Apr 20

19 April 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Today is Yom haAtzma’ut, the day on which, seventy years ago, Israel became a sovereign state for the first time in 1,878 years. Rabbis have debated exactly how we should relate to this event in our own time– is it a modern miracle? Is it simply the result of luck and/or politics, or can we discern divine intervention in this remarkable event? It’s hard to know. Partially, it’s hard to know because, although 70 is a very worthy birthday to celebrate, it is truly still the very beginning of Israel’s renewed national consciousness. For the sake of comparison, 70 years into America’s history it still had nationally sanctioned and funded slavery of African men women and children, politically engineered genocide of Native Americans, and on its 70th birthday, began an absurd war of aggression with Mexico.

For many of us, we likely struggle with how to relate to the State of Israel. Obviously it is the fulfillment of so many of our peoples’ hopes and dreams across millennia. Yet, it is also a real country made of up flawed people, subject to the same political intrigues and social debates as any other country. In some way, because Israel does have such spiritual significance for us, we tend to hold it to a higher standard, and we should. Yet, on today, we should think about the lessons we’ve learned over the last 70 years and commit ourselves to building a sustainable, secure, and peaceful future for Israel for the next 70 years and beyond.

To do so, I want to offer the advice of Pirkei Avot. We read Chapter 2 this week and there you’ll find the following:

“Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place.”

I think each of these three bits of advice can help us relate to the Israel of today.

Do not separate yourself from the community. No matter what issues we have with the policies and politics of Israel, we have to stay engaged with this nation which contains half our people and a great deal of its intellectual and spiritual creativity. We cannot simply check out of the ‘Israel conversation.’ We may have diverse views on the thorny issues involved in governing the world’s only Jewish state, but we have to ensure that all of those views stay inside the conversation rather than absent themselves altogether.

Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death. Israel is new. The blessings and the problems that arise from it are new. None of us should be so foolish as to think that we have the right answers about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Secular-Religious tensions or any other issue. These are huge issues and this is the first time we’ve had to grapple with many of them (for some, the first time in two thousand years.) We all need to apply a bit of skepticism and a bit of wonder. Israel is an ongoing, living, breathing, dynamic project. As long as it lives, we should be open to all the many ways it could develop and not assume that we have all the answers.

Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place. Aside from being just good advice for life, this is particularly good advice for thinking about how we connect with Israel. For those of us who do not live (or have not), do not have friends or family in Israel or Palestine– we have a very different take from those that do. Each of us has experiences and viewpoints which aren’t to be judged. If we’re to grow and develop, and perhaps most important, model peace-building for others, we need to be able to recognise that sometimes we have different perspectives because we’re standing in different places.

As we celebrate 70 years of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, it is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves of Hillel’s words: be careful, be skeptical, be non-judgmental. We must continue to have the Israel conversation, and we must do so with a healthy regard for other people and other views, recognising that this young nation is just beginning its life in the contemporary world. Happy Birthday, Israel!


Apr 17

12 April 2018

By Editor | Blogs

One refrain I hear very often is that the Holocaust marks the biggest challenge to (or sometimes even hyperbolically-stated as the ‘end of’) Jewish theology. The idea that the horror of the Sho’ah is an irrevocable condemnation of God seems to me both misguided and far over-simplistic.

Whenever I teach about what academics call ‘theodicy’ (basically, the discipline of trying to explain why bad things happen to good people within theology) the inevitable first question asked is: “Yes, but what about the Holocaust? How could God let that happen?”

I think we need to reframe that question, and I think the sources are with me on this. We should be asking instead, “How could humanity let that happen?” The Sho’ah should shatter our faith in the goodness of us not in the goodness of God. Displacing our righteous indignation at the ease with which “normal” people became ravenous murderers beholden to genocidal ideology unto God instead is easy— it is far easier to cry out to God, to condemn God. Yet it is humanity whose verdict is confirmed by the trial of the Sho’ah.

There isn’t a great deal of reason why we should turn to castigate God first. You may respond: ‘Fine, but then why didn’t God intervene? Why didn’t God smite Auschwitz or send a stroke upon Hitler?’ Perhaps once again instead of asking, ‘Why didn’t…’ we should look at what we know about the ways in which God does intervene in the events of history.

Consider the Exodus: God allows the Israelites to be enslaved and subjugated for over 400 years before considering intervention. An entire generation of infants were drowned before our story even starts. When God does ‘intervene’ it is as passively as possible— speaking to and through righteous human beings, Moses, Aaron, Miriam. God acts through them. Perhaps we can ask why God did not simply kill Pharaoh with a heart attack? Why did God not simply pull the Israelites out after 4 years, or even 40, waiting instead until more than 400 had passed?!

The answer, for better or worse, is simple: that just isn’t the way it works— and that’s okay. God has given humanity free will, and the cost of that extraordinary gift is accountability and responsibility. We may feel God’s presence in the system of Providence set up from above, but that is an indirect interaction with Divinity at a distance. God is not “personally” responsible for our failures or our successes, our kindnesses or our violences— we are.

The uncomfortable truth we erase by condemning God for the atrocities of the Holocaust is that the blame lies instead in the human heart. “Normal” men, women and children joined the blood-lust fueled murder of their neighbours. “Average” people went to work each day at Auschwitz and came home each evening to their family, kissing their own children goodnight after having spent the day supervising the slaughter of someone else’s children.

During these weeks between Pesach and Shavu’ot our tradition obligates us to learn the ethical principles contained in the the tractate of the Mishnah called Avot (“Fundamentals”). From the first chapter, and on today– Yom haSho’ah– we must reflect on the teaching of Hillel (1:14):

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:
“He (Hillel) used to say: If I am not for me, who is for me? When I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, then when?”

It is upon us to choose life, to choose goodness, to choose kindness. The responsibility falls upon us to ask, ‘If not now, then when?’ God does not exist as a cosmic helicopter parent, waiting to swoop in and save us from ourselves. Humans committed the crimes of the Holocaust and it is humans who must be held responsible. We musn’t distract ourselves from the critical project of changing the human heart to ensure ‘never again,’ by misdirecting our anger at a Divinity who did exactly what God has always done: given humanity freedom and choice, between life and death, good and evil, salvation and slaughter.

Lastly, I leave you with the words of Rabbi Solomon David Sassoon, a 20th century British rabbi who wrote the following in response to the Annihilation which he witnessed in his own lifetime:

“God does not want to always have to make things right. God has given humanity room to do it- and if they choose not to, then evil prevails, and humanity is responsible for it. God wants for us to be responsible.”

May this Yom haSho’ah, as it draws to a close, remind us of the terrible responsibility we bear toward each other and the dangerous consequences if we do not step in to make things right.

Mar 23

Weekly Words – 23 March 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Weekly Words  by Rabbi Adam- 23 March 2018

Annual Pre-Pesacḥ 7-Point PSA:

1. Flour is not cḥametz. If it’s sealed and has not been exposed to water, it won’t become cḥametz. Obviously, you can’t use flour for much during Pesacḥ, but since it is not cḥametz gamur (totally cḥametz) as many people treat it, it is perfectly fine to put flour away in a sealed cupboard. Bonus points if you use a vacuum container or similar.

2. Matzah doesn’t become cḥametz until 18 minutes after you stop kneading the dough. As long as you continually work the dough after adding water, you do not start the clock until you leave it alone. This means that if you make matzah at home (it’s fun, try it!) you do not start counting the 18 minutes the second the water touches the flour. As long as you are kneading and interacting with the dough, you don’t have to start counting at all and can knead all day without it becoming cḥametz! Once you leave the dough alone, you have 18 minutes from then to have finished the cooked product.

3. Kitniyot is a custom, which – while anyone is welcome to keep it – is not obligatory (on anyone.) During Pesach, the word kitniyot takes on a broader meaning to include, in addition to legumes, grains and seeds such as rice, corn, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, peas and lentils. If you do refrain from eating kitniyot, it still doesn’t work like cḥametz – you can eat from a shared plate and simply remove the kitniyot.

4. Glass is non-porous and can be kashered, including for Pesacḥ. If you’re unsure if something is porous, take R’ Haim Ovadia‘s advice: boil 5 habañero peppers and put them on the utensil, rinse it off, then put plain cooked rice on it and eat the rice. If your mouth is on fire, the material is porous.

5. Selling cḥametz is meant to be an extreme dispensation for cases of serious economic loss (businesses, whisky collectors, etc.) The ideal is to consume your cḥametz before Pesacḥ or to donate what remains to a food bank before the holiday. That said, we will be selling cḥametz through the synagogue, and if you have chametz you’re unable to get rid of, please let Ruth or I know and we’ll send you a form to be included in the sale.

6. Many things are perfectly fine to buy for Pesacḥ, even during the holiday, without a kosher for Passover hechsher, or any hechsher whatsoever. A great list can be found online at: https://www.kashrut.org/files/127059807.pdf

7. The point of the Haggadah and the Seder is to educate, and to provoke the attendees to ask questions (other than ‘What page are we on?’) It’s far better to do less of the traditional text (or do it in English) and provoke a conversation than blast through the Hebrew text with everyone there zoned out.

Wishing everyone a happy week of cleaning, kashering and Pesacḥ preparation! As always, if you have any questions about what you need to do to get ready, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Mar 20

Weekly Words – 16 March 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Weekly Words by Rabbi Adam

Although we find ourselves in the awkward period between Purim and Pesach, there was actually quite a significant holiday this week: Pi Day. 3/14 (which is how Americans write 14 March) is of course reminiscent of the start of Pi as a constant expressed in decimals (3.14). For those who can’t quite recall their maths from school, Pi is such a significant number for a few reasons: 1) it expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, 2) it is completely irrational, and the digits which follow the decimal place continue unto infinity in a pattern that defies all patterns and appears completely random.

What we now call Pi was known to the ancients as well. Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek civilisations had all puzzled out at least the basics of Pi millennia ago. Yet what about that other ancient civilisation that still survives, our own? The rabbis actually did have a knowledge of Pi and they certainly had inherited many geometrical sensibilities from the ancient societies in which our ancestors had lived. Yet they also gave it a distinctly spiritual meaning.

Notable among those who tried to explain Pi from a Jewish point of view was R’ Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides): ‘You need to know that the ratio of the circle’s diameter to its circumference is not known and it is never possible to express it precisely. This is not due to a lack in our knowledge […] but it is in its nature that it is unknown, and there is no way [to know it], but it is known approximately.’

In this way, Maimonides justified the rabbis thinking of Pi as ‘three and one-seventh’, even while acknowledging that it was far more complicated than that! Yet the approximations we make for the sake of ease aren’t down to laziness – ideally they’re a recognition of the fact that we can never really know the true number that Pi represents.

In that, Maimonides is right. We can’t ever know. We can calculate Pi to a million digits and still be no closer to ‘the truth’. On a day on which we celebrate science, on which Albert Einstein was born and which will be the ‘yahrzeit’ of Stephen Hawking, we could do with the dose of humility that the rabbis brought to Pi. Yes, this irrational number is one of the most important in the universe, but like many of the most important things, we can never know it completely, we can only make an approximation. Happy Pi Day!

For more on the rabbis and their calculation of Pi, look here.

Jun 14

London Jews in the First World War: We were there too

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Pauline Symons

You can listen to Pauline reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

Does your family have a First World War story to tell?

A new Heritage Lottery Fund project called ‘The Jews of London in the First World War – We Were There Too’ aims to inspire the community to help find and preserve stories of British Jewish Londoners in the First World War on a brand new interactive website.

Forty to fifty thousand British Jews served in Britain’s armed forces in the First World War, while thousands more were involved in war work and support roles near to the battlefields and on the Home Front. When the call came, the Jewish community stood up to be counted.

Although, a century on, first‐hand knowledge has disappeared, we know that personal recollections of the war years can still be captured through family stories and anecdotes, along with letters, diaries and memorabilia that have survived in attics and old photograph albums.

Judah and Lipman Przybysz, outside Judah’s tailor shop in the East End. A We ere There Too user has recently identified them as his great-uncles. ©Jewish Museum

But time is against us as lofts get cleared and the accuracy of family history fades. With the community’s help, We Were There Too will become the permanent digital archive for this precious material, preserving the surviving evidence for future generations.

Through a series of History Windows, the site will provide a unique insight into the experience of living as a minority group through the conflict while also offering user friendly access to a number of First World War archives, including the newly‐digitised British Jewry Book of Honour, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, local directories of the period, and rare private collections.

The offices of the Jewish Chronicle, London, August 1914. Courtesy of the Jewish Museum

The most important element of the project is the capture and
preservation of individual stories in Personal Records. If your ancestor fought in the war, raised a family, kept a business going, served as a nurse or factory worker, cared for a wounded son or husband, or experienced a wartime childhood, you will be able to upload their story and ensure that their contribution to Britain’s war effort is not forgotten. Photographs, letters, diaries and even 3D scans of medals and other items can be added. And if you don’t know much about your ancestor beyond a faded photograph, the site will provide guidance on how to research their story further.

The 4th Volunteer Battalion Royal Fusiliers cyclist section marching through Finsbury led by Lieutenant B.M.C Tyler, c.1912. Courtesy of the Tyler family

Volunteers are needed to help us, from research and IT to helping older people upload their stories. We hope that Jewish schools, cheders and youth organisations will encourage children to investigate and record their own family stories, or research a Jewish soldier listed in the Book of Honour.

Teenagers will also be able to take part in the project, linked to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Open College Network accreditation activities organised through JLGB.

The project is designed to engage the community with the period and make them both aware and proud of the contribution British Jews made to British society a hundred years ago and continue to make today.

As Alan Fell, Project Director said: ‘In the aftermath of Brexit and a noticeable rise in racist incidents, there has never been a timelier moment to remind ourselves and our fellow countrymen that we were there too.’

I am delighted to be a volunteer on this amazing project and would be happy to hear from you if you have a story you wish to share about your ancestors in the First World War.

You can contact Pauline via this website or you can contact the organisation directly using at jewsfww.london.

Jun 12

Bias in the Media

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Tara Goldsmith

For many years there have been arguments as to whether or not the news media is biased, this argument has been particularly relevant when talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Often, as Jews it is an automatic reaction to believe that Israel is being discriminated against, however, after looking at different statistics and articles it is clear that this is not always the case.

The confusing nature of the conflict has led to the formation of many different opinions, these conflicting opinions are often highlighted in the news reporting of the events. Each side, the pro‐Israel and the anti‐Israel/pro‐Palestine, has claimed that news reporters are being biased towards the other.

The BBC has been covering this conflict from its earliest developments and there have been many reports on the institution’s bias. However, both sides believe that the bias is against them.

A report posted on the Guardian’s website showed pictures of a pro‐Palestinian group protesting outside the BBC’s London headquarters, complaining that the BBC had reported the Israeli air strikes in a biased way. They believed that the BBC’s news programmes were ‘entirely devoid of context or background’. This article states that many people believe that the BBC is not getting across the Palestinian point of view, saying that it hasn’t considered the background of the conflict enough in the report.

However, the Guardian also has a statement from someone on the other side, a columnist from the Jewish Chronicle, saying that the criticism of the BBC has been ‘made in exactly the same detail on the other side of the argument’, meaning that pro‐Israel groups would also say that the BBC hasn’t considered the history of the Jewish people and their historic right to have their own state.

The accusation of bias isn’t contained simply to mainstream media. According to research done in October 2013, Twitter has over 215 million active users, creating over 500 million tweets, which accumulates to just over 3% of the world’s population using twitter. During the summer of 2014 many trends and hashtags were started regarding the conflict. Many tweets including the hashtag ‘#freepalestine’ were shared among the site, with many celebrities getting involved. Singer Rihanna tweeted the hashtag to her 37.8 million followers, and received a total of 11,629 retweets and favourites. As well as this, former One Direction singer, Zayn Malik also tweeted the hashtag to his 13 million followers receiving over 130,000 retweets. However, many of One Direction fans are young and impressionable, many of whom will not know the full extent of the situation. Many impolite, incorrect and harmful comments have been made using these hashtags, including nods towards ethnic cleansing and other
insensitive or damaging ideas. Those that aren’t necessarily completely educated on the topic and history, may relay these opinions themselves without knowing the full consequence of what they’re saying.

The rise of social media has meant that the platforms have been increasingly used as a tool to coordinate campaigns of antisemitic harassment. Examples include the ‘runover’ campaign, with around 90 different Facebook pages dedicated to it, with thousands of followers. This campaign came about after several car attacks by Palestinian terrorists, resulting in injuries and deaths of several Israeli citizens in late November 2014. These pages have been described as glorifying and encouraging terror attacks against Israelis. Some of the posts on these pages describe the ‘run‐overs’ as part of a new revolution; a form of ‘car Intifada’. Other Facebook pages include anti‐Semitic posts depicting religious Jews with hooked noses running away from vehicles attempting to run‐over them. The campaign spread on Twitter as well; the Arabic hashtag ‘Daesh’ has attracted numerous posts celebrating terrorism. For example, one Tweet reads, ‘Nothing is more beautiful than a runover, lest stabbing’. These types of campaigns are dangerous and harmful, spreading glorification not only of attacks on Israel but terror attacks in general.

Many Twitter users have also used incorrect or out of context images to portray the abuse given to both sides during certain conflicts. During the most recent Israel‐Gaza conflict many of these images show an incorrect or bad representation of not only Israelis, but Jews as well. Twitter user ‘@InCapitol24’ tweeted an image of a Jewish man shouting at a seemingly defenceless and innocent Palestinian woman, with the caption ‘Israeli religious fanatics (Jews) stop Palestinians from praying at Al Aqsa mosque in #Jerusalem’, receiving 798 retweets and 233 favourites. However, when looking more closely at the image it is clear to see that the Palestinian woman is holding a Jewish book of Psalms. It is then easy to assume that this woman has taken it from the Jewish man as the book is upside down in her hands
and of no relevance to her. One blog found a video to prove these assumptions. Six seconds into the video you can see the women aggressively grabbing the book from the man. As well as this, it is clear to see that the Palestinians are pushing the Jews away and preventing them from praying, not the other way round as many sources would suggest.

A recent USA Today article reports on the different antisemitic attacks throughout Europe. For example in France, three consecutive weekends of pro‐Palestine protests turned into a string of antisemitic attacks. This supports the CST’s statistics; 1,309 antisemitic incidents recorded nationwide during 2016, a 36 percent increase from the 960 incidents recorded by CST in 2015. Examples of such antisemitism include: occupants in a group of cars, in Manchester, England, shouted and swore at Jewish pedestrians, yelling ‘heil Hitler’, and in Antwerp, Belgium, a doctor refused to treat a Jewish woman, telling her son to ‘send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain’. This sort of behaviour can be linked back to what people see or hear in the media. It has also proved that people tend to blame Jews for the wrongdoings of Israel.

CNN reported on the November 2014 attacks at a synagogue in Jerusalem, committed by a group of Palestinians. However, the headline of the news story, live on air, read; ‘Deadly attack on Jerusalem Mosque’. This shows that the news company could possibly have created the headlines before finding out the whole story. This theory becomes a little more evident when the next headline comes on screen; ‘Police: four Israelis, two Palestinians killed in attack’, this title is vague and leaves the viewers with questions. The report becomes confusing for the viewers as Jerusalem’s mayor is interviewed talking about the synagogue. Although there is no hard evidence, it can be seen that this news corporation has created the headlines prior to their own knowledge of the whole story, which highlights their bias, as they seem to have automatically decided that the mosque must have been the target of attack. This has also been criticised in UK news
outlets, with the press attaché at London’s Israeli embassy,
Yiftah Curiel, in early 2016 stating: ‘Headlines of news pieces on the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict will turn events on their head, portraying perpetrator as victim.’

Although this article cannot possibly show the whole story, nor examine every aspect of the on‐going conflict, these examples do show how media bias can affect people’s views on certain events. It’s important to remember that news outlets will often take sides before understanding a full story. This is not saying not to trust the news, but simply to be aware of the bias they may hold.

Jun 09

North Herts Jewish Genealogical Society

By Editor | Blogs

Written by John Shaw

You can listen to John reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

The local group of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain has been meeting at SAMS about twice a year since 2014. We have also been meeting at the Welwyn Garden City Synagogue. All the meetings have included general sessions uncovering areas of difficulty experienced by researchers with resultant suggestions on how to overcome them. Specifically we have had talks from Society experts on conducting research into UK, Polish and German records.

The aim of the Society is to encourage people to take an interest in their family history and assist any who want to pursue this. The particular aim of the North Herts Group is to provide this service more or less on the doorstep and to do so in a friendly atmosphere. So if you have caught the family history research bug as a result of SAMS Roots exercises and want to go further why not come along to one of our meetings and discover how we can help. You do not have to be a member to attend and you can expect some help with your family history research without joining, but the full range of the Societyʹs resources kick in once you become a member. This can for example mean you being allocated a mentor to assist you overcome the problems being experienced.

See the synagogue diary for details of the next meeting at SAMS where the group will examine the SAMS Roots programmes with a particular emphasis on how the society might be able to  assist participants in the programme who are interested in taking their family history research further and even those starting from scratch.

In order to assist our experts who are attending to prepare, would you please let us know of any intention to attend by using the contact form.

Jun 06

SAMS Bridge Club

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Andrea Berry

You can listen to Andrea reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

‘What shall I say about the Bridge Club?’ I enquired of my fellow players. ‘Awful people!’ was the immediate response. ‘Rude!’ ‘Cruel!’ After the inevitable laughter, the serious comments:

‘The newer players can learn from the more experienced’. ‘Unlike at other bridge clubs, we can discuss the hands afterwards’. ‘Thereʹs no stressful competition between couples.’

SAMS Bridge Club welcomes all those with some previous knowledge of the game, who would enjoy playing in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere — and not mind losing! It is not necessary to bring a partner. Players are paired on a flexible basis.

Sessions run on the first Thursday of the month from 1.30pm – 4.30pm approx.

There is a £3 charge to cover refreshment and heating costs.

We usually have up to three tables but have plenty of room for more. Donʹt be shy – give it a go.

Use the contact form to request more information.

Jun 06

SAMS Book Club

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Marilyn Levi

You can listen to Marylin reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

There are some brilliant facts about SAMS: the friendly welcoming atmosphere, the high standard of our lay readers, the food! I would like to nominate the SAMS Book Group, which certainly merits a place as one of our special features.

I have been coming to the Book Group for two or three years and always find it entertaining and fun with our lively discussions. It is also a very interesting way of learning about books, which I would not have otherwise read.

Pauline Symons is the group leader, and while she gives us a brief outline of the title of the chosen book at the start of each meeting, I hear mutters of ‘I loved it’, ‘I hated it’!

Everybody at the Book Group has strong opinions, and it is fascinating to find that the same book can create such diverse reactions. What a stimulating experience it is to listen to people explain why they like a book, that I really did not enjoy, and try to understand their point of view. I am not always convinced, but nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating discussion.

In December, we had a rare occurrence: everybody loved
the book ‘A Marriage of Opposites’ by Alice Hoffman.

Image via Amazon.co.uk

I think this is the very first time that we have all agreed on how much we enjoyed a book. We were all quite stunned to be able to share our delight in the experience of reading this book. It appealed to all our tastes, and to every age group. There was also a factual element to it, as it was based on the Caribbean ancestors of Camille Pissaro.

Over the last few meetings, we have read a varied selection of contemporary literature, making it a rule to not choose too long a book. Perhaps the exception was ‘Here I am’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I was pleased to read.

We are also considering some non‐fiction titles, such as
Jeremy Paxman’s autobiography.

At the moment, we are quite a small group of nine or ten people who attend regularly, so it would be good to encourage more members to try it out. Come along and enjoy the coffee and biscuits, but I am sure you will get far more from it with some stimulating company and literary ideas flying.

After our discussions about the chosen book, we always enjoy the process of choosing the next book to read. This is voted for with a show of hands in a democratic way.

Sometimes, if a book has been runner up several times, it is then chosen for a future meeting, which was the case for ‘Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore, discussed in February. This was a fascinating story of 1960s Cold War and how it affected a family. This book matched our December choice of ‘A Marriage of Opposites’ in that it was enjoyed by everyone. Two hits in three months is quite a success rate.

The next book on our list is ‘The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain.

Do come and join our lively arts discussion group.

May 25

From the Co‐Chair

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Simon Samuels

You can listen to Simon reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter


Do you know that feeling when you pop into a shop that
specialises in something that you don’t really know much
about and you quickly realise that there is this whole other
world of dedicated specialists that you didn’t know even
existed? As I write this, my final ‘From the Co‐Chair’
comment as my term in office nears completion, I reflect
that there was a bit of that feeling for me when I became
Co‐Chair of SAMS in May 2014. Of course, I had been
increasingly involved with different aspects of shul life for
several years before then. But it wasn’t until that May that
I truly began to appreciate just how SAMS relies on a
powerful, dedicated yet often invisible army of volunteers
who give so much of their time to helping keeping SAMS

Being a Co‐Chair is, in many ways, one of the simpler roles
to do for a shul. It comes with a profile and, dare I say it, a
status; Moira and I get to stand up at the start or end of an
event and make everyone feel welcome, tell a joke, get to
meet the special guests, get to give the quote to the
newspaper etc.

However, it’s the people who do all the less visible stuff for
the shul who are the real heroes; dealing with the faulty
light in the main hall on a Tuesday morning; setting up
Sunflowers on a Monday morning; standing in the rain
doing security on a Sunday evening; buying the food for a
Shabbat lunch on Friday morning; loading their car with a
piece of a borrowed stage before school opens early on a
Thursday; poring over a spreadsheet or drafting some shul
guidelines at home on a Wednesday evening; or making a
B’nei Mitzvah weekend special for the family. These are the
real champions, and in my three years as Co‐Chair I have
for the first time come to truly appreciate all that is done
by our volunteers. I have discovered that secret world.

Yet being a Co‐Chair isn’t always straightforward. I often
tell my non‐Jewish friends that a community of 300 Jews
generates 600 opinions on everything. And these past three
years have included their challenges, of course. Rabbi Rafi
leaving, whilst clearly under standable for him and his
family, has left us with a hole to fill. Of course we were sad
to see him go, but it has once again provided SAMS with
an opportunity to demonstrate how self sufficient we can
be when needed. And we are really lucky to have Rabbi
Carl spending an extended period of time with us.

I wanted to make two last comments. Firstly, a confession.
Before becoming Co‐Chair I reckon that I came to shul
perhaps once every 6 weeks or so. Part of the role requires
either myself or Moira to go to shul each week. To be
honest, I was a little unsure how I would feel about having
to go to shul that regularly. But a funny thing has
happened; I’ve found that it’s not that bad. Actually – and
keep this to yourself – it’s rather nice. And for those of you
who were like me, perhaps try and go on a regular Shabbat
morning a little more often. I think you may find that you
like it. I do.

And finally, I cannot sign off without paying tribute to the
two Co‐Chairs I shared the role with, Alan Green for the
first year and Moira for the second and third years. In their
different ways they were great partners to work with,
always calm, never flustered and each with great
dedication to SAMS. We are all very lucky to have
members like them.

In my first ‘From the Co‐Chair’ article in 2014 I wrote “I see
my responsibility as being that of a temporary curator of a
precious vase, grateful to the people who came before me
and mindful to make sure that at some point the vase is
safely passed on to those who will follow.” Thanks to the
tireless support of that volunteer army, I strongly believe
that I am passing on a vase that is indeed very much intact
and we can all look forward to helping support our new
leadership as they continue to carefully curate it.

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