I am writing this as we tentatively come out of lockdown, but by Yom Tov I hope many more of you will have attended services and other activities at 118.
What a year it has been since my last New Year’s piece in our magazine, and how proud I am of the way the shul rose to the challenge of taking things on-line and reaching out to the community.
And now we face the new challenge of being a community in transition, the hybrid reality of life being both in and out of the building. While the government said that ‘all bets are off’ in June, (and then changed this to July) it’s not quite as simple as that. We recognise that many of you are wary of being back among a lot of people, yet others can’t wait to see their friends again. Rest assured, we are working on the new ‘normal’ and will be here to support you every step of the way.
For those who want to return but are not sure of safety – our Beit Tefillah is arranged so that families can sit as bubbles, widely spaced in such a way as to ensure social distancing, but still to be as a praying community. There are books set out on each chair (which are not touched from week to week to avoid cross-contamination) so you don’t have to bring your own. Masks and hand sanitiser are on hand for everyone.
Our wonderful, albeit smaller, choir is back in the room, safely screened off from the congregation and from each other. All possible precautions have been taken and are under continual review.
I suggest you have a look on our website for the You Tube film by Rabbi’s Mark and Debbie to see how it is all arranged. The first time I went back for Shabbat I found it quite emotional, and I’m sure you will too.
During the year, we have taken advantage of people not being around, to change some things in the building.
Our youth team has been brought into the main building, our education department has moved its offices upstairs and now they are working together as one team. We have said goodbye to Murray Brown as our youth leader and wish him every success for his future. The youth team is now led by Sara Moon who hit the ground running in May with some exciting Spring and Summer programming. Families of Bar/ Bat Mitzvah children are now meeting for Friday night services after moving the classes from Tuesdays to Friday afternoons.
Sarah Koster has joined the staff as a Young Families Worker promoting new activities for this section of our community. We have had some wonderful Stay and Play, Tea and Tots, and Kuddle up Shabbat sessions and I know that more activities are planned for the future. As we no longer host Jewish Care in the community centre, the space has been remodelled to allow the Nagila nursery and Bookies Babes to expand. We recognise that providing activities and a welcome to young families is important for our future sustainability as a synagogue, and wish Sarah well in all her future plans.
Since last Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Emily Reitsma-Jurman has left us to join the rabbinic team at West London Synagogue. We wish her well in all her future endeavours, we will miss her kind and funny personality, her knitting and her messy office! While we wait for our new Rabbi, Rabbi Mati Kirschenbaum, to join us after the High Holy Days, we have been so happy and thankful that Rabbi Roberta Harris, has stood in as locum. We have enjoyed studying such wide ranging topics as Archeology in the Bible to an Argumentative Service – we hope she has enjoyed her time with us as much as we have enjoyed having her.
We are fast approaching Rosh Hashanah. Please see the High Holy Day Brochure for all we have in store for you this year, in person and online. I am really looking forward to the New Year as a new beginning for the synagogue. Hopefully coming out of lockdown, we will all face the future together and it will be a bright one for EHRS. May the year ahead be a good year for all of you and your families. Robert and I, and the girls wish you all
Shanna Tovah – may it be a good one, a healthy one, and one where we see more of each other!
Now that we are slowly opening up as the government guidelines allow, I just wanted to bring you up to date on what has been going on at shul over the last couple of weeks, and also, what you can expect to see when you feel ready to come back on site.
As you know, we recently held an EGM in order to elect our delegates for the Board of Deputies for the next three years. These are Tony Seymour, Sheila Levitt, Stephen Levy, Melissa Williams and Emma Brand. Tony, Stephen and Sheila were existing deputies, and I want to thank them for standing again. I know we appreciate the time they devote to representing us on the Board. I also want to mention Eric Lenz z”l who sadly passed away last year, and Stephen Curtis, who has had to stand down due to ill health. Both gave many years of hard work to representing our shul, and we are grateful to them for all the time and effort they put in on our behalf. I am delighted that Melissa and Emma have chosen to stand – the Board needs to hear from younger voices. I wish all of our delegates well as they embark on their three-year term.
I am thrilled to advise you that our religious school and Bar/Bat mitzvah classes are now back in the building – it is so wonderful to hear the voices of our youngsters in our classrooms once again. Not all have returned which means our teachers are learning a new skill, that of hybrid teaching! I want to wish them all well as we find our way forward.
As you know, Jewish Care are no longer to be found on the ground floor of the community centre. Instead, building works are continuing apace to expand the space for Bookies Babes and for Nagila. It is our intention that both will be able to expand their intake in the coming academic year, when, hopefully, we will be over-run by babies, toddlers and young families! Our first in person young family events are booked out, so that is such a promising sign.
I know it is several months into the future, but plans are being made for the coming High Holy Days, which will be here before we know it. We will certainly have to plan for some in person, some online services. It may be helpful if you have a think about what you would like to do – I know its early to be certain, but some indication as to your thoughts may be helpful in our planning process. Drop us a line and let us know if you think you may be happy coming back in the building for Yom Tov.
That’s all for now. I hope to see you soon.
Last year, when I commented that I thought that we would still be unable to meet up for a second Pesach, everyone said I was being too pessimistic and of course we would be free of the virus by then. Well, a whole year has passed and here we are with our second lock-down Pesach. How I wish I had been wrong. I cannot believe that a whole year has passed – a year when we’ve all learnt about zoom, on-line shopping, teams, and much, much more. In some ways it does not seem like so much time has passed, in others, it has been a very, very, long year. I’m delighted that we are beginning to open up the synagogue, slowly and carefully, in line with government guidelines.
From first day Pesach our in-person services will resume. Having mind to the safety rules in place (masks, sanitisers, social distancing), we hope to gradually increase numbers over the Spring and into the Summer. Our High Holy Days committee is already making plans for Yom Tov – how many people, the number of services, the spaces we will need, the on-line offerings still required. Gradually we will have staff back in the building, alongside Orot, Bar/Bat mitzvah classes and adult education. All of this will be done with the utmost care – we are mindful of the fact that after so long, you might be wary of coming back, of being amongst people again. It was very easy to close the building – it is going to be more difficult to open it up again!
As we mark a full year of this virus, I want to repeat my thanks for all those who have kept the building and the community going. Special thanks go to Val and Marissa and their team of volunteers, to Perry and Martine and our office staff who have maintained our offices and our contacts with the community, to our tech team who have ensured services have been brought into our homes, and of course to our wonderful Rabbi’s who have kept us all going with their amazing creativity and energy.
And now we turn our thoughts to the future, one immediate piece of business is an EGM to be held on 13 April at 19:30 on Zoom. The purpose of this meeting is to re-elect our Board of Deputy Representatives for the next three years. When we used to hold our AGM’s in May we used to elect our reps during those meetings. However, as we are now holding our meetings in September/October, we are out of sync with the Board’s triennial elections and so have to slot in an extra meeting.
Other plans going forward include the refurbishment and expansion of Nagila and Bookies Babes into the space left by Jewish Care. I am really excited by this opportunity to build our provision for young families. Building works should be well under way by the next time we are all in the building.
I want to end by wishing you all a Happy Pesach. I hope the next year will see us all together again, and when we are allowed to hold a communal seder next year, I hope we are packed to the rafters!
Best wishes, Janet
Ticking the Jewish Box
I can’t believe we are nearly a full year into a world-wide pandemic – the last time many of us got together was Purim last year, and next week we will complete a full cycle of festivals. I hope you are all well and coping as we have to dig deep in these winter months, and hopefully, with the vaccine being rolled out, we will come out the other side into a community that can live, pray and work more closely together.
As you know from the various reports in OWA and our magazine, our committees and groups have not been idle during lockdown, our schmooze with the rabbis, talks of the week, shiurim and teaching are all continuing online. Last week some of us visited Jerusalem in the spring sunshine, we cooked together and drank together, things are still happening and we can still ‘meet up’. I am still amazed by all the hard work being put in by dedicated staff and volunteers, I thank you, EHRS would not be what it is without you.
In the past week you may have received a letter from the Office of National Statistics regarding the census. There will be a question about religion in the form and I know some people may be reluctant to tick the box marked ‘Jewish’. Please do not be – census data are anonymised and used to understand populations as a whole, and cannot be used to identify or target individuals in any way whatsoever. Ticking the Jewish box is an easy and effective way to support the community, and holds no risk to any individuals. The data generated by ticking the Jewish box play an essential role in community planning on a wide range of issues, including elderly care, schooling, health, inclusion and combating antisemitism. Countless Jewish organisations, charities, synagogues, schools, trusts and foundations across the country use census data in a variety of ways to help them understand and cater for the needs of the Jewish population. Equally essential, local and national authorities use census data regularly to make decisions about services that address the needs of the Jewish community, for example, funding for security at our schools. So when you sit down to complete the census this year, please do tick the religion box.
That’s all I have to say this week, I wish you all well. I hope to see many of you online at the seaside at Shushan next week, with sun tan lotion, sunglasses, and a mojito in hand.
Best wishes, Janet Brand
Happy New Year
I am writing to wish you a very happy and healthy new year. A new year, a new message, but I’m afraid it sounds remarkably like previous messages. As you are all aware, we are now in a tighter lockdown situation than when I last wrote (was it only a week ago?). I know that for even more of you this means staying at home, not going out, home schooling and all that that entails.
I just wanted to let you know that we are still here to support you and your families. Our community circles and our care provisions are still in place. Our rabbi’s and education and youth programming teams are working hard to put together new on-line events, talks, and learning opportunities to keep us all going in these difficult times.
Our Services are continuing, as in this lockdown the government has realised how important communal worship is to the mental health of the nation. I am so proud of what we have manged to offer to the community in our online service provision. I believe that the Shabbat services have been beautiful and inspiring in difficult circumstances and I know that the rabbi’s, wardens, the choir and the volunteer tech team have all been coming together to build something wonderful for the community. We are endeavouring to continue in this spirit whatever the pandemic may throw at us, but you may notice some small changes in the coming weeks as some people may not be available due to the effects of the virus, whether shielding or isolating themselves. Rest assured, everyone at EHRS is trying to offer the community the best we are able in all the circumstances. As you all know, this is a fluid situation.
I end in my usual way – keep safe and I hope that the end is in sight soon, when I can speak to you all in person again. Happy New Year.
Goodbye to 2020
So, we come to the end of 2020. Some will say ‘good riddance’, others will look back at the year with some pride for the way they have coped. Which ever you are, what a year it has been……
For all of us, it has been a difficult and unusual year in many ways, for some harder than others. As a community we have lost some wonderful people who have touched our hearts, too many people to name, but each family will no doubt stop and pause at the end of the year and wonder, ‘what if……’
As a community we have also grown in understanding of what we are capable of achieving, both as individuals and collectively. My thanks, as I have recorded in previous messages, go to all those who have seen us through this year – to the rabbis, the staff, the countless volunteers. We would not have managed without you.
But I feel now is the time to look forward. We are not yet out of this pandemic, but with the advent of the vaccine, we hope that the end is in sight. Until we can all meet together ‘normally’, everyone will continue to support the community. There will be new initiatives in youth and education, there will be building programmes aimed at expanding our nursery provision, there will be new Young Adults and Young Families events, new learning and living experiences for all.
This community has not closed during COVID, and as we come out of it, I am sure we will go from strength to strength looking for new ways to engage and enrich the lives of all our members and to attract new ones.
2020 is ending and I am certain 2021 will eventually be brighter for us all. I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you soon.
An Important Message from the Chairman - 2 November 2020
As I write this, the government has issued new guidelines and you will all know that on Thursday we enter a second period of lockdown.
Like me, you are all probably fed up and wondering where/when this is all going to end. I have become used to writing about what we are able or unable to do as a synagogue, and how the community has shown such resilience in coming together to help all our members. I hope and pray that this is still the case for the second time around.
Just when I hoped we could open up for more in person activities, we are now in our homes and online again. I wanted to write, therefore, to remind everyone that the synagogue is here for you. We may not be allowed to enter our building, but our community is not closed. We are still very much open for ‘business’, but in a slightly different way. Our community circles are still working to be a contact for anyone who may need assistance. Val and Marissa in Community Care are still at the end of the phone, should you need help.
We are still offering some wonderful thought-provoking talks, study sessions and meetings. Our services will continue online – for the next month at least, we cannot allow people in the synagogue to pray for Shabbat or Sunday morning services. Classes will continue to be held online and our youth workers are busy looking forward to the next scheme in the holidays.
Of course, this is all strange. It was strange when we had our first lockdown in March, but we got through that. It will be different again now, but I know that together we can get through it again.
Keep safe and well. Janet
Chairman’s Yom Kippur Message to the Community
Chairman’s New Year Message
It would be quite an understatement for me to say that this has been an unusual year! Since my last High Holy Days message to the community so much has changed. Although 2020 started with some new initiatives such as the Business Breakfasts and the Young Families events, it very quickly became apparent that our shul, just like everywhere else, would be closed down and from March onwards, we became an on-line community.
Last Yom Kippur I asked if this would be the year that the shul became more a part of your lives and if giving more by volunteering would be a way forward for people who wanted to feel engaged. How you have risen to that challenge! Our Community Circles have enabled people to reach out to others in their area to offer support in these difficult times. We have some wonderful
members who have raised enormous amounts for charities. We have some who have been cooking up a storm, making and delivering meals to those on the front lines at various hospitals in the area. On behalf of the synagogue I want to say a massive thank you to all
of you. It’s been heart-warming to see such selfless acts of volunteering and of charity within our own community. In becoming an on-line community, we now offer, dare I say it, more than we did before! Apart from our regular services from the main synagogue, we have services on Facebook, informal b’bayit services on Friday night and chairman’s message for hhd 2020 AGM Saturday mornings, zoomed Kuddle-up Shabbat and Sunday Shacharit as well as a brilliant Passover Seder and other festival services. There are shiurs, talks of the week, Talmud classes, Orot on-line, Youth Moments, ‘Beer and Shiur’ for the young adults, ‘Wine and Whine’ for young
families, quizzes and so much more.
My particular thanks must go to the Rabbi’s for their willingness and ability to turn themselves into Tech DJ’s at short notice, and to all those who have helped to provide all of these events and services.
Whilst talking about Rabbi’s I must of course say how sad and shocked we all were and still are, over the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and teacher Rabbi Neil Kraft. He worked so hard for our community for 18 years and it seems so cruel that he was taken from us just as he was about to start his retirement. We will all remember his wit and warmth, the twinkle in his eye, the etrog vodka and his ties, and much, much more. We are the poorer for his loss, but are much better for having had him among us for so long. We mourn the loss of too many of our community taken due to the Covid-19 virus and my condolences go out to all their families. You will find a list of their names later in the magazine.
In April we welcomed Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers to the team. I know that because of lockdown many of you have not yet met her, however, as she was a student at EDRS and has visited many times, it feels as if she is one of our own, and I hope that she will be very happy here and get to meet as many of you as possible as soon as possible.
Normally when you receive the magazine at this time of the year, the synagogue is in a state of anticipation for the coming festivals – will the logistics be right, has everyone received their tickets, have we got enough cover on security, on stewarding, are the readers ready?
In the past there have also been family gatherings to look forward to and prepare for, where we share our food, our stories and our love of these times. This year things are quite different. Some of our staff are now back in the building, albeit in a very limited way and on a rota system to ensure that not too many people are in the space. In June Nagila came back and it was a joy to hear laughter at 118 again. Although we have had some small, limited services in the premises recently, our Yom Tov services will be on-line and we will not have the opportunity to hug and kiss our friends or to catch up on family events as in previous years.
You will have been sent a booklet about the High Holy Days outlining exactly what is on offer. My thanks to Rabbi Goldsmith and his team, and to Michael Weber, our HHD Co-ordinator, for thinking outside the box and putting together a programme that will offer so much variety to so many people. I know it has not been easy to make the decision not to have any services in the building, but I also know that many people are still wary of being among any size of gatherings and we all want to prevent a second spike (if we even got over the first). I hope that you will find the kind of service that will be meaningful to you this
On behalf of Robert and myself and the girls, I wish you a very Happy New Year and more particularly a very, very healthy one. I hope that next year I will be able to make my address from the Bimah to a ‘full house’ in the shul.
I’m writing this while waiting to hear the details of the new guidelines from the government regarding tighter controls in order to keep people safe. Over the past few weeks the synagogue has put measures in place to keep its staff, rabbi’s and congregants safe, while at the same time, starting to open up the building for individual prayer. Depending on what the Prime Minister says this afternoon, we may now have to put the brakes on even our small steps forward, and it would be such a shame as I know how much attending the Sunday Shacharit and the in-person Shabbat service, has meant to people.
Obviously my first concern is for people’s safety. This means that if we are not allowed to meet up for Tashlich on the first day of Rosh Hashanah or for our Shofar services on the second day, then we will find a different way of bringing these to you. As most of our offerings over the High Holy Days are on-line, not too much will change. I am sorry that I will not be able to give my ‘state of the union’ address to you in person, and I dearly hope and pray that next year we will be able to make up for this one by really being together in all sorts of ways.
EHRS AGM: So much planning is going into the next few weeks, and everyone is so involved in trying to make all our services as good as they can possibly be online, that Council has taken the decision to put back our AGM for one month to the beginning of November, in order that we can concentrate properly on that after the High Holy Days are over. The new date will be published soon in OWA and on our website.
As you all know, the last six months have been challenging. I want to thank everyone for ‘hanging in there’. Our Rabbi’s have been amazing, our professional team led by Perry and Martine have risen to the challenge and kept the shul running, whilst Bonnie has kept you all regularly informed of what is happening though our communication channels. Marian and Murray have been working tirelessly to ensure our young people are engaged, and our volunteers, organised by Val and Marissa, have stepped forward in a way nobody could have imagined. I know that we are all supporting each other. I wish it wasn’t like it is now, but I couldn’t be prouder of how our community has coped and adapted.
I want to wish you all a very happy, and more importantly, a very healthy New Year. Please God, we will all be together again very soon.
Keep safe, Janet