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Op-Ed: ‘It is what we do that makes the Jewish people so great’

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Writing in the Jewish Telegraph this week, the Chief Rabbi discusses the importance of active leadership, as well as the plans he has – to be realised in part via Centre for Rabbinic Excellence – to strengthen community life and the individual’s sense of Jewish identity. 

“The Torah Portion of Nitzavim is always read close to Rosh Hashana. The portion commences with these words: “You are all standing this day before the Lord your God; your heads, your tribes (shivtechem), your elders and your officers.”

In the midst of this list of national leaders, ‘tribes’ appears to be out of place. Sensitive to this question, Rashi blends the first two leadership terms together to produce the phrase “the heads of your tribes”. Others explain that shivtechem means people with authority. Shevet also means a staff or sceptre. Similar to the manner in which the Crown refers to the monarch and First Violin refers to an orchestra’s lead musician, the person who exerts his or her authority with a staff is called by that term.

The message that emerges is clear. You are what you do. The best way to assess the significance of a person is through evaluating that person’s achievements.

For this reason we call community leaders machers (makers). It is not the title that is important, it’s what you make happen that counts.

In this spirit I would love us all to achieve a significant amount: to lead Jewish lives rooted in tradition, enriched by modern, compassionate and authentic Torah values; where Israel is central to our identity; where communities engage and embrace wider society; where secure and confident Jews have the opportunity to make their own unique and positive impact on humanity.

‘The best way to assess the significance of a person is through evaluating that person’s achievements’

My visits to communities during the past year have impressed me enormously. In my desire to engage and ensure strong links with Jewish people right across the UK, I have so far managed to visit the majority of our communities. Through the Shabbat and Yom Tov services, Sunday morning services and breakfasts, Melave Malkas, Seudot shlishit, social and educational programmes that I have attended, I can testify to the fact that British Jewry is blessed to have incredible congregations, led by some remarkable and highly inspirational men and women. We are what we do and this is what makes British Jewry great.

In recognising the responsibility we have to maintain existing communities, to strengthen the fabric of our regional congregations and increase commitment to Jewish activity and identity, I am determined to provide increased resources, support and encouragement for all our communities in Britain.

In my quest to transform our Houses of Prayer into powerhouses of Jewish religious, educational, social and cultural excellence, I was delighted during the summer to launch the Centre for Rabbinic Excellence (CRE), which will be the vehicle through which my office will achieve my ambitious aspirations for our Rabbis and communities. The CRE is a very exciting innovation. It will provide advice, resources, inspiration and financial grants to communities as a catalyst to stage fresh and innovative programmes.

An early opportunity will be presented to us all through ShabbatUK, which will take place over the weekend of 24/25th October. Tens of thousands of people will join together in their personal capacities and through their communities to enjoy the incredible meaning and happiness that Shabbat provides us with. Shabbat has greater relevance in the fast-moving, creative and sophisticated 21st Century than ever before.

‘It will provide advice, resources, inspiration and financial grants to communities as a catalyst to stage fresh and innovative programmes’

As Shabbat UK draws near, there is a deep sense of excitement. Thrilling, extraordinary Shabbat events will be taking place throughout the country. The dividends will be significant for individuals, families and communities. Ultimately, the success of ShabbatUK will lie in what we will be doing over that weekend. In Judaism, it is action that counts and I’m looking forward to an unprecedented Shabbat of activity, meaning and spiritual growth for us all.

Let us be active together. Let us put compassionate, inclusive and traditional Judaism at the heart of our community. Let us secure a vital and successful Jewish future through establishing a meaningful connection to our heritage and let us deepen our knowledge and understanding of the great treasury of Jewish law, thought and culture.

Most of all, let us engage actively in a life of Jewish practice, for it is what we do that makes us what we are.”