Thursday, 22 September 2016

Our Israel Trip

Three years ago, when my sister Amy came back from her Israel tour, I went to pick her up from the airport and saw how she had grown and changed for the better. Three years later when it was my turn, the idea of going away with fifty-seven other people to a foreign country for three and a half weeks didn't really appeal to me; however, that would all change. 

There were a couple of things that I wanted to get out of tour. Ever since completing the Jewish studies GCSE course at SPS, where I was able to go deeper into the meaning of Judaism, I have been more interested in learning about other religions. Therefore, by going on tour I wanted to find my own Jewish identity, to gain a connection with Israel; as well as finding lifelong friends and to have the most amazing experience. 

Throughout the trip I saw some incredible sites, including the Western Wall, Masada, Mount Herzl and the Gaza Wall where I glued a prayer. One thing that surprised me the most was everywhere I looked there was an Israeli flag; hanging up on buildings, cranes and on the side of roads. It shocked me because it shows you how proud Israel is, which was so refreshing to see. Despite everything that they go through on a regular basis with bomb shelters around every corner and being attacked both physically and politically, Israel stands tall and proud; and that made me feel proud not only to be in Israel but also to be Jewish. Even when faced with a crisis Israel and its citizens find a way to carry on their lives as normal. All our worries are nothing compared to how brave they are. 

On a less serious note, all my worries about making friends were swiftly forgotten. I have made some lovely life-long friends and everybody was so kind, it was like meeting up with friends that you have known for years. Being stuck with more than 60 people every day didn't take that long to get use to as you always had someone around to keep you company; and there was never a shortage of things to do or laughs waiting to happen. 

I am so grateful to everyone that made my Israel tour the most amazing experience I have ever had. I had the most incredible time that I will never forget. Since being back from tour I am now considering taking a gap year in Israel to further develop my Jewish understanding. 

Charlotte Golding

My trip to Israel was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Everything about BBYO Israel tour was phenomenal, from visiting sites such as the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, to swimming in the Kinneret and hiking up Masada. When I visited the Old City, I felt such a strong connection to Judaism it made me really think about what it is to be Jewish and what I can do in my life to continue this connection. 

Getting to the top of Masada was so rewarding, when we reached the summit we sat together and watched the sunrise, which was beautiful. 

Not only were the educational aspects of the tour memorable, I know that the friends I have made will be lifelong friends. Having fifty-seven other teenagers to share the tour with was one of my favourite parts. My summer in Israel has changed me as a person and was an exceptional experience which I will remember for the rest of my life. 

Hannah Golding

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Rabbinic Memories

In the early days of the Leo Baeck College there was no course for practical Rabbinics. For example, how to conduct a wedding, funeral or stone setting. 

So, when I was asked or expected to conduct a stone setting for a late congregant of the Settlement Synagogue, where I had been seconded as student Rabbi, I sought the advice from a senior fellow student on how to conduct it. Armed with this information and full of nerves, I appeared on the due date at Edmonton Cemetery in North London. It should be known, at this point, that I did not conduct the funeral of the late gentleman so I had no idea where he was buried in the cemetery. 

After the initial part of the service in the prayer hall, having delivered a suitable eulogy, I proceeded out of the hall with the one and only mourner, his son, followed by a trail of some hundred family and friends, to conclude the service at the graveside. I marched solemnly down the path, together with the son, doing a wonderful impression of the Pied Piper of Hamlin because, by this time, there was a trail of people following dutifully behind us. 

After about five minutes, which seemed an eternity, having turned right and left several times through the cemetery, I enquired of the mourner, as to where exactly the grave was. To my surprised he replied that he could not remember. By this time the trail of people stretched out around half the cemetery. It always seems that a stone setting is an opportunity for a social event to catch up with family and friends who haven’t seen each other since the last family event, therefore they were busy chatting and not noticing where they were being led. So, what to do? Back to the prayer hall and seek out the resident groundsman to enquire the whereabouts of the required grave. 

With that knowledge, off we went again, found the grave not fifty yards from the hall, and proceeded to conclude the service. Having paid my respects to close family, I proceeded back to the prayer hall, only to be waylaid by the inevitable ‘hochum’ of the family who enquired as to why we had walked all over the cemetery. Thankfully I had my wits about me and, not wishing to demonstrate my naivety, I told him that there was an old Jewish custom that if you had not attended the cemetery in the last thirty days you were required to walk the four corners of the grounds to show one’s respect. This seemed to satisfy him and off he went ………… and so did I! And, thus, another Jewish custom had been established. 

Rabbi Michael Standfield

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Music at SPS

There is a range of different musical activities at SPS for all ages!

The Youth Singing Group
If you are 16+, love music and want to learn new songs then join the new SPS Singing Group this summer. 

We will be singing popular songs from the West End and Broadway musicals, films, and contemporary music. 

You do not need to read music or Hebrew and there are no auditions. Just come along and find out how much fun sining with others can be!

If you are interested please email

SPS Choir
Join the SPS choir to sing at Shabbat Services. Rehearsals include vocal coaching to develop your singing skills. Starting at 9:50-10:50 followed by the Shabbat Service.
The next Choir rehearsal begins on 10th September at 9:50am. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The LJ Biennial 2016

Back at the start of the summer the Liberal Judaism Biennial Conference 2016 was held in Solihull. Nearly 300 Jews across the UK were there, possibly representing 40 different Liberal/ Progressive communities.

We started on a Friday evening with drinks and then a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service before dinner. This was a weekend where we didn't need to bring our own Siddur Lev Chadash as the service was projected onto two large screens, which reminded me of how we do our 'Shabbat Showtime' and Purim melodies. The service included tunes new to some, familiar to others, but everyone joined in and the beautiful sounds filled the room. Dinner was an opportunity to greet new people and start to become acquainted with characters you'd recognise all weekend long. The Jewish community being as it is, you were never far away from someone you knew through friends, family, colleagues, once, twice or three times removed!

For me the Shabbat morning service was key. My fellow Ba'alei Tefillah colleagues took the core of the main service, with satellite options running concurrently in adjoining rooms which depicted Shabbat observance over the millennia. My aforementioned colleagues and I were given our certificates of Graduation of the course by Rabbi Danny Rich and LJ Chair Simon Benscher at the end of the morning service.

The rest of the weekend programme then began in earnest. After a keynote discussion between author Cole Moreton and Rabbi David Goldberg where the key takeaway emerged that in the UK there are 12 million adults who believe in God but hold no religious affiliation at all. I.E. in the census they declared no religion, belong to no religious institution, but could be searching for a spiritual solution. 

We started our journey through the weekend's selection of workshops. There were to be four sessions across Saturday and Sunday with a choice of up to 13 subject choices each time. They ranged from discussions on Brexit, Israel, female Rabbis, to study on liturgy, Talmud, through to food, music and fashion.

The theme of the weekend was 'Thinking outside the book.' LJ is considering republishing our Siddur, and many workshops were looking on how we can influence the way the new Siddur is laid out, its content, the language  (not only translitera8on, and gender-equal, but actually considering how we should address the ‘eternal one’ - a whole session on itself that I attended was very enlightening), the imagery, the format (even if it should be left-right, or right- 
left) etc. The Saturday night dinner was followed by some humorous in-house entertainment, some video messages from previous students of the Leo Baeck College as it celebrates its 70th year graduating Rabbis. This included a message from our own Rabbi Yuval Keren, so he was with us, if not in person! We were then entertained by Jewish comedy-singer Daniel Cainer, whose rendition of ‘Bad Rabbi’ nearly brought the house down! 

Not to be forgotten, during the Saturday dinner the LJ Chair Awards were presented by the Rich/Benscher combination. These awards are given to hard-working long-standing members of the LJ communities and, as the title suggests, it is the Chair of each community that nominates the recipients. Unbeknown to her, our Jane Greenfield was a winner and she was delighted to accept the certificate.

Jane’s contribution to the organizing of this and previous Biennials was marked too at the closing ceremony where, with Josie Kinchen of Finchley Progressive Synagogue, she was presented with a gift.

The whole weekend seemed to pass in a flash. It was a shame that we were only 4 from SPS as there was so much going on. There was literally something for everyone, or hotel spa/gym facilities if you wanted to find some personal time too. Next year there is a single day – LJ’s Day of Celebration at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, 11th June – so hopefully a bigger SPS contingent will go. I for one will definitely be there and at the 2018 Biennial – please join me.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Religion School News

Last term ended with a celebration of our students’ work, with awards handed out by our Chairman, Bob Dulin. Sadly, we also had to say good-bye and thank you to some members of staff, three of whom are moving away to pursue their studies. 

We finished the morning by practicing our circus skills, with the help of an outside entertainer. Both students and staff enjoyed this, with the tight rope one of the most popular experiences. 

The new Ruach term starts on 10th September, when we will be welcoming back our students and also a new member of our teaching staff, Rachel Vogler, who will be teaching Kalanit (years 6-8). 
I am pleased to report that our students will continue to take part in the SPS Family Services during 2016-17. The September service will be on 24th September, when we hope to welcome parents and other members to the service, and to a Coffee Morning before the service. 

Finally, I am delighted to announce that we will be starting Mini-Ruach this autumn, a new playgroup for babies and toddlers, from birth to age five, attending with their parents or grandparents. We are currently appealing for donations of toys and equipment, so please do help us, if you can. Dates for Mini-Ruach will be advertised in the weekly newsletter, and on the Mini-Ruach noticeboard in the Baron Harris room. 

Gwendolen Burton (Ruach Head Teacher)

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Religion School News

We have just launched our Buddy Scheme, which involves putting families in the congregation who have children the same age in touch with each other. We hope that when the children come along to SPS there will be familiar faces and the children will immediately feel at home in the community. Several families have been invited to take part in the Buddy Scheme.

We recently had a visit from LJY-Netzer, who spoke to parents and students about the youth movement and in particular Kadimah, the summer camp which will be running in August 2016. Some of our own teenagers will be taking part as youth leaders, and it's not too late to sign up for the camp.

This term we have had several successful Family Services, and a children Shavuot Service, which was followed by an Open Morning where visiting children were able to join in one of the classes and get to know the students and staff. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Words from the Rabbi: Rabbinic Feminism then and now

The Jewish world took one big leap forward last month when a group of eight women were ordained as Rabbi's in Jerusalem. 

Perhaps you will think that there is nothing unusual about ordination of women Rabbis. The first woman to be ordained as a Rabbi was Regina Jonas in Germany in 1935. Regina, who was a student of Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck, refused to make do with a teaching degree and wanted to be formally recognised for her knowledge and skills. It took the courage of Rabbi Dr Max Dienemann to provide Regina with a full Rabbinic ordination. Another glass ceiling was the reluctance of the communities to employ a woman Rabbi but Regina eventually overcame this obstacle to. Like many other German Jews, Regina's property was confiscated by the Nazis and she was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. In the camp Regina continued her Rabbinic work by supporting those who has mental crises and suicidal tendencies. In 1944, nine years after ordination, Rabbi Regina Jonas was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.

Regina led the was to consequent ordination of women to the Rabbinate. The second woman Rabbi to be ordained, and the first in the US, was Rabi Sally Jane Priesand in 1972. The first British woman Rabbi to be ordained in the UK, three years later; was Rabbi Jacky Tabick. Rabbi Tabick received her ordina<on from the Leo Baeck College, a Rabbinic ins<tute that carries the name of one of Rabbi Jonas’ teachers and was established by one of her colleagues and a refugee from Nazi Germany, Rabbi Werner van der Zyl.
81 years aAer the ordina<on of the first woman Rabbi, gender plays liEle role in the acceptance of Rabbinic students to progressive seminaries around the world.
Yet, in the Orthodox world progress has been slow and there has been strong resistance to the idea of women serving as Rabbis. Interes<ngly, even though she received her ordina<on from Liberal ins<tu<ons, Rabbi Regina Jonas defined herself as a tradi<onal Orthodox Jew. She felt that her choice of a career was directed by a Divine hand. She could not find any objec<on to women serving as Rabbis in Jewish texts. In her Rabbinic thesis she justfied the women, not by using Liberal claims but by focusing on Orthodox sources. The title of her thesis was ‘Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?’ Based on Biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, her conclusion was that apart from prejudice, there was no Halachic obstacle to women ordinaton.
The Feminist Revolution has finally hit the Orthodox world this past month when eight women Rabbis received their semicha (Rabbinic ordina<on) from an Orthodox Rabbi. It was only in recent years that Orthodox women were even allowed to study Torah at a Rabbinic level. Yet, those who reached that stage had to make do with alternative titles such as ‘Halachic Consultant’ ‘Halachic Leader’ and even the very inappropriate <tle Rabbanit (‘the Rabbi’s wife’).
The Modern Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Landes who ordained the group of students, told them: “You will be acting in a post-modern environment... As Rabbis you must support the principle of respect for one another.”
The next great challenge for the nearly ordained is not dissimilar to that of Rabbi Regina Jonas. They will need to find communities who will endorse them as their spiritual leader. This will no doubt be an uphill struggle in a world where Rabbis are expected to wear a suit and grow a beard, and they will need to stand firm against vicious attacks from the ultra-conservative side of Orthodoxy. Yet, they cannot and should not become invisible and transparent.
It took Liberal and Reform Judaism nearly eight decades to remove the gender barrier when it comes to communal spiritual leadership. There are now a number of women Rabbis in senior posi<ons in this country. To name a few: Rabbi Alexandra Wright is the senior Rabbi of LJS, Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger is the senior Rabbi of West London Synagogue, Rabbi Laura Janner- Klausner is the Senior Rabbi at the Movement for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Jacky Tabick, the first woman Rabbi in the UK, is the convenor of the Reform Movement's Beit Din. 

This is a beautiful example of the progressive movement leading the way to the rest of the Jewish world. It would probably take a few more decades for the newly ordained Orthodox women Rabbis and their supporters to introduce feminism and egalitarianism to the Orthodox world.