In traditional communities, Shavuot (which begins on Sunday evening) lasts for two days (Sivan 6th and 7th). In Liberal and Reform communities, and in Israel, it lasts for one day. We are thinking especially of all those in Israel now, and pray that peace and calm may return to the land before the festival begins on Sunday evening.
Shavuot is one of the Shalosh R’galim, the three Pilgrimage Festivals. Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, was originally a harvest festival, celebrating the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Its agricultural beginnings are reflected in two of its names, Chag Ha-Katzir, ‘the harvest festival’, and Chag Ha-Bikkurim, ‘the festival of the first fruits’, when the first fruits were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The name Shavuot,’ weeks’, reflects the Omer period from Pesach to Shavuot, when we count each of the 49 days, or 7 weeks.
In Exodus chapter 19, the Torah tells us that the Israelites came to Sinai on the third new moon after their dramatic exodus from Egypt. Because Shavuot comes seven weeks after the Exodus festival of Pesach (in the third month of Sivan), the rabbis claimed that the festival celebrates God’s revelation at Sinai, the giving of the Torah to the Israelites. With that, and the rabbinic name, Chag Matan Torateinu, ‘the festival of the giving of our Torah’, Shavuot gained a profound new meaning because, without rules, freedom soon degenerates into chaos. With that, it also gained durability and a touch of eternity.
So, the holiday of Shavuot commemorates the gift of the Torah to the Israelites, and there is a custom to stay up through the whole night of Shavuot, engaging in study. Known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, this custom expresses our love for Torah and its study.
There is also a custom to decorate the synagogue with flowers, to recall the legend that Mount Sinai burst into flower while the Israelites waited to receive the Torah. Also, the first fruits were brought to Jerusalem in baskets decorated with flowers.
Shavuot celebrates the brit, or covenant, between God and the Jewish people. A contractual relationship, as a love relationship, requires from us loyalty and commitment, such as was shown to Naomi by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. At Shavuot, we also read the Book of Ruth, because it takes place at the right time of year (Ruth gleaned barley in Boaz’s fields), and, also, Ruth’s loyalty and commitment is symbolic of the loyalty and commitment of the Jewish people to the Torah and to the people of Israel. Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, and Jewish tradition has it that King David was born, and died, on Shavuot.
Oh, and, of course… there’s the cheesecake! It is customary to eat dairy foods such as blintzes and cheesecake on Shavuot. One explanation for eating dairy is that when the Jews received the Torah on Shavuot, they were not ready with utensils for kosher meat preparation, so they ate dairy, which is relatively easy to prepare instead of meat. Another explanation is that the Torah is compared to milk and honey.
All the details of our commemorations of Shavuot can be found in this weekly e-mail, and also on our website. Our Liberal and Reform communities will be welcoming our twinned community in Israel, Darchei Noam, with Rabbi Dr. Eli Levin, on Erev Shavuot. Liberal Judaism offers opportunities to study all through the night, with a variety of learning options. Our Masorti community will be meeting in person for the first time in many months, in a garden service.
Also, on Sunday afternoon, at 4:00pm, before Shavuot begins, there is an opportunity to meet Keren David, journalist and author of 12 Young Adult novels. Her latest book, ‘What We’re Scared Of’, is about contemporary anti-Semitism and Jewish identity.
On Wednesday, Tea and Torah continues, at 11:00am, with the weekly opportunity to study parashat ha-shavua, the Torah portion of the week, with one of our Rabbis.
And finally… a heads up for a very special celebration on Sunday, May 23rd at 4:00pm, when we have a chance to get together (still on Zoom) to reminisce over the 60+ years at Bessborough Road, with memories, a quiz, music, photos and more, and also there will be news on our new home at 65 Stanmore Hill. Look forward to seeing you there!
Rabbi Rachel Benjamin
May 12, 2021
On 14th May 1948 Ben Gurion declared at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv the foundation of the New Jewish State.
Who would have imagined that, close to the 73rd Anniversary of the founding of the State, the most tragic incident internally in the State’s history would take place with 45 crushed to death at an event to celebrate Lag b’Omer on Mount Meron on the 33rd day of the Omer where 100,000 attended? Or could this disaster have been avoided?
At the declaration Ben Gurion declared Israel will be a State for the Jewish People and that this would be an equal State for all its citizens including the Haredi. A Status Quo agreement was reached with the Haredi Community. They would not oppose the creation of the Jewish (Zionist) State and they would be allowed to operate their own brand of Judaism as a state within the State. This worked reasonably well as long as The Labour party (Secular entities) was in power. However, in 1977 The Likud party came into power and from that time almost till now the Religious Parties (including the Haredi) were themselves in as part of the power base determining the role they could play in the Israeli State.
The site at Mount Meron, one of the Holiest to the Haredi in the State of Israel, has been considered for over 10 years a potential death trap at Lag b’Omer.
On April 10th two ministers from the ruling right-wing parties, Aryeh Deri, the interior Minister and Amir Ohana, the public security minister, decided there should be no limit to the size of the gathering. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would not override them, despite official gatherings not being allowed anywhere to go over 10,000. The gathering at Mount Meron was the first major event at which the Haredi could gather after many months in Lockdown and so, if left to their own devices, the numbers there were always certain to be totally unsafe. A supposed judicial enquiry will only come out with solutions and responsibility for this situation if it is independent from the ruling Likud Party.
Let us hope that this week Yair Lapid of the party Yesh Atid is requested by President Rivlin does form a Government, which will ensure the Haredi stay away from Government and enable Progressive Israelis to move forward. The first step has been the election of Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the first Progressive Rabbi Elected to the Knesset.
However, back in the UK, we look forward to several events this week at Mosaic.
The Mosaic Liberal AGM is being held on Zoom at 11.00 am on Sunday 9th May. This will be followed at 4.00 pm by a showing of the award-winning film, ‘The Tattooed Torah’, a wonderful story of the restoration of a small Torah from Brno, Czechoslovakia. As if viewing the film were not sufficient, we will then have the opportunity of hearing from the team that produced the film. Then on Tuesday 11th May at 2.30 pm we will meet the Dancing Judge, Michael Shelton, a member of Mosaic Liberal and, by all accounts, a man of many talents. Finally, on Tuesday 4th May we heard an inspiring story of the work started by one individual who happened to find herself living in Kosovo and made it her mission to get young children into school – just by providing them with a pair of shoes! This recording will only be on our website for one week (at the speaker’s request) so you’re urged not to miss it!
May 5, 2021
This week’s parasha is Emor in which we read the sections regarding the Jewish calendar of festivals and the cycle of the new month and the regular rhythm, punctuation and sanctity of the weekly Shabbat.
The cycle of my personal week is linked to the rhythms of my garden, of growth and succession and the joys that each season brings. As I look at the seedlings on my windowsill, the small plants in the cold-frames and the apple blossom on the trees I also rejoice in the seasons and just as I nurture and cajole my natural surroundings, I reflect that I feel that nurturing my spiritual self brings challenge and contentment to my inner world.
I am looking forward to welcoming Brett Coppin to Mosaic on May 9th with a Q & A on his film , “The Tattooed Torah”, a version of the well-loved story written by his grandmother and now rendered for the screen. Brett spent a weekend with Mosaic Masorti in 2017 when he was studying to be a rabbi at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The film was in its nascent stage at that point and I am sure his presentation of how the film came to be made with a special showing for Mosaic,will remind us of the continuity of the values contained in those scrolls, the stories of those whose hands they passed through and link to the familial connections which bind us all to generations past and future.
April 29, 2021
From David Leibling – our project manager for Bessborough Road exit (BExit), photographed at the top of a ladder!
We’re very nearly there handing over the synagogue. Thanks to all those who have offered space for storage in the interim – and a reminder to please contact us if you have space for any of the remaining 10 boxes. We managed to upcycle the vast majority of what we aren’t taking with us, and that leaves just the office to relocate when we get our marching orders. I am sure the next 12 months will pass quickly as we look forward to our new community home.
Turning to the coming week, we have Professor Simon Barak talking about his research on genes that allow plants to survive in the Negev desert. We all know how dry and arid the desert is but Israelis have successfully developed a range of techniques to enable the desert to bloom. It’s at 3 pm on Sunday. Our Tuesday 2.30 pm slot is Dr Jennifer Langer from the Centre for Jewish Studies at SOAS talking about Exiled Writers Ink which brings together writers from repressive regimes and war-torn situations and it equally embraces migrants and exiles.
With the London Mayoral and Assembly elections occurring on 6 May, we have a Harrow and Brent Jewish Hustings session on Thursday 29 April. Bearing in mind there are 20 candidates for Mayor, all with very similar manifesto promises, hopefully this session will help you decide how to vote. Pre-registration is required for this event.
April 21, 2021
photograph by Pat Zatz
I have been reflecting on the event with David Baddiel last night (if you missed it you can see the recording by clicking here). There are so many minorities in our land, and many feel passionate about their heritage. Some people promote and talk about their backgrounds and others do not, for a multitude of reasons.
I am proud of my Jewish heritage and this was strengthened by being an active member of the Stoke on Trent Jewish community when I was just a bit older than our youngest new member, Lili Balkin. I was heartened to see Lili at the talk last night and hope that we can encourage our members in their 20s and 30s, who are the lifeblood of our community future, to make their voices heard for our community locally and nationally.
On that subject we have London Mayoral elections in 3 weeks. Please click to register to attend our joint Mayoral hustings and also submit a question for the candidates (in advance). See you there and as David Baddiel said last night, let’s stand up and be counted.
I wish you all a good shabbos
April 15, 2021
Many thanks to the large number of members who have kindly offered their homes for storage of all our Bessborough Road belongings. We’re just looking for one more dry space that could house 2 chairs and 8 boxes. If you can help, please contact the Mosaic office urgently.
April 8, 2021
As we plough further into Leviticus, and read sedra Shemini this week, our thoughts focus on Kashrut, yet again looking at another aspect of the detail of building our new home on Stanmore Hill. How fortunate that our forefathers chose (so far as I am aware) not to issue instructions on different shades of floor covering. Maybe they tried but just gave up arguing.
As ever, it has been a particularly busy week, zooming new friends in Israel at our twin Community of Darchei Noam in Ramat Hasharon, holding a most moving Yom Hashoah service and returning to a more conventional culinary regime after Pesach.
Look out next week for our quiz on Sunday, a talk on the craft of being a toast master on Tuesday, and David Baddiel talking about his important new book on Wednesday.
Shobbos greetings to all.
April 8, 2021
Mah nishtanah ha-layla ha-zeh, mi-kol-ha-leilot? What is the difference between this night and all other nights?
Even though we will again not be in-person, this year’s Pesach experience will undoubtedly be quite different from last year. Not least because we hope that with the vaccine we will soon be able to return to our pre-Covid sense of normality.
Pesach this year will also be marked by the significant developments surrounding our new home on Stanmore Hill and the inevitably poignant service to mark the deconsecration of 39 Bessborough Road on 30 March.
Covid has taught us a valuable lesson about ourselves: a Jewish community is so much more than a building. We will remain a strong and thriving community even when we will be without a permanent home for a while – who would have thought that we could have the extraordinary programme of high profile events and speakers we have had over the past year – which continues with David Baddiel on Wednesday 31st March
For our ancestors their time in the wilderness became one of the most creative and impactful moments in Jewish history. May we too look at the time we will spend away from a permanent home as a time of opportunities in which we can explore new minhagim (traditions) and develop old ones and explore different way.
I wish you all Chag Pesach Sameach and hope to see you on Zoom over Pesach
March 25, 2021
We thought we’d liven up the newsletter by asking a member of the community to give their thoughts for the week ahead and highlight their personal favourites from forthcoming events.
The highlight for me will be spending part of my birthday on Sunday 21st with the fascinating Dr Johnson Beharry VC COG, I can’t miss the stories of his army service, his gallantry and the work of his charitable foundation.
During the week I’ll preparing for Pesach and reflecting that on 23rd March 2020 the Prime Minister announced the first national lockdown, which came into effect on 26th March.
So we will celebrate the festival of our freedom, z’man cherutenu, for the second year in lockdown. Is the vaccine rollout leading us out of the wilderness? Let’s hope us
Have a good week and stay safe
Jeff Highfield, Co-chair, Mosaic Jewish Community
March 18, 2021