Category Archives for "SAMS News"

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.

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
special.

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.

Feb 13

SAMS singers sing

By Editor | Blogs

By Stephen Gess

I have always noticed that our community was a musical lot and I wondered whether there was a possibility for an informal singing group at SAMS.

The first step was to look for a song leader and in January 2016 we found Judith Silver who ran a pilot of singing workshops which proved to be very successful attracting 20 people. We then decided to move forward and set up further workshops as the year progressed this time with the help of Mich Sampson.

Emerging from this has been a remarkable strength of response, enthusiasm and a common will to make this project work. We have now gathered an eclectic mix of people who enjoy singing together.

Although everybody comes from different musical backgrounds, we have found common ground in the songs that we sing which cover the full width and breadth of Jewish music. I could quote chapter and verse about all the upsides of singing and singing together, but what it comes back to is that singing together is just great fun!

What we have is a tremendous sense of commitment on all sides and a brilliant song leader in Mich.

Mich is a very accomplished musician, has a great sense of humour, and is also someone who is a wonderful motivator. She is entirely on the same page and works with us to create beautiful music and enhance our sense of community.

We have honoured our Mitzvah Day pledge to sing at the Princess Alexandra Jewish Care Home in Bushey. This took place on Sunday February 12th.

We will also be holding a “Soiree” for family, friends and the community to hear and join in with our music. This will take place on Sunday 2nd April at 7pm at SAMS.

We always love to welcome people who want to give “SAMS singers” a try. Please let me or the shul office know if you would like to come along and contribute your own joy of music to our group. The charge for each session is £7

Contact : info@e-sams.org

Jan 11

Q & A with Rabbi Carl

By Editor | Blogs

What was the highlight of your time at SAMS?

It is difficult to single out one highlight as there were so many. My answer would be that one among many was the five classes I taught.

Each one dealt with difficult questions and what made each gathering so special were the questions that the students posed. They were profound and thoughtful and generated a good deal of participation from those in attendance. I found myself hearing and trying to answer queries I had never heard or thought of on these subjects. Clearly, SAMS is blessed with insightful and highly educated members. I hope they learned as much as I did at each session.

How did you find the experience of leading a much smaller congregation that you were used to in Chicago?

Judy and I loved the intimacy of a smaller community. I believe at some point I said to the congregation that there is something to be said for standing up on the High Holidays in front of 200 people rather than 2,000. Even on Simchat Torah night, there was that same feeling of intimacy. Having been with you for six weeks, we came to feel a personal connection to each person we met at services and other programs. Our congregation in Illinois is also warm and friendly, but SAMS’ intimacy was so delightful, a quality which I hope can be preserved even as you grow larger.

What impressed you most about SAMS?

While I know that for many years you did not have a full-time rabbi and had to rely on yourselves for everything, that fact that you are still, even after many years with a successful rabbi, so empowered is impressive. The members do it all from leading the dahvening, to reading Torah and Haftarah, to announcing everything during the service, to clearing the room to set out the Kiddush, to providing security (which I know is customary in the UK) and so much more. I had to do what I love to do most- teach and deliver sermons.

I was impressed to watch one of you speaking to a relatively new member and encouraging him to polish the skills that he already has in order to become a leader of the dahvening. This means that SAMS continues to empower others for the future by reaching out in a personal way.

How did you enjoy getting involved with the B’nai Mitzvah process with Emma and Benjamin?

The best part of the process was getting to know each family on a personal level by being in their homes and meeting the entire family, including household pets. We were also in each case served delicious dinners. I don’t know if this has always been the custom at SAMS, but keep it going. That interaction creates a relationship and comfort level between the rabbi (and in each case with Judy as well) which made the service much more special and personal. I wish I could have done this at Congregation Beth Shalom.

We also learned that one of the Chairs of the congregation also meets personally with each B’nai Mitzvah family and took pains as well to make sure that he/she and I did not say the same things to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah at the service.

The personal touch is what makes and keeps a community a community.

What was the most unusual thing SAMS does?

I would say with big smiles on both Judy’s and my faces, that the answer is Sunflowers. We attended one of the sessions and were awed by the number of families and the energy with which they filled the room. This was followed by a very special session of song and movement in a separate room for the youngest among them, with a uniquely talented member of the congregation leading. It goes a long way in making the entire community aware of what a special place SAMS is. What is most unusual and wonderful is that it is open to the entire community. It is multi-faith and multi-cultural, etc. which lets the larger community of St. Albans know what a synagogue means and who the Jewish community is!

I know you asked for the most unusual but in this context I would also have to mention the Sunday Morning group sing-a-long we attended on our last Sunday with SAMS. There were some 20 people there with a wonderful professional song leader. Judy and I are still singing the tunes at home but we certainly miss the accompaniment of all the other participants.

What would you say to a rabbi thinking of joining SAMS?

Before I would tell the rabbi why, I would say “Just go. You will be happy you did!” SAMS is a community which embodies the meaning of growth, not just in numbers but also in soul and spirit in all of the ways a synagogue community can provide that growth. Members are anxious to learn and the rabbi will enjoy teaching them. The Cheder is filled with delightful children and the rabbi will kvell from interacting with them. The leadership is truly committed to the future of SAMS. They know how to welcome a new rabbi and make the rabbi feel at home as they did for Judy and me, and certainly did for Rabbi Rafi over many years. St. Albans is a wonderful place to live, to raise children and to be close to Jewish schools and the growing Masorti community. And it goes without saying but I will say it anyway. London is only a short train ride away. At the end of the day it is the people at SAMS who made it for us a “second home.”

What do you miss most about SAMS?

I will have to be a bit redundant in answering this question and I know in this answer I speak for both Judy and me. It is the people we met who befriended us with such warmth and affection that when we left we felt like part of the family and SAMS is truly a family. Your commitment to each other and to the synagogue as a community is impressive. We miss all of you and so look forward to our next visit.

What advice would you give SAMS?

I could answer that question by simply saying that you should just keep doing what you have been doing for the 26 years since you began. Making people and relationships the priority has made you strong and will keep you vital and help you grow. If any prospective member or rabbi expresses any doubt about becoming part of the SAMS community, just give them my e-mail address and phone number. Judy and I will be more than happy to dispel any doubt they might have and remind them that SAMS is truly “a home for Jewish Herts.”

Dec 15

Reflections on SAMS Mitzvah Day 2016

By Editor | Blogs

Here’s a post from Mr Mitzvah Day himself, Nick Grant

SAMS undertook it first Mitzvah Day event back in November 2009, and has been supporting the initiative since then.

This year, we undertook 9 events:

Some of these events were self-initiated, some assigned by St Albans Council, and the Stem-Cell Registration opportunity came from Mitzvah Day HQ.

For me, August, September and October bring on the first round of stress, looking for initiatives that might be suitable for our community, and that would coherently work together.

We try to find a bunch of activities that all age-groups and all competencies can participate in. What was difficult this year was St Albans Council agreeing their tasks that they could handover to us, and that would benefit the local area.

Come the start of November, it’s all about drawing the attention of the SAMS community to all the Mitzvah Day activities. Lots of emails, and lots of face-to face discussions, seem to be required. And then to find a team-leader for each of the activities.

Gaining involvement has got easier over the years; SAMS is learning from one year to the next on what to expect and what is expected from them!

Except for the Stem-Cell Registration, our events were very well supported, with over 25% of the synagogue membership getting involved, so no complaints about participation overall.

As for the Stem-Cell Registration initiative, this was problematic, as we only got a few 16- 30 yr. olds to turn up. The Stem-Cell Registration Desk was manned by Anthony Nolan from 09:30 – 1:30pm.

Understandably, many of the 18-22 yr. olds were away at university. I guess some 16-18yr olds didn’t want to get up or come out, and for some 22 -30 yr. olds their social life took precedence. We have many 16 -30 yr. olds, and it proved an interesting challenge to try to get their interest. Has anyone got a good idea how to spark their interest for next Mitzvah Day?

mitzvahdayjcFrom a publicity viewpoint we did well (thank you, Russell); this year we got a described photo included in both the St Albans Review and the Jewish Chronicle (left).

Nick Grant

Nov 30

Mitzvah Day Report from Heartwood Forest

By Editor | Blogs

Guest post by Darren Marks

tree6On Mitzvah Day 2016 eleven SAMS member of all ages took part in the Woodland Trust tree planting event in Heartwood Forest, an event we as a community have been participating in for several years. We were part of a team of 679 volunteers from every walk of life who planted over 6000 trees in the space of just a few hours!

The speed at which the young trees were placed into their new homes was a sight to behold as people of all colours, creeds and faiths literally swept across the fields leaving in their wake thousands of newly planted trees and shrubs.

At 858 acres Heartwood Forest is rapidly becoming England’s largest new native forest. The site contains four small remnants (44 acres) of precious ancient woodland, our equivalent of the rainforest, which now sadly makes up only two per cent of UK landcover.

Ancient Woodlands are more than just places of timeless beauty and tranquillity, they offer stable and natural conditions for wildlife. In fact they are home to more threatened species than any other habitat in the UK which makes them a very valuable resource in need of protection.

tree3Amazingly, it takes just 12 years to turn empty fields into flourishing native woodland, complete with a diverse range of wildlife and tall trees. The first trees planted seven years ago in Heartwood Forest are now more than four metres high.

On our way back from the planting site we struck up a conversation with a group of volunteers from a local Jain Spiritual Group, we talked about the meaning of the word Mitzvah and they explained the Jain approach to caring for all living things.

We all agreed how wonderful it will be to return to Heartwood in years to come with our children and grandchildren to proudly show them the forest we helped to plant. At a time when uncertainty and division seems to be the order of the day every time we look at the news, how refreshing it is to take part in an event that brings people from all UK communities together with  a shared sense of responsibility and love for the environment in which we live.

And I’m looking forward to returning to Heartwood Forest with SAMS next year for more tree planting!

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