Nov 29

Letter to SAMS from Judy and Rabbi Carl

By Russell Goldsmith | Blogs

29 November 2016
[Edited]

Dear SAMS,

Today marks three weeks since we arrived back home in the USA. Before I write one more word, however, make no mistake- SAMS became our “second home” during the six weeks that I served as your rabbi. Judy feels exactly the same. You quickly made us feel part of your community. We rejuvenated long-time friendships and made so many new friends among you. So many of you welcomed us into your homes for delicious meals and drove us around. You did it all with such warmth and kindness. I have never experienced a more welcoming community.

We are also impressed with your empowerment. The numerous dahveners and Torah and Haftarah Readers, the speed with which you laid out the Kiddush after services, the very special Sunflowers program open to the entire community, your extraordinary Mitzvah Day, the seriousness with which you take security, etc. I could go on and on. Even though you were blessed with a wonderful rabbi for many years, you still believe in DIY when it comes to the synagogue. Of course, all of this made my job easier and more pleasant. I even got to sit with Judy during services!

We heard from some of you soon after we returned. In those e-mails you expressed concern about how we were doing after our election.

The crux of it all is the uncertainty about the future which must not be unlike the concern so many of you have about Brexit. One of many worries circulating in the Jewish and general communities is whether we can still talk to each other despite our differences. I am not just talking about the halls of Congress, but around the dinner table. There was a good deal of talk about what kind of conversations would take place around the Thanksgiving table. This American holiday may be the only holiday to be taken in a more serious context. It may be one of the few times that Americans sit as extended families for a festive meal accompanied by serious conversation.

Remembering what happened within the American Jewish community around the Iran deal, I am worried. People could not talk to each other with civility and respect about their significant differences. That issue has raised its ugly head again and the media was full of advice for having a polite conversation around the Thanksgiving table. The Wall Street Journal suggested embracing the Buddhist approach of “divine listening” which means listening with kindness, listening in order to listen. The Chicago Jewish News suggested “a ritual modeled after the Native American tradition of a talking stick, in which everyone is allowed to speak- without being interrupted, comforted or told they’re wrong, but only if he or she is holding the stick. Ground rules are essential.”

It is all the harder to do this when our Presidential campaign was filled with vicious and insulting rhetoric. Dr. Ismar Schorsch, past chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was ordained, has made reference to the “degradation of civil discourse”, a destructive phenomenon widespread in both the public and private domains. The future of the US will depend on doing something about this crisis and so many others. We Jews as well ought to remember that we are as guilty as others of being intolerant of different opinions, especially when it comes to Israel.  Our Talmudic tradition reveres lively debate and reminds us in the Ethics of the Fathers that any argument for the sake of heaven, “l’shem shamayim,” any argument which serves a sacred and noble purpose will have a positive result.

I think that is enough venting for now. The Wolkin family is doing well. I think many of you know that our son Joshua became engaged to Aurelia before we came to SAMS. Our son David and wife Keeli who live in Maryland continue in their non-profit work, David in the Jewish community and Keeli for a domestic anti-human trafficking agency. Josh also works as a counselor in a local Jewish agency and Aurelia is seeking a new position which may necessitate them moving far from Chicago. As long as they are happy and healthy and we remain the same, we don’t mind getting on an airplane.

Judy continues her many exercise classes several days a week and after a long break has resumed teaching cooking classes through the synagogue. I continue to be involved in several organizations within our Jewish community and enjoy teaching both at the synagogue and at a Jewish Seniors Residence close-by. We are therefore keeping busy, but there is not day that goes by without SAMS being on our minds and in our conversations.

In addition, I am going to do everything I can on this side of the pond to help you find a terrific new rabbi which is what you deserve. Moreover, from now on when we come to the UK, St. Albans and SAMS will be number one on our list of communities. Most of you know that we started our love affair with the UK over 40 years ago. Our many prior visits, however, were to see places. This last visit was to see people. What could be better! Seeing people lead to new relationships, and there is nothing more important in life than relationships. By opening your synagogue, your homes, and your hearts you have shown us that SAMS truly is “A Home for Jewish Herts.”

We are truly blessed and look forward to our next visit!

With Love,

Judy and Rabbi Carl

Nov 27

Dvar Torah: Chayei Sarah

By Russell Goldsmith | Dvar Torah

This Shabbat’s Dvar Torah was given by Debbie Harris

 

Paradoxically, this week’s sedra Chayei Sara, “The Life of Sarah” deals entirely with events that occurred after Sarah’s death at the age of 127. This started me thinking about the idea of what we leave behind. What will our legacy be? I’m not talking about some sort of master plan or changing the world. There seems to be perhaps too much change going on at the moment with Brexit, Donald Trump, Ed Balls maybe winning Strictly etc!

But how will I be remembered? What difference can I make? What will my legacy be? There’s the environmental view or looking after the world …

We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

And this, of course, fits in with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam – repairing or healing the world.

Shakespeare obviously had things to say about legacy. In Julius Caesar, Anthony says of Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them.

On a more positive note Mariana in All’s Well That Ends Wells states:

No legacy is so rich as honesty.

I think that I prefer the author Ray Bradbury’s words:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched in some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

To me how you act, the way you treat others, the relationships you form, the people you support or help, the beauty that you create whether in music or art or knitting or in your garden or by baking a cake is what’s important. That will have an effect on others and our world and so in some way live on after you.

A very significant relationship begins in this sedra. After Sarah is buried in the Cave of Machpelah, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. So this is an important job. How to find the right woman to marry Isaac and become the second matriarch of Israel? But the servant, Eliezer had a plan. He made his camels kneel down outside the city of Nahor by a well of water in the evening, which was the time when women went out to draw water.

And then he prayed:

“Let it come to pass that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please, dip down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she shall say, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels to drink also’—she is the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac . . .”

Never say that God takes his time. Apparently before Eliezer finishes speaking Rebecca comes along. What’s more she’s very pretty, a virgin, Abraham’s brother’s granddaughter – so she’s family too – and she gives water to the animals so she passes the camel test! So no need for dating websites or Tinder just take your camels to a well!

But seriously I think it’s interesting that Rebecca passes the test because she looks after a stranger – as, of course, Abraham had done with the 3 strangers just a few chapters earlier in Bereshit – and she looks after the stranger’s animals too. I think that it is our individual and collective responsibility to respect and care for others particularly the strangers in our midst.

At this point I could go down the very topical line of looking after our modern day strangers, migrants and refugees, but much has already been said on that, so I’m not planning to go down that path. Some of you will know that that I do some work helping people with benefit claims so I will just say that while the Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t have figures on the number of non-UK nationals claiming benefits there are various estimates which suggest that out of the 5 million people who claim welfare benefits in the UK, only 2% are EU nationals so the idea that loads of Europeans are coming over her and claiming benefits is not the case. By contrast around 55% of welfare spending in the UK is paid to pensioners and I’m going to come back to the idea of looking after the elderly in a minute.

So just sticking with the migrant theme for a moment I’ll just use the words of Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg who I think expresses our obligations to those who are less fortunate than ourselves very clearly.

I believe we have a constant responsibility to help our own people, and also to help all who are desperate and suffering, whenever we can. All of us are created in God’s image, words which have little meaning unless we live it out through striving for compassion and justice.

So onto a matter which has become very close to my heart recently – how we both individually and collectively care for older people in our society. I suppose that I have to declare a personal interest. I have parents and parents in law ranging from ages 74 to 84 all fortunately in reasonable health at the moment, but Laurence and I have one sibling each both of whom live abroad so the issue of caring for aging relatives has occurred to us! But in a wider context my work with Citizens Advice, Jewish Care and Home Start has shown me the real issues that there are with our benefits system and the vulnerable people that it fails. I haven’t seen the film, I Daniel Blake, yet but from all that I have heard about it, it does seem to portray how thousands of disabled or elderly people are not supported in the way that they should be.

I think that those of us who live in our generally affluent area would be surprised at the number of people in leafy St Albans who struggle with benefit and debt issues or who need the food bank vouchers that are handed out by St Albans CAB.

1.6 million people or 14% of pensioners in the UK live in poverty and a further 1.2 million pensioners have incomes just above the poverty line. These are mainly people who have paid tax and National Insurance and looked after their families for decades – decent, honest law abiding folk.

More worrying is that many older people are missing out on benefit entitlements. The Government estimates that in 2014-15, £3.5 billion of low-income benefits went unclaimed by older people. This is likely to be due to a combination of reasons including: lack of knowledge about the complicated systems, an assumption they will not be entitled, negative attitudes to claiming, or because people are put off by the processes.

I spend a lot of time at Jewish Care completing Attendance Allowance forms. This is one of the few non-means tested benefits and its available to people over 65 with care needs. Care needs is fairly broadly defined so it could be using a walking stick or frame to get around or using a shower seat or grab rails in the bathroom. It doesn’t mean that you need or already have a carer. Almost all of the people I see wouldn’t have known about this benefit if Jewish Care hadn’t told them about it and they certainly couldn’t have filled in the 31 page form without help. And yet the  £55 per week Attendance Allowance might make the difference between them staying in their own home or not, or might pay for a taxi fare so they can get out to a see a friend or relative when they otherwise would not have seen anyone all day.

It is often said that the measure of a civilized society is how it treats vulnerable people and I think that there is also an issue about how we treat or view those who work with vulnerable people. There are thousands of poorly paid care workers – often born outside the UK – working here to look after elderly people in care homes or their own homes. And thousands more family members – husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews looking after older relatives.

I think that we should all really value, respect and admire those caring for the elderly whether in paid work or unpaid family members. We should be supporting those people and older people themselves in whatever ways we can. Maybe giving to or volunteering for a charity. Perhaps looking in on an elderly neighbour. Perhaps being more tolerant to our own older relatives!

Personally I think the government ought to be doing a lot more financially to support care for the elderly especially when families are paying for their own carers or providing care themselves and so saving the Government millions in care home or hospital costs – but let’s not stray too far into politics!

So perhaps we can take from this week’s sedra that our legacy depends on relationships that we form, how we behave, what we are able to create and the practical and emotional support that we give to others including strangers or foreigners in our land – and their camels too!

 

 

 

Nov 21

The Stolpersteine Project

By Russell Goldsmith | Blogs

Guest post by Jon Meier

stol2I never thought I would be saying Kaddish in public, standing at a podium with a microphone in a town square in a small picturesque town in Northern Bavaria.

The occasion was the installation of Stolpersteine for my grandparents and uncle. Stolpersteine (literally ‘stumble stones’ ) are small brass plaques set in the pavement in front of the houses of Holocaust victims. It was the end of May and the town of Miltenberg had finally agreed to the installation of these commemorative stones.

It was, appropriately, a Saturday morning. A large crowd had gathered in the square, in front of a house which had belonged to my maternal grandparents. This was the house where my mother had spent the first fourteen years of her life. The house had been a shop which sold leather and leather goods. It still looks like a shop with a residence attached. In the pavement outside the house, three small square holes had been hollowed out the day before, ready to receive the plaques. One was for Rosa Moritz, my grandmother, one for Oskar, my grandfather, and one for my mother’s brother Manfred. Manfred Moritz was deported from an agricultural school in north Germany where he was preparing for life in Israel. He was twenty.

Even those three hollowed out gaps were a potent symbol of loss, of the absence of a family that was once happily together, thriving in the midst of a community.

There had been a Jewish community here since the 13th century. The town, nestling on a bend on the river Main, was home to about 100 Jewish people in 1933 (out of a total population of just under 4,000). By 1938 this number was halved and by 1942 all the Jewish inhabitants had fled or been deported. My mother and her sister left separately, in 1938 and 1939. When they came to England, my mother ‘Trudie’ Moritz was fourteen, her sister Ilse was sixteen. They never saw their parents or brother again.

stol1The stone‐laying ceremony itself was solemn and simple. There were a few speeches interspersed with music played by local schoolchildren. Other pupils from local schools read biographies of the victims which they had researched themselves. My cousin Rosemarie read Psalm 121. I said Kaddish. By now the stones were in place, cemented in by Gunter Demnig, the craftsman who has made it his mission to make the plaques and to travel round Europe six days a week installing them. Local residents who had sponsored the stones placed white roses on the new shiny brass squares. I was struck by the symbolism of mortar, reminiscent of the Pesach story and here used to cement the memories of the victims of genocide.

In a speech at a formal reception the night before, I spoke of our gratitude to the people of the town, especially to the dedicated group of individuals who had worked so hard over the past four years to bring about this moment. The project had adopted the motto ‘Against Forgetting’ (‘Gegen das Vergessen’). I picked up on this theme and reiterated that the event was not just a commemoration but a symbol of tolerance and mutual understanding, a lesson in friendship and peaceful co‐existence. I spoke of the importance of young people in carrying forward this message.

The organisers read out a letter of support from Dr Josef Schuster, head of the Jewish cultural council in Germany. He describes the stones as small, modest mementos which have a huge impact. According to Josef Schuster, the stones help people in the painful task of confronting their past. They remind us that the victims were their neighbours who led normal lives. The brass plaques give the victims back their names, helping to counteract anonymity and to personalise tragedy. He goes on to say: ‘In order to be able to see the names on the stones, we have to bend down. In the process, we bow down to these victims. We move towards them and in doing so, we pay them our respects. That is a wonderful gesture.’

My mother’s cousin, Ernest Moritz, who lived in Munich, used to visit my family as a teenager in the holidays. In his memoirs, he writes movingly:

It is a melancholy thought, but really true: it has taken me a generation before I could visit Miltenberg again, without feeling deep in my heart the excruciating weight of loss for all those simple, hard‐working and friendly Jewish people who were no longer there. The city was still unchanged; it remained exactly as it had been for centuries, barely touched by time: there were the red sandstone buildings, the half‐timbered houses, the castle on the hill, the city walls and the towers — all this had survived the years.
Only the Jews who had been there from the beginning were gone: dragged away, murdered or scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Visitors to the town will now see the three Stolpersteine commemorating my family outside the house on the south side of the square, a permanent and poignant reminder of once happy lives brutally curtailed.

 

Oct 06

A few words from our Visiting Rabbi – Rabbi Carl Wolkin

By Russell Goldsmith | Blogs

SAMS are thrilled that Rabbi Carl Wolkin, Emeritus Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, agreed to join us over the High Holydays (or High Holidays for Rabbi Carl and our other American readers!).

Here’s the article Rabbi Carl provided for SAMSnews

I write this article more than a month before we arrive at SAMS. Judy and I are looking forward to being with you for the High Holidays plus. Happily, this will not be our first visit, because I was there at your beginning more than 20 years ago, through my involvement with the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. Judy and I have watched you grow and thrive and have made multiple visits, most recently in January 2013 to marvel at your brand new building.

We know many of you among the forward looking founders who are still very involved. While serving as your interim rabbi, we are excited about becoming a part of the SAMS community and getting to know you all. By the way, I am still involved in the world movement, as secretary of Masorti Olami.  Our love affair with the UK began on our first visit in 1973 and has grown through every one of our 15 or so visits since, spending three summers in flats both in Maida Vale, worshipping at New London Synagogue, and in Belsize Park.

I was a congregational rabbi for 43 years, serving as associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Great Neck, New York for eight years, then serving as the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, Northbrook, Illinois for 35 years. I retired in June 2015. I tell you this by way of letting you know that like all rabbis, I like to tell stories and after 43 years, I know which ones are my favorites by how many times I have repeated them. Just ask any of my former congregants.

The story I am going to share is actually a British story told by one of the UK’s most distinguished rabbis, Hugo Gryn, of blessed memory; there is a good chance that you have heard it before.

At the beginning of this New Year, we find ourselves living in a world more filled with hatred and violence than I can remember in my entire life. I have told this story whenever the global situation seemed hopeless, unfortunately the reason I have repeated it so often and why I share it now.

I am going to share it in Rabbi Gryn’s own words (although I heard it first in 1996 from the couple who rented us a flat in Maida Vale). You can find a more complete version in A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration, edited by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre.

My Father’s Miracle
I did not learn this lesson in a theological college but in a miserable little concentration camp grotesquely called ‘Lieberose’ (Lovely Rose) in German Silesia. It was the cold winter of 1944 and although we had nothing like calendars, my father, who was my fellow prisoner there took, me and
some of my friends to a corner in our barrack. He announced that it was the eve of Hanukkah, produced a curious‐shaped clay bowl, and began to light a wick immersed in his precious, but now melted, butter ration. Before he could recite the blessing, I protested at the waste of food. He looked at me — then at the lamp — and finally said: ‘You and I have seen that it is possible to live up to three weeks without food. We once lived almost three days without water: but you cannot live properly for three
minutes without hope!’

This story and its last word, ‘hope’, are emblematic of what it means to be a Jew. No better word than ‘HaTikvah’ (The Hope) could have been chosen as the title of Israel’s national anthem. We, the Jewish people, now once more with the State of Israel, would not have survived and thrived through the best of times and the worst of times for these thousands of years if we did not live with indomitable hope. Now more than ever, we must continue to embrace hope and embrace each other with hope every minute of every day!

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu,
Judy and Carl Wolkin

[image of Rabbi Carl Wolkin taken from https://bethshalomnb.org/clergy]

Sep 10

A visitor’s review of SAMS from a born and bred Mancunian

By Russell Goldsmith | Blogs

A Guest post from a recent visitor – Stephen, Manchester

The late Richie Benaud, one of the greatest Australian cricketers of all time, was once interviewed for BBC Radio Test Match Special.  In what can only described as a male chauvinistic moment, when asked about the pitch he was just about to play on, he commented: “Cricket pitches are like women, you never know what you are going to get”

I don’t doubt in my mind that if the great Mr. Benaud had been Jewish he could have applied that same epithet when visiting a new synagogue. The mystery certainly does await you; you really never know what you are going to get.

So what is Masorti and how has it come about?

In order to understand this, I decided to take an introspective journey into my own Jewish Alma Mater, the so-called Orthodox way, (Middle of the Road but that’s my definition) as well as both ends of the religious spectrum. All of which I have had the pleasure to experience.  To me the shul that I am a member of, is no different to the shul my late grandparents attended, and may be, although I wasn’t around at the time, the shul my late great great ancestors attended somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Of course the chatter was different. Nowadays its football, golf and Brexit, while in the 1880’s it was cows, sheep and “it’s time to go and live with Uncle Moishe in New York”

But basically its the same, if you get the gist. Nothing wrong with that and in fact a warm fluffy blanket to wrap yourself in, so long as you go with the flow and don’t ask too many questions, or mention the opposite sex.

Several years ago it was my pleasure to attend a Jewish service in California. I cannot really pigeon hole or categorize it, but suffice it to say there wasn’t much Hebrew content. The Rabbi, very nice lady was dressed for Glastonbury, with a gypsy top that revealed not an unsubstantial amount of her décolletage. The accompanying Cantor strumming a 12-string guitar being dressed in a similar manner. My wife who knows about these things pointed out that perhaps the guitarist was a he, not a she and that the large Gay Pride kippot, was not really a true indication of gender, more an indicator of religion.

So what of the other end of the spectrum? The fundamentalist and Charedi service. No shortage of that variety in my neck of the woods. Attending in jeans and a T-shirt made me somewhat conspicuous amongst the silk coats and white socks. Yes I did know that together with the streimel this state of dress emulates a Polish nobleman of the 18th. Century. However the contrast to my own garb did make me feel as welcome as Jeremy Corbyn at a Yom Haatzmaut celebration! Things did change once the single malt came out, and my ability to get by in Yiddish opened up a whole new world. A world that offered me warmth and friendship, as well as the prospects of shidduchs for every unmarried member of my family. from 18 to 80 and even beyond!

Last week my family had the pleasure of attending a Bar mitzvah at St Albans Masorti Congregation. From the outset I must confess that I knew very little about the Masorti flavor of Judaism, and as a born and bred Mancunian even less about St Albans. Having said that, there is nothing that a good Google search cannot fix.

Firstly St. Albans. I suppose the clue is in the name and it’s not surprising that this city has many religious buildings and connections. Churches and cathedrals abound, with historical personalities such as the only English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear being born in the area. However not many Cohen’s or Levy’s or even surnames ending in “Berg” populate the great annals of the history of St Albans.

The Masorti Shul of St Albans, and I say this with all humility, is somewhat architecturally challenged, being located in what can only be described as a business park. In fact one Australian member of the bar mitzvah party quipped that it was so industrial he thought they were going to ‘bring the Torah out of the Ark on a forked lift truck!!!’  But that’s Australians for you. They should talk, they build concert halls that look like cathedrals!!! In truth, it’s not the building that makes a community, it is the people, and this community far outshines many other communities in more flamboyant buildings. Kind, gentle, welcoming and warm, and I hadn’t even got through the door yet! It was abundantly apparent that this community welcomes visitors and encompasses all it’s members, as well as encouraging everyone to take pleasure in its service. To those of the United Synagogue persuasion, for most part, the service is identical. A few superfluous bits missed out, with the addition of some nice touches. I particularly enjoyed the prayers for the Royal Family, Israel and the Community being read out by congregants, something I perhaps will take back to Manchester. Hopefully that shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

But the mention of female participation however will seriously ruffle many feathers.

And that leads me nicely on to “She who must be obeyed” My dear wife thoroughly enjoyed sitting amongst friends and family, and not as she rightly puts it ‘being corralled as an afterthought.’ Who can argue with her when she says, “there is more to female participation in our religion than making chicken soup and lighting Shabbos Candles?”

Thank you to the family for inviting us to celebrate your simcha with you. Thank you St Albans Masorti Synagogue for welcoming not only us but all your guests last Shabbos in such a warm and kind manner.

The late Dr Louis Jacobs dared to be different, and as I started this piece with “You never know what you are going to get”, his legacy with St Albans Masorti Synagogue is “You will always know what you are going to get”: warmth, strength and understanding that welcomes all into the heart of British Judaism.

Jun 16

Shabbat – 17th/18th June 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Dvar Torah

To Be and to Become Grandparents by Rabbi Claudio

We all have heard the old joke about the grandson who, when asked about where his grandparents live, he replies: “They live at the airport.”  It seems that this reaction of the kid is expressing a common perception that he has about his grandparents, which is a vague, confused idea about them. They are very far removed from him. They seem to play a sporadic role in his life.

Susy and I have been blessed at this moment of our lives with seven fabulous grandchildren, and each one of them has been a font of unending spiritual joy. Our nearness to them, living closely their growth, experiencing their physical and spiritual development, is a source of immense joy for us.

What does it mean and what can one expect to reach when becoming a grandparent?

1. For one, it means to crown one’s life with a certain inner accomplishment. To see them around you and think that they are carrying not just your name, but also your ideals, your traditions and your values, is a wonderful feeling. What better knowledge than to be aware of living your future through them.

2. Moreover, in a certain way, they are our spiritual continuation.  They are our immortality since we live in a way through them. In this way, one has passed on to the future and has permitted to forge a connection between our past, all what our parents and grandparents have inspired in us, and, what we pass on. The Olympic torch of that rich past is passed on so that they can now run another generation with a strong foundation. Thus, through us, and because of us, our grandchildren reinforce in us the idea that our lives are having meaning and purpose. Does our life end with us or does it continue through them?

Perfect love sometimes does not come until we are blessed with grandchildren.

Grandparents hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our
hearts forever. ~ Author Unknown

Susy and I want to express our gratitude for the many years we spent together, sharing moments of true family feeling, moments of prayer and study. You all made our days in St. Albans truly wonderful and unforgettable. May God bless you all with inner peace and may you grow from strength to strength.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Claudio Kaiser Blueth

Jun 09

Shabbat – 10th/11th June 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Blogs

This week, as many of you probably know, Rachel and I are expecting our 2nd child. Just like Toby, this one is taking its sweet time, but as a wise person once told me, the baby is exactly on time, we just expected it early!

But it raises for me some thoughts about this week’s parsha, as we start the fourth book of the Torah, Bemidbar, Numbers. The narrative begins with the Israelites still encamped at Mount Sinai as God commands a census to be taken. Why does God need us to be counted? Surely God knows how many of us there were, so why ask for a count? What are the things that we count in our lives? Hours we work? Sleep? Money we make? Books we read? Why do we count things?

One commentary is that we count the things that matter in our lives, or things that are precious to us. It is not enough to have thoughts or feelings to something or someone, such as a spouse, sibling, or child, or a favourite book, card, or perhaps a toy. We take the time to tell them, write to them, or in the case of objects, we arrange them or count them, or to put it in a different way, we give them our attention.
Th e tradition thus is teaching us that even though God surely knew how many of us there were, there was a need to show us and not just take it for granted. We are shown the love and shown the way we should maintain our relationships. Do not simply assume they know, show them. Don’t just count them, make them count!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rafi

Jun 02

Shabbat – 3rd/4th June 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Blogs

Parashat B’hukotai (Leviticus 26-27) is famous for the long stretch of curses (26:10-46), which is read barely audibly, because of the terrifying content of the tochehah (reproach, curse). The sense of abandonment by, and distance from, God is overwhelming. One thing that struck me in these passages was how much of the suffering is subjective and psychological: the devastating objective situation is the result or reflection of a mental and spiritual predicament.

Maybe one of the most powerful verses that describe this situation of a person in this respect reads as follows: “I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues.”

Imagine the emotional condition of a person who feels as if he is persecuted by some imaginary force, the sensation of being controlled by certain forces out of a sense of guilt or constant sensation that some spirits are persecuting him or old memories from the past, which recur every so often. The leaf is too real for him and overwhelming scary. These are surely personal and psychological fears that threaten the inner stability of any person – worse than a real enemy or a natural disaster – since they are identified through our eyes and last a specific time.

The divine blessings of justice and compassion and the sense of finding meaning and direction in our lives, will bestow a true sense of inner peace.

Peace, then, is not so much an eschatological reward dropping down from above as it is a state of harmonious living for which we bear responsibility.

May we all be blessed with true blessings of love and family unity, living remarkable memories of the past and walking together towards the future with confidence and trust.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Claudio

I would also like to wish Adam Axelrod a Mazal Tov on his Bar Mitzvah. Join me as we come together celebrate with Adam and his family this Shabbat.