Below are messages from three of our senior rabbis and leaders.
We will be publishing a daily Thought for the High Holy Days on each day from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur from different rabbis and staff on a variety of topics related to this time of year. You will be able to read them here.
We can only pray that in a year’s time our anxieties will have lessened.
But I want to look back on a good year I have had as president of Liberal Judaism. I have been invited to a number of significant services in our movement and my wife Sharon and I have had positive experiences all over the country.
We started with Leicester for Rosh Hashanah and Edinburgh for Yom Kippur. We spent Tu Bishvat in Ealing.
At our Reading congregation, I spoke about their Czech Memorial Torah scroll that came from the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague which has the 80,000 names of the Czech Jews murdered in the Holocaust inscribed on its walls. Most recently, in Hereford with our new Three Counties congregation, I led a special Anne Frank service on the 90th anniversary of her birth.
The year gone by also saw a number of significant anniversaries celebrated. The Liberal Synagogue Elstree marked its 50th year and Southgate Progressive its 70th. I so enjoyed taking part in a special service to mark the 80th anniversary of South London Liberal consecrating its building. It was great fun as its rabbi, Nathan Godleman, came up with the idea of dressing in the manner of 1939 and he and I adopted old fashioned ministerial garb. Many congregants were kitted out in the correct period costume too.
Nathan also recently unearthed a sermon that the late Rabbi John D Rayner (who started his career at South London) gave on the 50th anniversary of the congregation. It contained the names of the rabbis who had once ministered there, as well as lay ministers, most of them now dead. It brought home to me the sadness of this year with the deaths of Rabbis Harry Jacobi and David Goldberg, who both contributed so much to Liberal Judaism over so many decades.
My peregrinations around the country made me realise how vibrant and creative our congregations are. Liberal Judaism has a long successful history and it is certainly flourishing today too.
May 5780 bring you and your family health and contentment, your community success and progress, and our country and Israel a sense of harmony and peace.
The High Holy Days and its process of teshuvah: returning or atonement is, of course, first and foremost relevant to the individual as (s)he reflects on the vagaries of the past year. It is true there is much good in each one of us but we become poignantly aware of time and talent wasted, of being so much less than we know we might have been.
The gift of the preparatory month of Elul and the first ten days of Tishri (including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) present the ideal opportunity for self-reflection including making good those damaged relationships, approaching and apologising to those whom who know we have offended, forgiving those who may have wronged us, and finally approaching our Creator, the Eternal God about whom Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2) declares:
Open for Me one gate of repentance by as little as the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates wide enough for carriages and coaches to pass through.
This process of returning to God and to our better selves is described by the English term ‘atonement’ or ‘being at one with oneself’.
How so, however for the nation at large, which is far from being at one or at ease with itself. A robust democracy does not require everybody to agree; indeed it requires passionate disagreement. Nevertheless, the capacity to finally reach a resolution, the humility to accept defeat, and the manner of how the debate is conducted are also signs of a healthy nation.
I am reminded of the Talmudic schools of Hillel and Shammai which, by all accounts, rarely agreed and frequently engaged in tortuous and lengthy explorations of issues. In spite of so doing, the Talmud (Eruvim 13b) that, concerning a dispute which lasted three years, the views of both the disputing parties are Eilu v’eilu divrai Elohim chayyim hayn: these and these: both are the words of the living God’.
How much more at ease would our nation be with itself if debate could be conducted against such a backdrop of mutual appreciation of contrary views!
A book I dote on at this time of year is This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. It’s exactly what it says, it may sound sentimental but it isn’t. The author Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l explains this annual process; as the chance to recalibrate ourselves, repair and reflect on repentance. “Our souls are making this journey, yours and mine. The trip will go better for us if we know where we’re going.”
The Shofar, once truly a means of announcement, will be blown, no doubt by a member of your congregation, to wake us to this moment. The three blasts Tekia, Shevarim and T’ruah shake us. Shevarim one of the calls are the broken staccato blasts. From the verb shavar meaning to break or to fracture. The Plural Shevarim are ‘breaks’.
There is no expectation that the year rolls round into the next with all of us strong and complete. There is grief, disappointment and brokenness in us all. The Shofar’s calls echo this. We are bound to fail and break promises to ourselves and others. Hence the obligation to Teshuvah; repentance.
We will all read on Yom Kippur;
- “Surely, this Instruction (Ha-Mitzvah Ha-Zot) which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach…No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deut. 30:11-14).
Most commentators understand this teaching as a reference to the observance of Torah as a whole, the life of Judaism. Within our reach, such a democratic and Liberal concept. Maimonides (1194-1270) suggests that these verses refer to the specific mitzvah of teshuvah, repentance, of returning to ourselves and to God.
May we greet 5780 as the community of Liberal Judaism with strength and sweetness. May we find the personal renewal we need to make the next year in our lives healthy and hopeful.
As Liberal Jews we are always poised to respond to the world; to follow the prophetic call Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue. But many of us are also proud to be part of Liberal Judaism because of the faith, spirit and collegiality of our community. Rabbis like John Rayner z”l, Harry Jaccobi z’l and Rabbi Andrew Goldstein have taught us well.
High Holy Days come round as the opportunity to consider, commit and renew ourselves religiously and emotionally as individuals as well as a community.
More sermons & pieces about the High Holy Days
[Sermon] Death, Time and Desert Island Discs13 October 2019 – 14 Tishri 5780
[Sermon] We have a choice13 October 2019 – 14 Tishri 5780
[Sermon] Belonging and connecting, sharing and repairing12 October 2019 – 13 Tishri 5780
[Sermon] Why be a Jew?12 October 2019 – 13 Tishri 5780
More HHD Pieces