resource for all living beings, even if in Britain we take it for granted. By contrast, from 2014 to 2019, Israel experienced a drought exceeding anything in its past 100 years. 

In a Mediterranean climate with a few months of rain at best, Tefillat HaGeshem was a way to beseech God to provide precipitation during the winter months. When rains were delayed, leaders instituted a series of public fasts.

Andalusian poet Salomon Ibn Gabirol beautifully articulated our dependence on rain in his poem Shifat Revivim with the refrain. “Open now Your treasure, give life to all into whom You’ve breathed a soul, by causing the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”

Atzeret means ‘gathering’. We also refer to Shavuot as Hag HaAtzeret. The Babylonian Talmud informs us that just as Shavuot comes 50 days after Pesach, Shemini Atzeret was intended to come 50 days after Sukkot, but God had compassion on Jewish farmers, not requiring of them another pilgrimage during the rainy season.

Shemini Atzeret thus inspires joy and gratitude. We seldom appreciate what we have until it’s absent or lost. The past months have shown how blessed we are. 

As winter approaches, practising gratitude allows us to see things as they exist, not as we might wish them to be. Rather than lamenting what we’ve lost, Shemini Atzeret dually teaches us to find joy in what we have and to be thankful.

  •  Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at rabbijefflondon


Wearing Masks

Torah For Today! Wearing Masks

Rabbi Jeff Berger takes a topical issue and looks at Jewish texts for a response

Mask (Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash)

Two words in Hebrew describe a mask – masveh and masakh. We find masveh in the Torah following the sin of the Golden Calf. 

Moses’s second 40-day experience atop Sinai, which effected forgiveness for the Israelites, brought the replacement set of tablets. 

To assuage their fears, he temporarily veiled his face. Thereafter, in the presence of the divine, and again when conveying God’s teaching to the nation, his face was allowed to shine. 

But in between those encounters, he masked himself. (Misinterpreting this verse, Michelangelo created the statue of Moses with horns.)

The word masakh appears in the description of the curtain that shielded the entrance to the desert Tabernacle. It served as a decorative tapestry and obstructed a direct public view of the divine service.

In each case, these coverings protected others, preventing them from being overwhelmed by God’s glory.  The Israelites were unable to withstand the unfiltered intensity of the divine presence.

In the context of Covid-19 and our government’s requirement to wear masks in public where social distancing rules can’t be maintained, mask-wearing fulfils an altruistic function. 

Dr Ellie Cannon, who attended the recent Mitzvah Day ‘Mask-making with Hugh Dennis’ online event that I helped to organise, said: ‘There is nothing greater we could do as an act of kindness, or a mitzvah, than wear a mask. My mask protects you and yours protects me.”

As we return to synagogue and Jewish ceremonial life, we will be shielded like Moses. 

Our hope is that one day soon, it will be safe to leave off our masks and again experience among ourselves and with others, without fear, the unfiltered intensity of God’s glory.

  •  Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at