Monthly Archives: September 2021

Being ‘At-One’ with Our Divine Soul: Yom Kippur 5782

Yom Kippur is the Jewish annual day of I’m Sorry.

The great medieval philosopher and codifier, Maimonides, informs that during Temple times the scapegoat of Yom Kippur had the power to affect forgiveness for the entire Israelite nation. The people had to make only the smallest amount of effort.

Because the day itself marked Moses’ descent from atop Mt Sinai with the 2nd set of tablets (proving that sometimes there are second chances in life), it was enshrined as a day of atonement for all generations (a day of being ‘at-one’ with God, ‘at-one’ with our fellow human beings and ‘at-one’ with ourselves)!

But, in the absence of our Temple ritual, today we have only prayers, our reflections and our heartfelt, soul’s desire to be close to God – which can move the Almighty on Yom Kippur from the seat of judgement to the realm of mercy.

In a recent Torah portion (Deut 30:11-14) we read that to experience God’s presence doesn’t require heroically climbing to the Heavens to bring back the key, nor does it necessitate crossing the oceans to discover a solution, but rather God’s presence is close to each of us, ‘in our hearts and on our lips’.

In other words, if we would only listen to the Divinity within us, we could intuitively understand our life’s work; what the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks referred to as, ‘where what we want to do meets what needs to be done.’

Listening to our internal soul takes effort.

Yom Kippur with its abstinence from food and drink and the repetitive chanting of the 13 Attributes of God, is intended to open for us the ‘gates’ of our inner being. Since we are all unique, we will each hear something different. If done properly, the inspiration we receive will move us in the direction of greater purity of purpose and character.

But this Yom Kippur I am conflicted – like Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities – I sense a gap is greatly widening between old and new, between institutional and disenfranchised, between conventional and unconventional. In some parts of our community, an unwillingness to dialogue is growing, and the portion of young members finding ways to express their sense of purpose other than in synagogue is already sorely noted by most communal rabbis.

That’s why this year the theme of compassionate reconnecting is so vital. Beyond tolerance, we need to listen to each other better. The pandemic pushed us apart for reasons of self-preservation. But most of us quickly realised, that unselfishness is the only viable response.

So, on this Yom Kippur, if you’re going to synagogue or just sitting quietly in your home, spend a few moments counting the blessings of the past year. And then let’s ask ourselves, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life in the weeks and months ahead?’ You might be surprised by what you ‘hear’ and how emancipating the experience can be.

May we all be blessed with a new year of good health … and with the courage to take one step further in our life’s spiritual journey!

Interfaith Summer Camp Breaks Down Barriers (15-20 Aug 2021)

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.