Shehecheyanu, Vekiyamanu, Vehigiyanu Laz’man Hazeh
I know that everyone here joins me in thanking God for having brought our community in good health to a vibrant 100 years young.
As well as marking our centenary, this week has seen the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. It is noteworthy that 100 years ago as we were founded, the 700th anniversary Magna Carta celebrations were cancelled due to the First World War. That sobering thought provides an opportunity for reflection on how the world has changed in the 100 years that have circumscribed the life of our community to date.
This is not merely a curious coincidence, but a matter of great significance in the context of our community. The importance of Magna Carta can’t be overstated: it had many flaws and foibles, but it remains the basis for the common freedoms, justice and fairness which have long characterised this wonderful country, the epitome of malchut shel chesed – a kind, benevolent jurisdiction within which we and other minorities can practice our religion freely.
At first glance, this seems scarcely worth mentioning, but throughout history, Jews have experienced prejudice and disadvantage in their host countries. As we give thanks today to God for 100 years of the Jewish settlement and religious life in Golders Green, we owe much to the religious and lay visionaries who founded this congregation – and bless their memory today – yet we also give thanks for the conducive, loving and nurturing environment in which our great community has thrived.
I am often asked why wine is used to celebrate special occasions in Jewish life. Whether it’s at a major life event such as a wedding or a brit or to mark the passage of time (kiddush to commence Shabbat and Yom Tov; havdalah when they conclude; seder night, etc), wine plays a major role. The Vilna Gaon (d. 1797) offers an illuminating explanation for this. He notes that there are two ways to understand our relationship with time. The first recognises that everything in the physical world, including human beings, have a period of vigour after which they slowly decline into oblivion. The second offers a more otherworldly perspective, in which we start life relatively ignorant and undeveloped and as we age, increase our spiritual capacities, and sensitivities. The second, of course, is a Jewish way to conceive of the passage of time – as each Shabbat, festival cycle and major life-event passes, we ought to be aware of our growing spiritual capabilities. As the only thing in the physical world that improves as it ages, wine represents our aspirations and encourages us to bear in mind Judaism’s mission for the spiritualisation of the material world. In short, wine is perfect to convey the message that we get better as we get older.
It is in that vein that I invite everyone present to join me in celebrating the fine, delightfully-aged wine that is the Golders Green Synagogue, our beloved Dunstan Road community. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s an unpretentious but full-bodied vintage, one worthy of our love and gratitude. We all feel deep appreciation for a century of Jewish history, tefillah, Torah study, fine leadership and inspiration.
What then are the unique selling points of our community? How have we managed – with God’s help - to re-energise our congregation over the past few years? What has enabled us to witness major membership growth, oversee the refurbishment of our infrastructure, build the wonderful Rimon School, and with a Shul bursting with young families on a Shabbat morning have been delighted to appoint Rabbi Sam and Hadassah Fromson to partner in developing the community?
I expect that every congregant past and present will have a different answer to this. However, I will just mention three. I’ve called them the three embraces:
· First – the uncompromising embrace of serious, authentic Torah ideas. Communities that embrace learning and demand very high-quality content from their rabbinic leaders, thrive. Torah lies at the heart of Dunstan Road.
· Second - absolute embrace of a non-judgemental inclusivism. We are delighted to welcome and provide high-quality Jewish life in all senses of the word for people of every level of commitment, belief, involvement and knowledge.
· Third – the willingness to embrace tensions and recognise that we live within complex realities. We recognise that our lives are characterised by competing demands: spiritual vs. physical; traditional Jewish life vs. modernity; subordination to community needs vs. expressing individuality. Rather than denying these tensions or pretending that we can resolve them all, we acknowledge and embrace them and appreciate the creativity they engender.
We are proud to embrace these ideas, and I am proud to commit us to constantly bettering our provision in them all. And I am confident that they lie at the heart of our success.
It has been an extraordinary privilege to stand at the helm of this community for more than 12 years. And it has only been possible in partnership with a host of remarkable individuals. In my role as a rabbinic mentor, I’m often asked for advice in handling difficult lay leaders, but I can’t offer any, at least not from experience. Vicki and I salute you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts; may God bless you all with health, success and the energy to do even more for our community.
Join with me in wishing
our community lechaim, arichat yamim and a hearty mazal tov as we start our
second century. Thank you.
Radio 2 Vanessa Feltz Show
Belovski Articles in Jewish Action
Jewish Action, the Magazine of the Orthodox Union in the USA, commissioned this articles, which have just been published:
Rebbetzin Vicki Belovski (contributer) - Do Jews Have a Future in Europe?
Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski - Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred
Some may recognise my piece from Kol Nidre 2014 and a recent guest drashah in Toronto.
Golders Green Synagogue Megillah Readings
Following Ma'ariv at 6.15pm (approx. 6.25pm) - GGS
11.00pm - Belovski Home
Following Shacharit at 6.45am (approx 7.20am) - GGS
10.00am - Beckman Home
3.00pm - JLE
Full details here
Gluttony on Yom Kippur: Redefining Eating
To be delivered at GGS after Minchah (5.50pm), Shabbat Shuvah 5775
Sermon Notes 09/08/13 - VaEtchanan & Nachamu 5774
The palpable sense of relief that generally follows
Tisha B’Av is absent this year. I usually
feel that having spent three weeks contemplating the destruction of the Temple
and other horrors of Jewish history, I’ve met my obligation and can leave Tisha
B’Av refreshed, ready for the summer holidays and with one eye already on Rosh
HaShanah. This year, however, given the
recent conflict in Israel and the shocking increase in anti-Semitism in Europe,
the air is heavy, laden with uncertainty and ambivalence – almost guilt – at having
moved back to normal life post-Tisha B’Av.
It feels to me that the notoriously flimsy boundary between valid
criticism and naked anti-Semitism is in danger of collapse.
This past week, the spectre of divestment from Israel again raised its
head. I suspect that for many it will be the anti-Israel
instrument of choice for in the months ahead, in preference to the rather
more demanding option of reasoned discussion.
Those it affects most are our students on campus, who often find
themselves on the front line of anti-Israel hostility. Even if their
convictions are strong, their Israel experience is characterised by the
constant need to justify and defend. The
opportunity that I had as a student to create what Ambassador Daniel Taub once
described to me as ‘my Israel’ narrative – the space that allowed me to
consider what Israel meant to me, what I aspired for it to be and what my role
might be in attaining that – is commonly denied our students, who are constantly
on the back foot.
It is in that vein that we turn to today’s haftarah, the first of the
so-called ‘seven of comfort’ read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh HaShanah,
selected from the 40th chapter of Isaiah. It starts with the famous line:
נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם
Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)
To whom is God is addressing His
words – who should comfort My people?
The Aramaic Targum offers the obvious answer – God is speaking through
Isaiah to His prophets:
נבייא אתנביאו תנחומין על עמי
My prophets! Prophesy comfort to My people. (Targum Onkelos ad loc.)
This reading (also favoured by
Rashi) does not address the repetition of the word נחמו – comfort, something that
can only be understood properly with reference to the next verse:
דברו על לב ירושלם... כי מלאה צבאה כי נרצה עונה כי לקחה מיד ידוד כפלים בכל חטאתיה
Speak to the heart of Jerusalem... her time of estrangement has been fulfilled and her transgression has been forgiven, for she has been doubly punished by God for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:2)
It seems that the Jewish people
require a double measure of comfort because their punishment has been doubled,
a view validated by midrashic sources (e.g. Midrash Tanchuma Devarim 1).
Whatever the intention of the
verses, we are only too familiar with this ‘double punishment’ – the media distortions,
the obvious double standards of Israel’s detractors (where are the mass demonstrations
against daily massacres in Syria and exterminations in Iraq?) and the frequent
uncritical adoption of a single version of a war narrative, when, as always,
there are multiple perspectives.
If we are subject to ‘double
punishment’, we need double comfort, as God demanded from our prophets. They must replace pain with comfort,
negativity with positivity and despair with hope.
But today there are no prophets and
so the call of Isaiah must go out to their modern-day substitutes – the leaders
of our communities. That call is not restricted
to rabbis or other formal leaders, but it goes out to everyone engaged in
Jewish life who is able to do something.
All of us can write a letter to an MP or minister, respond to a
blog-post, speak out sensibly against all bias and bigotry, attend an event, support
communal efforts to counteract the negativity and inspire others to do
An unfathomable aspect of
the current situation is the unwillingness of many free-world leaders to articulate
something obvious. Many of
those who violently attack and seek the ultimate elimination of the State of
Israel, and especially their financial backers, harbour the same long-term intentions
towards Christians and, indeed, the whole of Western society. As much as we worry about events in Israel
and Europe, we are not oblivious to the brutal, barbaric persecutions of Christians
and Yazidis in Iraq. I believe that Israel
and the Jews are just first in line; in reality, the very fabric of our society
is imperilled for all people, regardless of faith or creed. Emphasising these
threats is one way of focusing the attention of others.
Yet as well as highlighting these wrongs,
we must double our message of hope and comfort.
If the pain is doubled, the message of hope must be doubly powerful.
The importance of articulating the
message is highlighted by Isaiah a few verses further into his prophecy:
על הר גבה עלי לך מבשרת ציון הרימי בכח קולך מבשרת ירושלם הרימי אל תיראי
Ascend a high mountain, herald of Zion. Raise your voice powerfully, herald of Jerusalem. Raise it, do not be afraid... (Isaiah 40:9)
We have to carry our message of hope to high places and speak it where it can be heard. We should never underestimate the impact we can have, nor where we have friends – sometimes critical friends – but friends nonetheless. They are everywhere, members of every religious groups – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – and of none. They exist at the workplace, among journalists and at universities. We must redouble our efforts to build friendly, functional relationships with them, even when we disagree about Israel, or, indeed, anything else.
This is one message of hope. The other is that that our voice, even if it small, cannot and will not be silenced.
נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם
Jews and the Black Death
From the GGS Website
One of the most destructive pandemics in history, the Black Death raged in mid-14th-century Europe, killing close to half of its population. In many places, sometimes encouraged by church leaders, Jews were blamed for spreading the disease, resulting in widespread persecution and the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities.
In this presentation, Rabbi Belovski will examine the social and political context of these attacks, explore the role of Pope Clement VI, who tried to prevent them and consider their ramifications for European Jewry.