This edition seems quite a full one. Having had our Community AGM where we had some discussion on ways our community might go in the future, we now seem to be in a time of plenty of activity. The Festival of Shavuoth, which is both a Spring Harvest festival and also a commemoration of the Giving of the Ten Commandments is one we don’t always mark so much. However, this year we have had a joint Shavuoth Service with GLJC, which turned out to be a successful collaboration between the two communities, and this newsletter includes an article by Rabbi Anna Gerrard on Counting of the Omer, as well as there being an interesting discussion on the Book of Ruth by Angela West. Mark Walton also made some insightful remarks on Ruth in his short ‘drasha’/discussion at this service which brought up how the outsider in our communities may well turn out to be a significant player in our history. So there is a lot we can learn from this story and this time of year. We also look forward to our annual Interfaith Anne Frank service at Saxon Hall, which will be attended by representatives from Hereford City and the Cathedral, and we hope also members of other faiths. JB
In this edition: HJC Chat, Counting the Omer, Notes on The Book of Ruth, Story of Anne Frank, Eva Schloss talk, Book Reviews, Film Review.
We had another successful HJC Seder at Saxon Hall, this year led by Rabbi Anna Gerrard. This gave us an opportunity to use the new LJ Hagaddoth which had a mixed reception. Anna chose to include a number of alternative readings, such as one for Miriam’s cup (as well as cup of Elijah) which made for interesting discussion, but it was sometimes confusing keeping up with which page of the Hagaddah we were on. One idea is to alternate our Seders with one year using the ‘Old’ version and one year using the new one. In her usual style, Anna also surprised us with her creative version of the song Ehad Mi Yodeah/Who knows one? For this, she distributed picture cards (see photo) , each of which had to be raised up at the appropriate moment when that number was called in the song – so rather like a Pesach Bingo. This led to much amusement, as well as much more communal singing than we often have. This was also the second year we had food provided by Cherry Wolfe, which was much appreciated, and we also had some excellent helpers from Saxon Hall who helped all the practical arrangements run smoothly. I would also like to thank all HJC Council and other members who were so efficient in getting the room set up and looking fit for purpose for our Seder.
Counting the Omer
There is a special period of time between Pesach and Shavuot – the period of the Omer. The Counting of the Omer is a 49 day process that takes us from the springtime potential of Pesach to the summertime fulfilment of Shavuot. Having told the story of the Exodus as is we ourselves came out of Egyptian oppression, we find ourselves wandering for 49 days before we finally receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. The journey is one of confusion. After the initial elation of the Red Sea crossing, the Israelites are lost and directionless, unsure whether freedom is better than slavery after all. It is a period of transition and a test of patience.
Agriculturally, this is also time of potential, risk and uncertainty. Seeds have been sown and the precise combination of warmth, moisture, light, protection and nutrition is now critical to their well-being and the crop that will appear in the coming months. Too much water or too little light, too much heat or too little nitrogen… and the eventual crop could be
adversely affected. One night without protection from slugs and the crop could disappear completely! It is a risk we are willing to take and the rewards are great – but the process is nerve-wracking and lengthy.
That is the essence of the Counting of the Omer – nerve-wracking and length. We are supposed to feel like we are in limbo and we are supposed to long for the end point – the festival of Shavuot. Soon we will arrive at Sinai and our annual Shavuot service, this year a joint event with Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish Community. It is a time to celebrate, receive and be joyous. It is a time to put flowers in our hair and embrace summer and all its abundance. We will read the ten commandments, learn about the book of Ruth and hold a cheesecake competition – a true sign that summer is here and the earth has provided.
Rabbi Anna Gerrard
Shavuoth Service with GLJC
We have just had our joint Shavuoth service with Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish Community, the first time we have had a formal joint activity for several years.
Seven members of HJC came along to the service in Up Hatherley, in a delightful small Village Hall which seems very suited to purpose. Shavuoth, as Rabbi Anna Gerard explained, is both a Spring harvest festival, and a day to mark the commemoration of the giving of the 10 Commandments, which were read out in the Torah piece. Following the Torah reading, members of HJC read sections of the book of Ruth in both Hebrew and English, followed by some interesting comment and discussion led by Mark Walton. Apart from the service, the highlight of the morning, of course, was the cheesecake competition, for which you had to taste all three cakes on offer in order to be able to vote for the winner. There are plans afoot for next year to have a GLJC Bake off competition, so are there any takers in HJC who feel up to the challenge? JB
The Book of Ruth is not only about Ruth but also about Naomi – about the struggle for survival of these two women against hunger, loss and social isolation. Interpreters have in the past seen it as a lovely little story, a charming mini-novel. But isn’t this to trivialize it somewhat? More recently, some scholars have shown that it is not just narrative entertainment, but it has some theological axes to grind. In fact, it is part of a legal argument within the bible, with Ruth and Naomi having star parts in this drama.
When Naomi and her husband leave Bethlehem (which means the House of Bread) they have no bread – they are in the midst of a famine. In Moab, they are well received and their sons marry Moabite women. Then tragedy strikes Naomi. First her husband dies then both her sons. She’s utterly bereft and like Job she complains bitterly to God, but unlike Job, she doesn’t just complain or try to ‘sue God’.
But Naomi is not just an embittered old woman. She is resourceful and she and her loyal daughter-in-law come up with a cunning plan for survival which involves making use of two legal institutions current in Israelite society. One is levirate marriage: the obligation for a man to marry his brother’s wife, so as to provide for her and produce children that can preserve the family’s inheritance. The second is the custom of redemption, whereby when a particular family hits hard times and is threatened with destitution, a near relative has the moral obligation to buy up their land so that the family don’t lose it completely and become debt slaves.
So when Naomi identifies Boaz as ‘one of our redeeming kinsmen’ this is what she’s thinking of. And when Ruth, who goes even further than Naomi’s instructions and effectively proposes marriage to Boaz on the threshing floor, she’s linking these two legal institutions in a novel way. Boaz wasn’t actually her dead husband’s brother, but he was close enough to become a redeemer for her and Naomi. So in a sense, she is adapting these laws and bringing them up to date for her situation. And Boaz accepts her interpretation.
Of course, the scheme devised by Naomi and Ruth is actually a very daring one. If Boaz hadn’t been the decent sort of fellow that he clearly was, concerned to do right by the two widows, the older and the younger, it could all have backfired horribly for them.
And there is of course another very important strand in the story. Ruth is a foreigner: and in Deuteronomy 23 there is a verse which prohibits the acceptance of Moabites into the Israelite community. No welfare or benefits were to be extended to them! This is because according to that text, they had refused to show any hospitality to the Israelites on their journey from Egypt. Also in the Book of Nehemiah, when the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after the exile, this condemnation is strongly reiterated by Ezra. He declares that there are to be no more mixed marriages.
So how then did Ruth and Boaz and Naomi get away with what they were doing, since it seems to be forbidden in Torah? One scholar has shown that the narrative of the Book of Ruth in effect counteracts the argument that the Moabites should be excluded because they were inhospitable to Israel. It does this by showing that Naomi and her hungry family were well treated when they emigrated to Moab. So now Boaz takes the lead in getting the community to accept this foreign born woman, who has shown such loyalty to her Judean mother-in-law and respect for the customs and laws of her people.
The elders and the people compare her to the matriarchs Rachel and Leah who ‘built up the House of Israel’: and indeed, according to the genealogy, Obed the son of Ruth and Boaz becomes the grandfather of King David. In the scriptures, the political history of Israel is told through family stories like this one.
And as Naomi holds her grandson in her arms, the women around her acknowledge that all her wretchedness and loss have at last been turned into blessing through the devotion of her daughter-in-law who, as they say ‘is better to you than seven sons’. All three of the main characters in this story show hesed in their actions, and thus demonstrate the loving-kindness of the God of Israel, who protects the rights of the disadvantaged, especially the widows and foreigners like Naomi and Ruth.
On July 15, 1944, three weeks before the hiding place where she lived with her family and several others was discovered, Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Anne Frank’s diary, particularly these sentences, became one of the central symbols of the Holocaust and of humanity faced with suffering: the strength of spirit that led a young girl to write such words after two years of imprisonment hidden in a small, crowded attic, decreed on her by senseless evil; and the opening which her words offer for a new era of hope and reconciliation after a world war that claimed tens of millions of victims. These words aroused great admiration for her diary and for the girl herself. Translated into more than fifty languages, the diary sold more than thirty million copies all over the world. Streets and squares, coins and stamps bear Anne’s name, along with prizes, conventions, exhibits, memorials, schools and youth institutions, to say nothing of films and plays that bring her diary to life, and thorough research of various kinds into her character and her diary, its translations and the different uses that have been made and still are being made of it.
Dinah Porat, Jewish Women’s Archive
On 3rd April, Cherry and I went to a talk entitled After Auschwitz: How can we bring more peace into the world today? given by Eva Schloss (nee Geringer), a Holocaust survivor, who was also hidden in Amsterdam for 2 years, before being discovered by the Gestapo. Eva spoke very powerfully and clearly about her experiences of living in Amsterdam and her subsequent arrest and experience in the camps.
Eva is the half sister of Anne Frank. They were born only a month apart, lived next door to one another in Amsterdam, and played together. They both fled the Nazis in their home countries (Anne Frank from
Frankfurt in Germany, and Eva from Vienna, Austria). Eva says
“We were not best friends but we were playmates, I was sporty, while Anne was interested in books and movies and stories which I sometimes listened to.”
After the war, the link between the two families became stronger when in 1953, Eva’s mother married Otto Frank, Anne’s father, thereby making them (posthumous) stepsisters.
The War years:
Eva was arrested in May 11th 1944 on the morning of her 15th birthday. She was taken to Westerbork transit camp and then days later, together with her family put on a train to Auschwitz. There, as reported –
‘when they arrived, males and females were separated and Eva never saw her brother again. Eva’s mother ,Fritzi had the foresight to make Eva wear a long coat which made her look older than her 15 years, thus saving her from being directed straight to the gas chamber by the infamous Dr Josef Mengele who stood at the top of a ramp sizing up all the new arrivals’.
Eva survived 9 months in Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war, Eva did not speak of her experiences, as like many Holocaust survivors she found this too traumatic, and also said that people did not want to hear those stories in the years after the war. In 1986 she was asked to say a few words about her past, at the opening of an Anne Frank exhibition in London, and the words began to pour out of her. Since then she has given talks constantly and feels better for having shared her story with so many people.
Having said that, her story was not easy to hear. The depths of the Polish winter, the stories of camp residents on work duty going out into the snow without shoes because they had been lost, or of the pitiful thin gruel that was called an evening meal that was all they were given to eat day after day – just simple facts of daily life in Auschwitz make your blood freeze.
After the War life for Eva was not easy, but Otto Frank was instrumental in helping her start a new life in London as a photographer, and gave her the Leica camera with which he had taken the iconic shots of Anne, which are now familiar the world over.
In 1999 Eva Schloss joined United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan signing the Anne Frank Peace Declaration, along with a niece of Raul Wallenberg, a man who also rescued thousands of Jews in Budapest. Eva joins many courageous individuals who work tirelessly to end the violence and bigotry that continue to plague our world.
For thou art with me: the healing power of Psalms by Rabbi Samuel Chiel and Henry Dreher, Rodale Books, 2000. The Psalms are a traditional Jewish source for times of hardship, this is a selection of 15 psalms excerpted to include verses that relate to healing, recovery and faith in God in the midst of crisis. I write this on the day we took part in a minute’s silence for those obliterated in Manchester and our flag flies at half mast. This book has prayers for healing, spiritual coping, acceptance and recovery. Many of us who have been bereaved have learnt the 5 stages of mourning, we hope to come eventually to acceptance. There was once a book produced by Lily Montagu and Rudi Brasch called A little book of comfort: for Jewish people in time of sorrow, published in 1948 and I think this book of Psalms is part of that tradition of readings and spiritual passages. Sources and examples are widespread, Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel for example. It is more about illness than sudden catastrophe but the reminder to treasure each day and to share our burdens with the Eternal One are always worthwhile. I recommend this book to anyone who is in need of healing, and to anyone who wonders where God is in all of the bad things that happen in the world. The chapters are short and meaningful, the prayers can stay with us always.
Blue Horizons, Blue Heaven, Bolts from the Blue by Rabbi Lionel Blue, Coronet Books, 1987, 1988, 1990.
These are just 3 of my books by the esteemed Reform Rabbi Lionel Blue z’l and they consist of short pieces on many everyday subjects, getting up in the morning, food, travel, religious holidays, politicians as well as faith, often found in unexpected places. For a good number of years Rabbi Blue had the God slot on radio 4’s Thought for the Day and tried to cheer people up and give us the strength to face the day. Families are frequent concerns, jokes and recipes abound in his work. These are pieces on finding and recognising true religion in ordinary life, true goodness and a hearty dose of common sense. In one way they are an easy read, in another they have profound messages, so they are easy and worthwhile to dip into and to seek out.
All available from usual online sources.
You will not have my hate by Antoine Leiris, Harvill Secker, 2016
This is about the Bataclan attacks, from the point of view of one of those waiting for a loved one to come home, and then finding she will never come home. It is very clear about how hard it is to go on, even to tell his infant son, and how the community rallied round, though not always in the most helpful ways. He refuses to live a life of hatred and remorse or allow his son to grow up in such an atmosphere. Deeply moving, very direct and personal, ultimately hopeful. This is one of those stories of what goes on when the cameras have moved away, that is well worth while reading, though not an easy read emotionally.
(Available from Herefordshire Libraries)
This a sometimes bleak, but never the less intriguing tale of Ida, a young Polish novitiate, about to take her Vows to become a Nun, who suddenly finds out she is Jewish and that her parents were murdered during the Second World War. Set in 1962 in a grey Communist Poland, and shot in black and white, it is a both an insight into the Poland which many of our ancestors may have come from, and also contains stories of Poland’s more recent history.
For me the strength of the film comes from the relationship between Ida and her Aunt Wanda, who could not be more different in character, but who together set out on a journey, both geographical and emotional, to find out the truth about Ida’s parents’ murders. Wanda is a chain smoking, hard drinking lover of all the indulgences that life has to offer, but who, at the same time, has had a high profile career as a State prosecutor on early post war Poland. It is an almost surreal journey, but reality is always stranger than fiction, and it feels there is both truth and story mixed together in this film.
Detailed review can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/02/movies/ida-about-an-excavation-of-truth-in-postwar-poland.html?_r=0
Anne Frank Interfaith Service – Saturday 10th June 2017, Saxon Hall Hereford. We are hoping to have representatives of other faiths present at this service which will be led this year by Rabbi Anna Gerrard. The Mayor of Hereford has accepted an invitation to attend, along with the canon of Hereford Cathedral. Please come along to support this special event in our calendar.
Shabbat Service with Rabbi Margaret Jacobi, Saturday 22nd July, Colwall Village Hall.
Deadline for next newsletter will be 22nd July 2017
Note that I have changed the deadline for the next edition to fit with when contributions usually arrive, but note this is a Deadline, and 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 500KB 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.
HJC Diary of Events
|Saturday 10th June||Ann Frank service led by Rabbi Anna Gerrard – open to other faiths||11 a.m.||Saxon Hall, Hoarwithy Road, Hereford, HR2 6HE|
|Sunday 18th June||Film Session – Ushpezin, and Tea||4 p.m.||Belmont Community Centre, Eastholme Avenue, Hereford HR2 7UQ|
|Saturday 22nd July||Shabbat Service led by Rabbi Margaret Jacobi||11 a.m.||Ale House, Mill Lane, Colwall,
Herefordshire WR13 6HE
High Holyday Dates
|Wednesday 20th September||Erev Rosh Hashanah Service and Gathering||t.b.c.||Home of Eva Mendelsson. Details in next newsletter.|
|Thursday 21st Sept||Rosh Hashanah Morning service – GLJC||t.b.c.||t.b.c.|
|Friday 29th Sept||Kol Nidre||
|Sat 30th Sept||Yom Kippur||
Herefordshire Jewish Community Contacts
Tel: 01594 530721 (after 6pm or weekends)
|Liberal Judaism||Liberal Judaism Resource Bank|
|Our parent body
|resources for all http://ljresourcebank.org/|