This newsletter comes in the period approaching Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, as the nights draw in and we move towards winter. The Chanukah stories – both the secular story of the military success, and the spiritual story of the miracle of the jar of oil lasting eight days – are designed to uplift us, even if the historical basis for the facts is not so clear.
In today’s world, it is story that influences what we do, just as much as facts, which themselves can become distorted in the post-truth world. We need to be aware of both facts and the different narratives in relation to Israel and Palestine as we have just marked the centenary of the Balfour declaration, which marked the beginning of the formal journey to creating a Jewish state in Israel.
There have been some very moving and powerful pieces written and spoken on this, each giving slightly different perspective on the situation. Some examples are included in this newsletter. We wish everyone in the community a Happy Chanukah.
In this edition:
Obituary – Anthony Leslie
Update on Upsherin ceremony
Lech Lecha and Balfour Declaration Danny Rich statement on Balfour declaration
Visit to Prague
Film Review – In Between
We had a very enjoyable Simchat Torah service at Bridges in Monmouth. Many thanks to the Monmouth Klezmer Band (Maya Brown and Joe and Mary Walton) for providing the musical accompaniment. Serious competition for the “London Klezmer Quartet” who had played the night before in Monmouth. A particular feature of the Kiddush was the wonderful and enormous challah specially baked for us by local baker, Dilly Boase. Many thanks also to Julian and Cherry for leading the service at Colwall on Saturday November.
Mary and I recently spent a very enjoyable week in Avignon. Our tiny apartment was part of a medieval cloister and almost immediately opposite the synagogue. My curiosity aroused, I found out a little more about the history of the Jewish community there. Avignon was the home of the papacy for several decades in the 14th century, after Pope Clement V moved his court there to avoid the chaos in Rome. The legacy of that papal schism can be seen in the vast and magnificent Palais des Papes in the centre of the city. Jews expelled from south-eastern French provinces in the 14th century found refuge here. They settled in Avignon and three nearby cities (L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Carpentras and Cavaillon) in pre- Venetian ghettos that the popes staffed with Christian gatekeepers – paid for by the Jews. Jews called these communities arba kehillot, in reference to Israel’s four holy cities. The popes viewed the Jews as despised, homeless wanderers who had not recognised Jesus as the messiah but had to be preserved. They could survive but not thrive, relegated to moneylending, second-hand textiles and furnishings.
The present community is relatively flourishing with an influx of North African Jews. The synagogue, in the heart of the old ghetto, was rebuilt after a fire in 1845. The Christian architect designed a synagogue more like a Greek temple than a Jewish one. It is (possibly uniquely) completely circular in design. I attended the Friday night service there with about 20-30 congregants. It was an interesting experience trying to follow the Sephardi service but I was struck by how much “audience participation” there was, davening being picked up and led by different people around the room, children (sons of the rabbi?) reading the Shema and leading the singing at one point, and a question and answer session as part of the sermon. I can certainly recommend a tour of exploration to Avignon and its environs, made easier now by direct Eurostar trains.
Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue.
On a more local note, we spent last weekend in Hove where my son, Daniel and his family are now living. Hove is like Golders Green on Sea with three shuls, kosher food in the supermarkets, matzah meal options in the fish and chip shops and the JC freely available. I chose to go to the Reform Shul where I was made to feel very welcome. It’s a large shul which can easily accommodate its 400+ membership although there were only about 40 people there for the Shabbat service. As such, there is a large divide between the bimah and the congregation and I missed the cosy informality of our services. They have a very engaging Italian rabbi (Dr Andrea Zanardo) although I found his sermon hard to hear, probably because of the acoustics. The service was enhanced by the wonderful singing of a small choir. Next time I will try the Liberals.
I am like a train spotter ticking off the shuls everywhere I visit. But I am not the only one engaged in this activity. See the JC’s secret “shul shlapper” (can’t find it on the JC website but it’s there somewhere). I would certainly endorse her (it is definitely a she) views from my experience on Rabbi Alexandra’s Wright’s wonderful sermons at LJS, and the five star welcome and Kiddush at Wimbledon Reform.
High Holyday Appeal
We have raised nearly £400 so far for our High Holyday Appeal. There are some extra donations to be accounted for so I hope we will reach the £500 mark. This will be split between Wye Valley NHS Special Care Baby Unit based at Hereford Hospital and the Sir Charles Clore Jewish Arab Community Centre, Acco. Thank you everyone for your generosity.
Anthony (Tony) Leslie, the brother of Jackie Eisenstein, sadly passed away on 4th November 2017. Both Jackie and her husband Eric were valued past Council members of HJC for many years. Tony had been ill for some weeks, but his death was unexpected. Jackie spoke these words about her brother at his funeral: My brother Ant who liked to be known as Tony was born in 1946. It soon became apparent that he had asthma and the pea souper fogs of London saw him in hospital many times. The only answer at that time was to send him to a boarding school in Kent where the air was much cleaner. Fortunately, the Clean Air Act was passed after not too long so home he came to London.
On leaving school he went into the garment trade which he thoroughly enjoyed as he was always a very sociable chap, however it wasn’t a good time to be in that line of work and he was made redundant three times after which he took what was laughingly referred to in the family as early retirement at age 30. Time never hung heavy for him as he and my mother went to bingo (which he loved) most afternoons. He would come and visit me and do my shopping while I was working; shopping was another favourite pastime, one he never got tired of and when he moved to Hereford after the death of our mother it was one of our regular activities.
When he moved to Hereford in 2001 to be near me he did something he hadn’t done in London and that was to belong to social clubs. He thoroughly enjoyed the outings, the parties and the holidays to Blackpool, and even when he was in hospital this last time, he asked me make sure they knew he wanted to come to the Christmas party. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years he started to develop Parkinson’s disease and that combined with his various lifelong ailments took its toll but as I think a lot of people here knew, he was very good natured and got on with things. He was never envious or resentful of the things that were missing in his life but took great pleasure in the achievements of his niece and nephew and more recently in the lives of his great nephews. Finally, he was the best brother I could have wished for and he leaves a big gap in my life.
Upsherin Ceremony update
Alison and Marc Turner are sorry to announce that because of a family bereavement which happened suddenly in October, they have decided to postpone Isaac’s hair-cutting Upsherin service from the end of January until later in the year. We are aware that the Upsherin is not normally carried out in Liberal Judaism and may never have happened in Hereford before, so we want to get it right. We hope that you can all join us in due course.
VISIT TO PRAGUE
I recently visited my son Alasdair who is living and working in the elegant city of Prague. I thought it would be good sense to make contact with the Progressive Jewish community there. I regularly receive the newsletter of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) and had seen an article written by David Pollak about the 2018 Biennial Conference which is being held in Prague. I got in touch with David who is the conference chairman. He gave me several email addresses of people to get in touch with in Prague.
I contacted and subsequently met with Jonathan Wootliff, the Czech Republic representative on the EUPJ Executive Board and also a member of the Biennial Conference committee. Jonathan represents Bejt Simcha and the Liberal Jewish Union in Prague, as well as communities in the provinces including Liberec. We met in the beautiful Savoy Café where if you look up at the ceiling you see the most wonderful work of art. This was covered over during the period of Communist rule. Jonathan was both charming and informative.
Some of the main points he conveyed to me are as follows: Jews had been very well respected in Prague prior to the Holocaust. They had made up one third of the population and their contribution to Czech life and society had been valuable and appreciated.
Jonathan spoke of the first Jewish marriage for 60 years that had recently taken place in the synagogue in Decin. Built in 1906 for the Reform community, the synagogue was the only surviving one in former Sudetenland and amazingly survived the destruction of Crystal Nacht. The couple who have made history are Ivan and Kamila Cohout. Ivan is the cantor for both the Progressive community Beit Simcha in Prague and for Decin. Interestingly he is a PhD in Kabbalah! The officiating rabbi was the Czech born, but now Munich based Tom Kucera. (I hope to meet him on my annual visit to my brother and family in Holzkirchen near Munich in December.)
I wanted to visit Josefov, the Jewish Quarter and was interested in doing this with a member of Bejt Simcha. Jonathan put me in touch with Irena Kubesova who is an official guide and member of the community. She took me around some of the area including two of the synagogues, the Old New Synagogue and the Maisel Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery. The Maisel Synagogue includes a museum and memorial to all those who were lost during the Holocaust. Many of the interior walls are covered with their names. Irena also showed me some of the drawings the children had made whilst in Terezin. I was unprepared for the effect this had on me – there are no words. She showed me two pictures drawn by survivors who have lived to an old age and whom she knew personally.
I shall be returning to Prague in February and will visit the Spanish synagogue and hopefully join in a service and enjoy one of the classical music concerts that regularly take place there. I am planning to attend the EUPJ Biennial Conference _ Regeneration. Here is the link for any of you who may be interested in attending too. http://eupj.org/event/prague-2018- regeneration/ There is an early bird discount available until the end of this year and you may pick and choose how many days you attend.
Helen Dubovie Brown
100th Anniversary of Balfour declaration – Shabbat Service 4 November 2017 Lech Lecha and Balfour declaration
Rather later than other communities, we read a section from Lech Lecha in the Torah at our Service on Shabbat 4 November 2017 (Genesis, Chap. 13 vs 1 – 17) which contained two narratives: The first was that of Abram (note no ‘h’ in the name at this stage), who was travelling with Lot (with all their goods, property, cattle and sheep) when the herdsmen fell out and began arguing. Abram generously offered a choice to Lot of which part of the land he would like to live on. As Abram said, there was more than enough land overall: ‘If you go to the left I will go to the right, and if you go to the right, I will go to the left.’ And so it was. Lot chose the plains of Jordan and Abram chose Canaan.
The second was the covenant made by G-d to Abram, promising him the land and to ‘all his seed’ for future generations. This powerful and dramatic promise between G-d and Abram is the source of much of Jewish history. As Jonathan Sachs says in his talk on Balfour Declaration: Jews have been waiting to return to the promised land for 2000 years, it is the heart and soul of Jewish yearning, and we note this is also enshrined in the Jewish National Anthem.
However, we have to take a step back at this point to think about what is being said. Howard Cooper in his blog, based on His Rosh Hashanah sermon, talks about the Greek words mythos and logos. Logos refers to the countable, the everyday, the logical – those things we can measure and identify in a scientific way. This is the way in which the land was divided between Abram and Lot with regard to the large numbers of servants and animals both possessed. It was concrete and practical, as well as being human.
Mythos refers to the emotional, the uncountable, the aspect of humanity which refers to feeling, emotion and perhaps spiritual. It cannot be measured or recorded on a piece of paper, so the promise made by God to Abram is more in the realm of mythos. It is a spiritual covenant, which in accepting, requires Abram to become a steward of the earth for his and all future generations. It is not simply a covenant relating to ownership of a particular piece of territory. This is where confusion between logos and mythos can be dangerous. If we think of the land of Israel simply in logos type human ownership then we forget the depth and meaning in which it was promised to Abram. There are those that believe that the covenant made with Abram means we can completely ignore the rights of others living in the (ancient) land of Israel, but is this what we think God wanted us to do?
Clearly the debate on the land of Israel will continue, especially between those of the religious right and those of more liberal perspective. We end with the statement by Rabbi Danny Rich on the Balfour declaration.
Statement by Rabbi Danny Rich, Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism 30 October 2017
Liberal Judaism representatives and communities, in common with much of world Jewry, will mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration at a series of events with thanks, pride and hope.
Conscious of the 3,000 year old historic link between the Jewish people and the ancient Biblical land, and aware that the Balfour letter was the first external recognition of the rights of Jews to a national revival in the land of the Hebrew Bible, we recall with appreciation those early pioneers who, as exemplars, drained swamps, built kibbutzim and revived the Hebrew language.
The ramifications of the Balfour letter included the establishment of the State of Israel which was to serve as a refuge for the broken souls, hearts and bodies of the victims of the Shoah, the attempt to destroy European Jewry in the middle of the 20th century.
We cherish with pride many aspects of modern Israel including, for example, its impressive Supreme Court, its robust free press, and its life-giving development work on the African continent.
At the same time as we rightly commemorate this event in the Jewish story and the achievements of a Jewish homeland and the State of Israel, we are conscious that this is not Page | 8 paralleled in the perceptions and realities of other communities in the region whose ‘civil and religious rights’ were not to be prejudiced, according to the Balfour letter.
Therefore, aware that all narratives contain their share of truth and history, intrigue and legend, we acknowledge that the current situation in Israel/Palestine results in suffering for both peoples.
We hope and pray for a just and lasting resolution in which the State of Israel and its Palestinian neighbour will dwell together in mutual respect and security.
The Hebrew Biblical prophet Isaiah (19:23) foresaw: On that day let there be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. What is our hope and vision?
Further links: YouTube perspective by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
Interview with Danny Rich
For a more alternative perspective: Independent Jewish Voices:100 Years after Balfour film (24 mins) ;
Film Review – In Between
This film was shown in Malvern in early November.
This may not be a film for everyone and certainly not for the faint hearted but it is a bold venture by a Palestinian woman director, Maysaloun Hamoud, to break the mould of films on Israel/Palestine which often focus on the political/security situation.
The film is the story of three young Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv, and sharing a flat. This film is important because it shows the conflict between cultures – the free living secular culture of Tel Aviv in which each of the three women are exploring their lives, and the traditional family culture from which each of them come, and which cannot be denied in their lives, no matter how much they wish to leave it behind. This is a story that could equally apply to many traditional religious families, and the social /cultural transitions that have occurred in the past two generations.
In some ways, it shows similarities between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than exaggerating the differences. It is also important, as it is a film about how women are exploring their power and identity in a culture different from their own, and it does this very boldly. This film has won awards but has also received harsh criticism from both Israelis and Palestinians, each of whom may be uncomfortable about the stories it tells.
Limmud Conference / Festival 24 – 28 December 2017 Pendigo Lake, Birmingham.
Limmud Conference is now renamed Limmud Festival and is the biggest celebration of Jewish learning and culture in the UK Jewish calendar, bringing in Jews, and some non-Jews, from a wide variety of backgrounds. Details from: https://limmud.org/festival/ Late booking is still possible. Day rates £109 for which you get a huge variety of international and talented presenters, plus evening entertainment.
Deadline for next newsletter
Deadline for the next newsletter will be 22nd January 2018. If you miss this date, I cannot guarantee your contribution will be included. Please send in contributions in WORD or pdf format if possible, but articles sent in by post are also welcome. In general, contributions should be no longer than 500 – 750 words, but longer contributions may be included, if appropriate. Pictures also welcome, but please try to keep image sizes small and below 250 KB for newsletter inclusion. All contributions are welcome but depending on format and content, the editor reserves the right to edit or hold over to a future edition if needed.
Herefordshire Jewish Community Contacts
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HJC Diary of Events
HJC services and other Events
Tuesday 12th December 1st night of Chanukah Home ceremony
Saturday 16th December Chanukah Party with Rabbi Anna Gerrard 3 p.m. Saxon Hall, Hoarwithy Road, Hereford HR2 6HE
Saturday 27th January CANCELLED
January/February service Shabbat service 11 a.m. Date and details to be announced
Sunday 4th March Joint Purim Party with GLJC Up Hatherley Village Hall Cold Pool Ln, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL51 6JA
Saturday 31st March Pesach Communal Seder 6.00 p.m. Bridges centre, Monmouth NP25 5AS
Sunday 13th May HJC AGM 11.30 a.m. Trumpet Inn, Trumpet, Herefordshire
Saturday 9th June Anne Frank Day Service 11 a.m. Saxon Hall, Hoarwithy Road, Hereford HR2 6HE
Sunday 10th June Bristol Limmud Day time and place t.b.c.