Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Gap Year In Isreal

I am currently sat in a lounge in Jerusalem surrounded by peers from Australia, South Africa and other parts of the UK, the sun is shining through a mix-match of colourful curtains and there is an array of guitars, board games and books spread about the place; we are in our Etgar flat. ‘Etgar’ directly translates from Hebrew as ‘challenge’ and is the name of the section of the Netzer gap year programme (Shnat Netzer) that I have just begun. Sitting in my new home, surrounded by new friends and new challenges, I have time to reflect on my experience so far. 

We started our Israel journey on Kibbutz Lotan - an ecological, Reform Zionist kibbutz located in the Arava valley in the south of Israel. The picturesque landscape, along with the ideologically-driven kibbutzniks we were surrounded by, provided an inspirational beginning to our me here. We started each day with a peer-led Ma’amad (creative prayer service) before aending discussions and classes on topics such as ecology, Reform Zionism, Progressive Judaism and Hebrew. As well as these classes, we also partook in practical sessions such as working in the Kibbutz date fields, composing and building a mud wall for the Nursery. In between these activities we got to know the people of Lotan during communal meals in the Cheder Ochel (Dining room), my favourite being Shabbat dinner after a lovely Kabbalat Shabbat service in the synagogue. This constant sense of community and care for one another set the group up well for our move to the North, after having lived on Kibbutz for a month. 

At the beginning of December, our group packed up our belongings, squished them into a minibus and made the five hour journey to the other end of Israel. Once there, we setted into a large house in a Moshav called Meona and began the section known as ‘Tikkun Period’ (Repairing period). Over the following weeks we all took part in volunteering work, some of us attending High Schools (both Arab and Jewish), while others volunteered with younger children in Primary Schools and a Kindergarten. Throughout our me volunteering, we had the special privilege of getting to know both Arab Israelis and Jews and hearing opinions from peripheral areas of Israel on topics such as the conflict, the distribution of resources between central areas of the country and the periphery, as well as what it’s like to live on the border with Lebanon. We were able to gain extra insight into the reality of living on the border every Wednesday, when we would visit a different Moshav, most of which were situated only a matter of metres from Lebanon. Whilst there, we ran activities with the children, learnt about the history of the Moshavim and ate dinner with families who opened up their homes to us Before we knew it, it was once again me to pack up our things and move to another part of Israel. This me we were headed to the heart of the country - Jerusalem. We were greeted in the holy city by twelve Australian Netzerniks and one member of Netzer South Africa, having recently arrived in Israel. 

Whilst this period meant new and exciting opportunities, it also brought with it a big change to group dynamics; six of our original group decided to take part in the Etgar programme, along with ten members of the southern hemisphere kvutzah (group), while the rest enrolled in the alternative option called ‘Machon’. Machon offers a university style educational programme, with members of multiple Youth Movements from around the globe living in halls. During Machon, participants attend lectures on a variety of subjects such as Jewish Studies, Hadracha (leadership) and Gender studies. Mechinat Etgar also provides education to its participants, but uses an informal approach to teaching and heavily focuses on creang an intentional community and living out Netzer ideology (Etgar differs from Machon in the sense that it is an option only for members of Netzer Olami). The first week of Etgar has flown by, and we have just settled into the flat we will be living in for the rest of our me in Israel. We spent the days prior to this sleeping in a large Bedouin tent in the desert, after days of hiking and laying down the foundations for the journey our group is about to embark on. We all arrived back in Jerusalem feeling inspired and motivated about the period of me we are just beginning, excited for the precious memories we’ll all share in this communal living space, full of anticipation for the education we are about to receive, and motivated to help each other grow into beer madrichim (leaders) for the Progressive Jewish movement in our communities back home. 

Becky Penhey

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Isreal Group

Members of the Israel Group aended Yom Ha’atzmaut 2017 at Sha’arei Tsedek Reform Synagogue. The evening began with a very moving Yom Hazikaron service in remembrance of those who had died in the wars of Israel. This service was conducted by Rabbi Rebecca Birk from Finchley Progressive Synagogue, Rabbi Judith Levi and Rabbi James Baaden from Sha’arei Tsedek Reform Synagogue and Rabbi Yuval Keren from Southgate Progressive Synagogue. 

We then listened to a very interesng talk from Rabbi Yuval Keren about Naom Shemer’s song ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav’. The popular Israeli song ‘Jerusalem of Gold' was wrien in 1967.The original song described the Jewish People’s 2000-year longing to return to Jerusalem; Shemer added a final verse after the Six-Day War to celebrate Jerusalem’s unificaon under Israeli control. At that me, the Old City was under Jordanian rule; Jews had been barred from entering, and many sites had been desecrated. Only three weeks after the song had been published, the Six-Day War broke out. The song was the bale cry and morale booster of the Israeli troops. Shemer even sang it for them before the war, making them among the first in the world to hear it. On 7 June, the Israel Defence Forces captured the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Old City from the Jordanians. When Shemer heard the paratroopers singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ at the Western Wall, she wrote a final verse, reversing the phrases of lamentaon found in the second verse. The line about sofas sounding from the Temple Mount is a reference to an event that actually took place on 7 June. 

During the evening we had some excellent Israeli food from a buffet organised by Janet and Jane which brought back happy memories to many at the event who had been to Israel. 

Peter Leslie (Chair of Israel Group)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Religion School News

In May, we celebrated Yom Ha-atsma’ut (Israeli Independence Day), with help from the Liberal Judaism youth movement, LJY Netzer. 
Everyone had a fantastic morning! 

The younger students went to Oakwood Park, where we learnt about Israel through an educational game. When we returned to SPS, we tried our hand at decorating kosher marshmallows with blue edible pen and sparkles (see picture), and ate a yummy cake, decorated in blue and white to look like the 
Israeli flag. 

Later in the morning, we saw a film about LJY Netzer, which got our students interested in joining the LJY Netzer summer scheme this year 
(available for students age 8 upwards, from 14th – 27th August). There is also a full day of activities run by LJY Netzer in June, alongside the Liberal Judaism Day of Celebration. For more information see: 

We are now recruiting staff for September, so please get in touch with me, if you know anyone suitable: 

Finally, our parent and toddler group, Mini-Ruach, is going from strength to strength, with over 20 children coming on a Friday morning. The next Friday session will be on 9th June at 10am, and the next Saturday session will be on 17th June at 10am. 

Gwendolen Burton

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Religion School News

During March, Ruach students celebrated both Purim and Pesach (rather early), on each occasion with a whole morning of activities.

On 11th March, students were invited to come to Ruach in costume for our Purim celebrations. 

Congratulations to the winners of the fancy dress parade: Alice and David. 

As well as dressing up, we also baked tradi,onal homentaschen, and tried our hand at palmiers. These pastries, which look a lile like ears, are a delicious idea for Purim, apparently originating in France. At the end of the morning, we made Mishloach Manot (tradi,onal Purim gifts containing food, including homentaschen), which the students then gave to members of the Shabbat morning congregation, somewhat to their surprise! Many thanks to Barbara Ostermeyer, who made a batch of homentaschen to supplement our own baking endeavours. 

Other activities during the morning were a lively Megillah reading, accompanied by lots of noise from our home-made graggers; an illustrated Megillah, which can be seen on the notice board in the Baron Harris Room; and a Purim Photo Booth (see pictures). 

On 25th March, we celebrated the Ruach Pesach Seder. This was a “bring a friend event.” We were able to include our visitors in the reading of the Haggadah, as well as in a number of other activities, including baking our own Matzah, and the now tradi,onal hard-boiled egg championship. 

April is a quiet month for Ruach, as it includes the Pesach break. However, we are already making plans for May, when LJY Netzer will be joining us in Oakwood Park, for a joint celebration of Yom Ha-atsma’ut and Lag Ba’omer. Also in May, we will be welcoming a new member of Ruach staff, George Panayiotou. George will be teaching the GCSE class when Gerry is away.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Supper Quiz - 25th February 2017

A big thank you to everybody who came along to support our Supper Quiz last month. It was very well attended and we were entertained by our Quizmaster whilst enjoying a fish and chip supper. 

There was a great vibe around the hall throughout the evening and it appeared that the evening was enjoyed by all. I would also like to say a big thank you to those who helped out on the day. 

We held a raffle during the evening and I am pleased to report that the net figure raised was just over £800, the proceeds of which will be utilised by SPS. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Community Seder

You will shortly be getting your Pesach recipe books down from the shelf to start your Pesach baking. As usual I am asking if you could bake a few extra cakes and biscuits to enhance the Kiddushim after services. If you do not have time to bake we will happily accept bought cakes and biscuits (obviously Pesach ones). 

All donations gratefully appreciated and accepted. 

There are a few days left, up to 2nd April, to reserve your place at the Communal Seder. Application forms can be obtained from the office. 

The Communal Seder is always greatly enjoyed by those who aend. As you can appreciate this is something that just doesn’t happen, it is an event that takes careful planning and organising. There are the dedicated few, not all of them aend, who help set up the Hall, organise the sea,ng and make sure there is enough matzah, wine, Seder plates, crockery and cutlery in place for the night. 

Extra help is always required and appreciated. If you have an hour or two during the day when you can help please contact Barbara Martin, she will tell you how you can help and the time to arrive. 
Thanking you in anticipation. 

Barbara Martin

Thursday, 6 April 2017

‘Silence’ - Itamar Yaoz-Kesset

The numbers on her arm began to crumble 
Like a taoo on a sailor’s arm 
She imposed silence upon herself for thirty-five years 
Upon the line of numbers on her arm, 
Which began with the letter A 
She wanted to live the HERE and the NOW 
She wanted to live the sea, the house, the children 
And if she occasionally revealed herself 
It was with an accidental life of the sleeve 
And now, five abandoned digits remain in my mind 
Refuse to return to silence 
To the stillness of the Times Table. 

This poem, titled ‘Silence’ and originally wrien in Hebrew, was composed by Itamar Yaoz-Kesset. Itamar was born in 1934 in Hungary as Péter Ervin Keszt to an assimilated Jewish family. His grandparents and parents believed that the answer to an,semi,sm is full integration into the Hungarian society. 
This unfortunately did not spare the family from persecu,on and death when the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944. Aged 10, Itamar was sent to Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Seeing so much death and destruction around him, he regards his survival of the camp as ‘Divine intervention.’ 
Itamar managed to rebuild his life in Israel where he later became an educator and a poet. He was very far from keeping silent about the Holocaust. His first-hand childhood experience of the horrors of the Holocaust features heavily in his poems and essays. 

In his poem ‘Silence’, wrien 35 years a+er libera,on, Itamar describes the passing at the age of 40 of his cousin Elizabeth. She survived Auschwitz death camp as a young child together with her mother. 

After liberation, Elizabeth lived her life, she got married, had children, and had a good job. 
For 35 years Elizabeth never spoke about her experience of the Holocaust and the traumas of Auschwitz Death Camp. Her response was – silence. 

The only way for Elizabeth’s life to go on, and the only way for her to live the HERE and NOW, was through silence. This silence did not necessarily come from an awareness or an informed decision. 
This silence, experienced by so many Holocaust survivors, and survivors of other genocides, is like a spiritual disability. Breaking that silence takes the survivor from the HERE and NOW, back into the horrors of the THEN and THERE. Many would not be able to survive that experience – mentally and spiritually. 

The only testimony to Elizabeth’s harrowing experience was the taoo on her arm, only to be revealed accidentally, at the life of a sleeve. She took her taoo, and her story, with her to the grave. 
The Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel left the gates of Auschwitz at the age of 17. For a decade after the liberation, this prolific writer kept complete silence about his experiences. Life for young Wiesel had to go on. It took a great deal of persuasion and encouragement by the French journalist François Mauriac for Wiesel to start writing about his experiences. Wiesel broke his spell of silence, and he never stopped writing, and never stopped telling the world his experience of the holocaust. 

Why do so many survivors of genocide choose to keep silent? 

There are a few reasons for that. 
Like Elizabeth they want for LIFE TO GO ON. They want to a live normal life, get married, establish a house, and go to work. For many this aempt would be futile, as the past comes back to torment them. It could be through: 
• Dreams and nightmares; 
• The habits they adopted during their trauma; 
• Marks and scars on their bodies – and on their souls; 
• TV images of other conflicts; 
• Attempts at reconstructing history and Denial of their suffering 
• Or news about the rise of ideologies and powers similar to those that led to their experiences. 

They keep silent because they want to spare their families and dear ones from the trauma of their experiences. Yet, we know that there is no escape for the second and subsequent genera,on of survivors. It is some,mes even worse when survivors themselves are unable to talk about their experiences. The silence that comes to protect becomes the tormenting shadow for the next generations.

They keep silent because in many societies there is a lack of understanding of the survivor’s experience. They are asked questions such as: 
· Why were you led like sheep to the slaughter? 
· Why didn’t you fight? 
· Why didn’t you hide? 
· Why didn’t you escape? 

Explaining and debating is just too difficult and traumatic, and silence is the easy way out. 
Yet, it is this ‘comfortable’ silence that is often at the centre of the survivors’ inability to leave the past behind. Silence could o+en result in denial of justice to those who are wronged, and it can let their perpetrators get away with murder. 

In his 1986 Nobel Prize speech, Elie Wiesel stated: 
“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

As hard as it is at times, breaking the silence of survivors often helps bring about the process of justice, and the process of healing, for survivors and their family. Most importantly, it helps with the preven,on of future miscarriages of justice. 

Itamar Yaoz-Kesset wrote about the silence of his cousin Elizabeth – a Holocaust survivor. 

Yet he used his words to tell us the story of the tattoo on her arm. 
And by doing so he managed to break her 35 years of silence, and the tormenting secrets she took with her to the grave. 

Life must go on. 

Yet, the story of victims and survivors has to have a voice. 

Rabbi Yuval Keren