Category Archives for "SAMS News"

May 25

From the Co‐Chair

By Russell Goldsmith | 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 Russell Goldsmith | 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 Russell Goldsmith | 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 Russell Goldsmith | 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 Russell Goldsmith | 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!

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 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]