Monthly Archives: July 2018

Jul 27

26 July 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

There’s been many aspects of my Jewish life where I’ve often felt an ‘outsider’. I consider it a badge of honour to be a rabbi who understands what it’s like to not be able to read Hebrew or not know what page we’re on during services. Yet perhaps the most profound lack of having not grown up inside the Jewish community has been my complete exclusion (and often, confusion) from Jewish youth movements and camps.

So many of my classmates, now colleagues, based their Jewish life on experiences they had at camp. They would, almost to a wo/man, identify camp as the thing that sparked their love of Judaism. Having not had that experience, I was always a bit sceptical of it. In school, when we had to do a rotation working for a youth movement, I worked as a youth director in a synagogue rather than spend a Summer at camp or on Israel Tour.

However, I’m happy to say I have had the opportunity to see the other side of that equation. The lateness of this message is due to the fact that I’m currently aboard a train home from Northumbria where I’ve spent this past week teaching and learning and sharing in Noam camp.

It’s hard to praise Noam without utilising clichés, so instead, I’ll give a few examples from the past days:

  1. Today I spent an hour teaching a group about how Jewish mystics have used bizarre numerology and Torah verses to (fairly) correctly asses the age of the universe. I had a discussion with the Madrichim which aptly demonstrated the seriousness with which these young people approach Jewish learning and the depth of their thinking. After we wrapped up, I overheard one of the students excitedly telling a friend about the new thing she had learned. There’s no greater compliment than hearing that which you’ve taught re-taught!

 

  1. Yesterday, after a morning Shacharit service where the Madrichim were encouraged to try leading prayer even if they’ve never before, two of the young women leading left, looking clearly disappointed that they hadn’t sounded as good as they hoped. Without being asked, and against the packed schedule of the day, another student saw this, pulled them aside, and they spent most of the time devoted to breakfast sitting instead on a field, siddurim open in front of them, practicing their singing of the Kaddish.

 

  1. Lastly, more than once, one of the young people pulled me aside over a meal time or a free time (the quantity of which was precious) in order to ask the “big questions” – how can we believe in God? How can Masorti Judaism justify the changes it makes to Halachah? How do we reckon philosophy and Judaism, religion and science? As a rabbi, I was floored even *one* person sought out such a conversation- much less several!

I leave camp deeply impressed with the quality (and quantity) of our young Jewish leaders. Noam manages to ensure serious and intense Jewish learning while creating innumerous options for personal development, as leaders, as Jews, and as humans. I’m hugely proud of our SAMS young people who are serving as Mazkirim, Roshim, and Madrichim. Special shout out to Tammy Sapir, Will Samuels, and Zac Baker. I’m so glad that, come Monday, a bunch of lovely SAMS kids will join them as Chanichim- and I know that they will have an experience that deepens their Jewish life and provides a incomparably liberating space for them to grow and develop into the future leaders of tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jul 19

19 July 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

Just under two thousand years ago, the Jewish people found themselves amidst a civil war. For the better part of the 1st century, the Land of Israel saw previously inconceivable upheaval: a Roman invasion and occupation, a split between Jews who would collaborate with the Romans against those who insisted on violent resistance, a campaign of assassinations, rebellions, and guerrilla warfare, a charismatic religious movement that looked for many messiahs (and found a few), and in the end, the complete and total destruction of Jewish life in the land which it had flourished for a thousand years prior.

When the dust settled, most Jews were either killed (by the Romans and by each other) or exiled. A small group remained, dedicated to rebuilding the religion which had been the source of so much strife. Central to the mythology of that new religious community, what we call Rabbinic Judaism, was the catastrophic origin of their approach to Torah. For them, it was the social and political catastrophe of the 1st century which led to expulsion, destruction, and dispersion.
The day the Temple was finally destroyed was the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av), a day which we commemorate every year with sadness and reflection. Yet the rabbis who inaugurated the religion we practice would want us to do more than navel-gaze. They insisted (Talmud, Yoma 9b) that the Temple was destroyed because of civil strife and baseless hatred– because the Jewish community of the time turned on itself, allowing religious extremism and political expediency to take precedence over truth and goodness.
Strangely, all these years later, their original intention for our day of commemoration could not be more relevant. Today’s Jewish state, like that of two millennia ago, faces many internal battles. Some of those are productive, none of them are new. What is new is that many of the internal debates of our community have begun to lead to violence and hatred. Last week, a group of Haredi Jews– defined by their self-constructed vision of piety– burned a siddur at the Kotel because a woman had the gall to try and pray.
This week, one of my colleagues was roused from his bed in the early hours of the morning and brought to a local police station to be questioned. Why? Because he had been performing weddings. Weddings the Rabbanut (Chief Rabbi’s Office) didn’t like. Rather than accept the diversity of Jewish belief and practice, religious extremists now have the police force at their disposal, utilising the organs of the state to adjudicate political debates.
These increased tensions within the Jewish state, between secular and religious, Orthodox and Masorti, Jewish and Arab– should indeed cause us concern. Yet, rather than engender further disengagement on our part, these crises of our own time should prod us to action. There is a war on for the future of the Jewish state and for the vision of Judaism which it represents. Too often we allow ourselves to resign from the conflict– rather we must renew our commitment to promoting the Judaism which is animated by values, by truth and goodness, and by senseless love for one another rather than senseless hatred.
This year, as every year, we will be commemorating Tisha b’Av– remembering the self-wrought destruction that cast a two thousand year shadow upon us. Let our reflection not remain simply historical– let us be motivated to work harder than ever to make sure we never again find ourselves allowing hatred and violence to define what it means to be a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom,

R’ Adam

Join us across the Masorti community for a commemoration of Tisha b’Av:

Saturday 21 July
10.30pm – Ma’ariv at Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue
Sunday 22 July
9.00am – Shacharit at Edgware Masorti Synagogue
8.15pm – Minchah at SAMS – (Please remember to bring your tallitot and tefillin if you have)
9.00pm – Learning with Rabbi Adam at SAMS
9.45pm – Ma’ariv, followed by delicious desserts to break the fast

Jul 03

28 June 2018

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

This week we mark an anniversary which would normally never have even pinged on my radar: seventy years of the NHS. As a recent immigrant from the Colonies, the massive and apparently-endlessly bureaucratic NHS has been an interesting curiosity for me. Long since a supporter of single-payer healthcare in America, I was eager to see it put into action here across the pond.
Although many of the structural intricacies still elude me, I found myself face to face this week with the real work of the NHS. I ended up spending Tuesday night in the Watford General A&E after witnessing a man crash his motorbike earlier that evening. First, we were told an ambulance would take 4 hours to arrive. Originally I found this appalling and was really shocked- but then I tried to hear what the dispatcher would have heard on their end: a man is injured but not bleeding massively, he is awake and hasn’t lost consciousness, and he clearly has someone with him with a car (I phoned 999 for him.)
Although 4 hours is obviously an unacceptable time, considering the stretched resources of the system, it makes sense that we were a low priority. In America an ambulance would be there in 15 minutes or less, but you’d also get a bill for your bumpy ride to the hospital in the range of $5000.
So instead I drove this gentleman to Watford, and I stayed with him to help explain the situation to doctors and nurses. Some were kinder than others, some better about keeping us informed than others. In those hours of waiting I was often frustrated- but when I walked out at 3.30am and didn’t have to go collect the bill first I realised quite how unfair I’d been.
Yes, the NHS is stretched very thin. We should all be advocates for programmes and systems which provide basic services to all people and help ease the financial burden. I’m sure there’s tremendous disparity between areas and regions that have good resources and those that struggle extra. Yet, even at the ’emergency state’ they’re in, they have managed to do something no American healthcare provider can: provide good quality care to everyone, regardless of who they are.
American hospitals are often much nicer looking, often with faster service and better bedside manners- and I guarantee American ambulances are faster. Yet all of that is true only in wealthy areas, and only for some people, not for all. While those with means benefit from gleaming private rooms and express ambulance rides, far far more die out in the cold, in debt and denied their basic right to healthcare.
I didn’t realise it then, but my impromptu trip to the A&E actually was a fitting tribute to the NHS on its 70th birthday. I’m grateful to benefit from a system which makes serving all people a priority and I hope that we can work together to continue to enhance the efforts of the NHS in years to come. To those very many of you at SAMS who serve in the NHS, thank you, and to the often-flawed but very important 70 year experiment in public healthcare that is the NHS, happy birthday.
Shabbat Shalom,
R’ Adam
*Note: There will be no ‘A Thought for Thursday’ for the next two weeks, 5 and 12 July.*