Hundreds of women at the Chief Rabbi’s Neshama Event
More than 300 women from fifty different communities – from Ealing United Synagogue to Machzikei Hadass, Golders Green – gathered at the new South Hampstead Synagogue yesterday (22/09/2019) for some pre-High Holy Day inspiration.
This was the latest in a series of learning events under the Neshama umbrella which was set up by the Chief Rabbi to promote women’s learning.
Following a welcome from Valerie Mirvis and an inspirational video produced by Rebbetzen Ma’ayan Lisa Levine, participants enjoyed a buffet dinner and a choice of educational sessions on a wide variety of topics – all followed by music and song to conclude an extraordinary evening. Guest speakers at the event included: Rebbetzen Dr Adina Shmidman, Founding Director of the Women’s Initiative at the Orthodox Union (OU), Yael Leibowitz, a prominent international educator and acclaimed artist Chava Erlanger.
The sessions ranged from text-based study to learning through song and art – and there was content to appeal to the most knowledgeable of participants as well as those without any previous learning experience.
Over recent years, the Chief Rabbi has made women’s learning a priority, launching Neshama in January 2018 with a huge inaugural event at the Hilton London Metropole. Since then, opportunities for women to advance their learning have increased significantly, with the creation of a new dedicated Women’s Officer role in United Synagogues and a Ma’ayan Roadshow in which graduates from the Chief Rabbi’s Ma’ayan course, taught in communities around London.
Louise Moont, recently elected women’s officer at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue, said, “The atmosphere at Neshama is truly unique. It was an incredible evening which has, once again, raised the bar for women’s Torah learning. It means so much to take part in an event like this – particularly one led by women who are more than able to educate in a manner that we can not only relate to through our own experiences but also inspires and enhances our connection to Torah. These are exciting times and as opportunities for women’s learning continue to increase, I very much hope that many more women will take advantage of them.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said, “These events are so important. Not just because of the wisdom and inspiration that they offer in and of themselves, but because they set a tone far greater engagement with women teaching and learning Torah. Neshama has set a high bar and our collective challenge now is to continuously strive to emulate it.”
Comments Off on A Spiritually Uplifting Shabbat in Kenton with the Travelling Chassidim
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The inspiring Travelling Chassidim made their way to Kenton to spend a Shabbat with the community there. They were hosted by the families of the Kenton community allowing for a truly immersive and shared experience. The Chassidim’s unique style included singing and sharing stories throughout Shabbat, ending with a rousing Havdala ceremony.
Evaluation From Vice-Chair Roy Block:
“Our guests were so friendly and transmitted the love and enjoyment of a whole Shabbat – all the meals and services featured beautiful singing. We shared stories and experiences, sang and danced and knew straight away that we had made good friends, who will come back again, for more. The Chassidic families also enjoyed being with us as much as we did with them and there was a great spirit of togetherness. We mixed and chatted all day as each part of Shabbat in shul gave many opportunities for engagement.”
‘I enjoyed learning about the Chassidim and their way of life and that we must not judge people by perception or stereotyping. We are all Jews together’.
‘It was an excellent, wonderful, stimulating and musical Shabbat in warm loving company’.
Comments Off on Dynamic Drum Cafe in Stanmore for a Fun Havdala Jam
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Stanmore hosted a Saturday night drum cafe event for young families and teens, keeping the spirit of Shabbat going into the week. With pizza to fuel the musical energy the participants created a strong percussion, with the beat uniting everyone there.
Evaluation from Rabbi Fine:
“The Drum Café were amazing – it is an excellent programme and activity, creating a great group vibe and an amazing buzz, with lots of people involved! It was also a great way to galvanise the young families ahead of Chanukah events”.
‘Amazing fun for everyone! Great energy and ruach!’
‘An incredible event that allowed me to feel more connected with the young families of Stanmore.’
Join us on Sunday 22nd September and hear from world-renowned educators and presenters – listen, discuss and reflect through inspiring sessions to prepare yourself for the Yamim Noraim – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Whether through text, art, yoga, music or more, come along and learn something new.
LIMITED PLACES AVAILABLE. BOOKING CLOSES AT MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY 18TH SEPTEMBER.
Comments Off on What is a Rebbetzen? And why were a group of 40 of us in Spain?
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A Rebbetzen is a bit of an exotic animal; part supportive wife, part helpmate, full time party planner, chauffeur, psychologist, social worker, domestic engineer, chef, cheerleader, community liaison, religious guide and so much more. Primarily though, an Orthodox Rebbetzen is a Rabbi’s wife and we are a group of women who are often defined by our husband’s careers. The best analogy I can give is that a Rebbetzen is akin to the First Lady, but without the big, white house.
As you can imagine this is not always the easiest of lives, though it can be immensely rewarding. The focus is often on our husbands, however the United Synagogue’s Rabbinical Council’s P’eir programme and Valerie Mirvis’ ‘Investing in Rebbetzens’ programme are empowering Rebbetzens to maximise their potential and find their own voice within their communities. Rebbetzens get to share best practice and most importantly receive inspiration which we take back to our homes and communities.
The ‘Investing in Rebbetzens’ programme which Valerie created four years ago together with Rachel Shababo, Director of the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence, offers a select number of programmes during the year, with the highlight being an annual two-day trip abroad. The trip is filled with learning, history, touring, fun, inspiration, bonding and friendship. This year I was privileged to join the fourth such trip, this time to Spain.
We started out in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, searching among the exterior walls of the old city buildings for remnants of Jewish life. In a place where one in every ten people was a Jew, we were left with an engraved plaque with Hebrew letters, portions of tombstones high up in a wall of the Grand Royal Palace and the faintest of echoes.
Our fantastic guide, Rabbi Raphy Garson of JRoots, together with his wife Deborah, were able to bring the ethereal into focus, setting the scene for what was once, in the golden age of Spain, a community that grew and thrived in the beautiful costal city. Rabbi Garson set the scene for the Disputations between Rabbinic greats and well learned Jewish converts to Christianity, trying to disprove Judaism. We tried to imagine the tension as Jews defended their religion and their right to exist.
We visited the beautiful Mont Juic (Jewish Mountain) and were treated to wonderful cable car rides so that we could experience a 360 degree view of the beautiful city. Rebbetzen Emma Taylor gave an excellent and very thoughtful shiur entitled ‘Looking back to our future; paradigms of Rebbetzens from biblical figures’ in the Greek Amphitheatre. Later that night we were very privileged to hear a D’var Torah from Rebbetzen Devorah Gelley.
The next morning we had the wonderful opportunity to daven Shacharit and sing Hallel on the beach. Rebbetzen Jaqueline Feldman then inspired us with her very lively ‘Teach on the Beach’ shiur, ‘Kechol Hayam – Timeless Grains of Sand’.
We left Barcelona and drove to the town of Girona, the birthplace of the Ramban (Nachmanadies), one of the greatest Talmudic scholars, whose work we still study today. On the journey, Rebbezten Naomi Lerer delivered a very insightful and thought-provoking shiur about the role of the Rebbetzen entitled ‘Is Good Enough Good Enough?’
In Girona we visited two homes previously owned by Jewish families and saw the cavities in the walls that used to house Mezuzot and we visited the beautiful Jewish Museum (Museu d’Història dels Jueus).
From Girona we travelled on to Besalu at the foothills of the Pyrenees, the picturesque medieval town where we found ourselves at the ancient Mikvah dating back to 1264, which was unexpectantly discovered in 1964. We think that history may have been made by Rebbetzen Chaya Reena Zimmerman delivering a truly exceptional and inspirational shiur in the Mikvah room to all of us, followed by our spontaneous singing of all the songs we could remember with versions of “tahor” (pure) in them. This was an incredibly powerful and emotional experience, a true highlight of the trip.
On our journey back to Barcelona, Rebbetzen Rivkie Pink gave a wonderful D’var Torah in which she spoke about the Leicester Shul Mikvah which was built together with the shul in 1898 and which is currently undergoing major refurbishment. Rivkie’s speech was so poignant in light of the ancient Mikvah we had just visited.
Over the two days, what we learned of the Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula was of the richness of Jewish culture, depth of scholarship, and the fact that this community was integral to the economy of Spain. Yet when the Spanish King and Queen decided in 1492 that they wanted to eradicate Judaism from their land, they wiped them out completely, to the point that even today it is a part of history that Spanish schools glaze over.
As much as us Rebbetzens were inspired by our location, being there as a group of Jewish community leaders, in a place where the past is asking something of the future, we offered an answer. The answer – ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (the nation of Israel lives). We couldn’t stop wondering what King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would say had they seen 40 Rebbetzens, women with homes and families dedicated to Jewish continuity, walking through the streets of Spain, sharing Torah, song and comradery, whilst gazing out at the pristine beach, relishing in their very Jewishness, 600 years after the Monarchs thought they had wiped us off the very face of their peninsula.
More women than men were murdered in the Inquisition. These women, whose families had converted, still kept the Faith, lit candles on a Friday afternoon in a cupboard, made food for Shabbat and taught their children how to say the ‘Shema’. They couldn’t let go of the faith of their mothers.
The Iberian Peninsula was once the centre of the Jewish world, with the population at its height, numbering half a million Jews at the time, half the world’s Jewish population. Starting in 1391 the Jews of Spain were, forcibly converted, expelled or murdered, and even after conversion, they were hunted and burned at the stake for the next 300 years. The Inquisition chased Crypto-Jews to the furthest corners of the globe.
To find the remnants, the slightest echo of Jewish life in Spain, you need a talented guide and a fair amount of imagination. And yet, as a group of women, we were able to connect with the generations of women who used the Mikvah of Besalu at the worst and the best of times, praying to God for Jewish continuity, Jewish hope, Jewish life, sometimes long after hope was gone.
Thank you to the office of the Chief Rabbi and especially to Valerie and Rachel for the faith they put in us Rebbetzens as an integral part of Jewish continuity and in our power and our value.
Comments Off on Celebrate Brilliant Female Speakers on Shabbat Neshama
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Building on the momentum created by the hugely successful Neshama Festival, a landmark Torah learning event for women that took place last year, the Office of the Chief Rabbi is launching ‘Shabbat Neshama’ to be delivered in synagogues across the UK.
Shabbat Neshama will put accomplished female educators and synagogue members centre stage over the Shabbat of 18th-19th January, when they will choose from one of a variety of ways to teach Torah. This could take the form of a D’var Torah, given after Friday night davening or at the conclusion of davening on Shabbat morning, a speech at a communal meal, a presentation at a Friday night oneg or as a scholar-in-residence for the whole weekend.
Communities are encouraged to avail of the talent within their own ranks in the first instance, be that a community member or the Rebbetzen, but ultimately it remains up to each shul to decide how this initiative can work best for them and their members. Many synagogues have already signed up to take part, with communities including St John’s Wood, Birmingham Central, Woodford Forest, Magen Avot, Edgware, Stanmore and others getting in touch to share their plans for this special Shabbat.
Shabbat Neshama is taking place on Shabbat Shira, when Parshat Beshalach is read, which tells the story of Miriam’s song after the splitting of the Red Sea and the Song of Deborah is sung in the Haftarah. This Shabbat is often linked to and used to celebrate women in Judaism.
We would love to hear your plans for Shabbat Neshama, and are on hand to answer your questions. Please email email@example.com in either regard.
Comments Off on Twinning initiative brings new vibrancy to British Jewry
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Over the last few years, the communal landscape has been quietly but determinedly shifting towards a more unified and self-sustaining whole, as The Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence (CCE) funds a twinning programme that fosters inter-community partnerships across the UK.
Hundreds of miles have been covered as groups come together for meticulously-planned Shabbatonim, festivals and social events where friendships are forged and the unique character of each community is celebrated – all part and parcel of the wider vision for communities that the Chief Rabbi laid out upon entering office.
His pledge to transform synagogues into powerhouses of Jewish religious, educational, social and cultural excellence has swept British Jewry with initiatives that extend far beyond the regular CCE grants that make innovative programming possible, connecting regional lay leaders at biennial conferences, devising training initiatives to standardise practise in areas like Tahara and delivering vital bursts of energy and leadership in the form of visiting madrichim and Rabbis. The successful pairing up of multiple congregations undoubtedly derives in part from the refreshed thinking and renewed sense of purpose that the Chief Rabbi and CCE have repeatedly aimed to inspire.
‘The second Shabbaton had an even wider reach – people from diverse backgrounds journeyed from a staggering 13 towns and cities’
One of the figures in the vanguard of the twinning movement is Rabbi Yehuda Pink of Solihull, whose institution of the Bosworth Shabbaton has proved to be a groundbreaking step towards strengthening Jewish life in the regions. The first Shabbaton in March 2015 drew 150 Jews from Solihull, Sheffield, Newcastle and Nottingham, not to mention the Chief Rabbi and Valerie Mirvis, who expressed their delight at seeing such a proud and united show of regional Jewish life. The second Shabbaton in September 2016 attracted a similar attendance but with an even wider reach – people from diverse backgrounds journeyed from a staggering 13 towns and cities, among them Leamington Spa, Mansfield, Middlesborough and Rotherham.
Rabbi Pink highlighted the importance of presenting Judaism in a ‘non-threatening and inviting manner’ in order to attract a diverse crowd to spend Shabbat together.
“It was particularly pleasing to be able to attract people with little formal connection to the community including those in mixed marriages or practicing alternative lifestyles,” he said, providing an indication of how the spiritual, educational and social programming that the Chief Rabbi advocates can be crucial in reconciling less affiliated Jews with their heritage.
‘ “It was amazing…The trip itself exceeded all my expectations” ‘
On a more local level, the Silhillian congregation has been very active in fortifying its connection with its twin community Sheffield, with whom it has run three highly successful events in 2017 alone. Some innovative thinking from Rabbi Pink and Rabbi Golomb saw the two congregations hit the road on a Whiskey Tour of the Highlands that left participants in high spirits – and not only as a result of the distillery visits. One Solihull member commented that “It was amazing…we started with a joint Shacharit and breakfast with Sheffield which was great. The trip itself exceeded all my expectations”.
Since then, summer exchange visits have included a joint lunch and quiz and a June barbecue, with the communities splitting the organisational work that goes into creating a memorable occasion. The feedback is always glowing – with attendees grateful for the chance to ‘renew the friendships’ previously established and to be a part of ‘this wonderful twinning concept that the Chief Rabbi promotes’.
There was already a deep-seated, historical connection that linked the South Manchester and Southport communities, what with many former Southport members having long since left the latter congregation for life in Manchester. This desire to reconnect with their roots formed part of the impulse that brought the two synagogues together in a partnership that is helping to rejuvenate Southport shul. A Shabbaton earlier this year was not only an extraordinary logistical feat, as Rabbi and Rebbetzen Lewis prepared meals, gave Divrei Torah and ran an outstanding programme throughout Shabbat, but an encouraging example of how light can be breathed back into some of British Jewry’s most beautiful shuls.
“It was a real treat to get a glimpse of how the shul used to feel in our heyday,” said Adrian Fletcher, former President of Southport Hebrew Congregation, “there were 80 of us altogether and it was wonderful, we had to open up our beautiful big shul and the atmosphere was exceptional”.
Commenting on her experience, one South Manchester member noted the importance of being able to better “understand…the history and dynamics of a different community” while benefitting from a Shabbat experience that was “inclusive and uplifting…from beginning to end”. For others the whole occasion was “full of nostalgia”.
‘A series of Shabbatonim have been transformative for the community’
The phenomenon has also reached London, where one large shul has been forging pioneering links between the city and the regions since before the CCE Twinning programme was formally launched and CCE funding provided. Motivated by a desire to help empower a community in an area where provision for Jewish life is less robust, members of Pinner United Synagogue Leonie Lewis and David Kaye, set about connecting their membership with the historical congregation of Norwich. A series of Shabbatonim have been transformative for the community and enlightening for all attendees.
“It made us realise the challenges of living outside London and how hard small, regional communities have to work to sustain their Yiddishkeit”, said Leonie Lewis, a Pinner member and United Synagogue Trustee.
And their visits are duly appreciated by Norwich Jews who credit these weekends with “keeping the flame of the candles alight”. One mother, attending shul with her son, commented on the “vitality, variety and lovely melodies” that filled the building over a weekend of Shabbat services and meals.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in a project that is gradually suffusing Jewish communities with a renewed enthusiasm and vigour that hasn’t been seen for decades. Communal differences have been overcome and celebrated with the twinning of the Newcastle and Gateshead communities, who have enjoyed multiple Shabbatonim together since 2014, while Birmingham Central is keen to build on its recent twinning with Cheltenham.
The growing list of collaborating communities goes on, but there is more to be done. With a bit of inspired leadership, an enthusiastic congregation and the support that is always on hand from the Chief Rabbi’s CCE, the sky is the limit.
Comments Off on New Impact Report Published by the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence
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Four years on from its launch, the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence (CCE) has truly established its credentials as a creative hub for synagogue programming and professional development.
CCE has now partnered with over 70 communities across the UK to help facilitate over 500 innovative projects and events, rapidly fulfilling the Chief Rabbi’s objective of transforming synagogues into powerhouses of vibrant and varied communal activity.
The latest Impact Report provides an insight into the radical thinking that is driving engagement beyond synagogue membership, and summarises a busy calendar of leadership training activities that have provided Rabbinic teams, Lay Leaders and Chevrot Kaddisha volunteers with access to development opportunities and expert advice.
Comments Off on Residential Shabbaton for Meade Hill Shul members
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Meade Hill members enjoyed a residential Shabbaton in Llandudno, culminating in a wonderful musical Melava Malka. The aim was to strengthen bonds amongst new young members and existing ones.
Evaluation from Rebbetzen Esti Prijs:
“New friendships were made, and lots of inspirational moments were had by all. It was also incredible to make a programme for so many diverse people and to have exclusively positive feedback! The Shabbaton will have a long-lasting effect in the community.”
Comments Off on Iron Dome Scientist Talks Science and Torah for Stanmore Shabbat
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The Stanmore and Canons Park community were given unique insights into the cutting-edge technology behind Israel’s renowned Iron Dome defence system by one of the scientists who created it, over the course of a Shabbat. Ari Sacher added a totally novel element to the weekend with his Torah-inspired insights, talking on Friday night, on Shabbat morning about different types of miracles and more generally about how the defence system works. Attendees were impressed by his thoughtful and humorous style of delivery, leaving them with much to think about for the week ahead.
Evaluation from Assistant Rabbi Daniel Fine:
‘Ari was superb and totally electrified the audience with his humour and thought-provoking messages. The community really appreciated the calibre of the speaker and found the weekend highly enjoyable.’’
‘An excellent, amusing speaker who said it like it is. No schmaltz, lots of humour, and the Jewish message was there but not pushed, so it became more believable and meaningful as a result.’
‘He was outstanding; funny, witty, animated, highly intelligent and basically a genius rocket scientist. His invention protects and saves Jews. He combines science with Torah. He is a legend.’
‘He was clear, focused, amusing and appropriate for Shabbat. This was truly an insight into the world of a religious rocket man.’