In the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) there is an interesting discussion regarding how, when and why the Chanukah lights are lit.
In those days, it appears, there was a variety of traditions, depending on people’s religiosity. The basic tradition was that on Chanukah each household lit a light every day. Others lit a light a day for each member of the household. Only the most religious would adjust the number of lights daily.
Regarding this last tradition there was a dispute between the Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai: Beit Shamai advocated starting Chanukah with all 8 candles lit, reducing the number by one candle daily. The reason given, to make it correspond to the number of bulls sacrificed daily on the festival of Sukkot, which was also reduced by one each day (acknowledging the fact that during the period of Greek oppression it had not been possible to celebrate the festival of Sukkot with the appropriate sacrifices).
However, according to Beit Hillel we should start with one candle and each night add another one, until we have all 8 candles burning on the last day. His reason being that in matters of holiness, we add and do not take away.
We know of course that Beit Hillel’s argument won, for this is the universal practice to this day.
It is surprising that on Chanukah we follow the tradition of the most zealous: one light every night would have sufficed! Chanukah, however, evokes a deep sense of identity in us, even though it is only a minor festival, and it is not only because for many it serves as a Jewish alternative to Christmas.
Chanukah inspires us because of the enduring symbolism of hope embodied in the act of daily adding a little more light to dispel the darkness in a unpredictable and dangerous world.
It is a symbolism that we can so easily emulate in how we treat others at this time, by conscious acts of kindness and tzedakah, and of course also, by just coming together as a community as we light our Chanukiyot each night in Halsbury Close; whether it is for the lunch on Thursday, potluck dinner on Erev Shabbat, Havdalah on Saturday, a musical service on Sunday, the interfaith gathering on Tuesday or the young people’s drop in on Wednesday afternoon, we look forward to seeing you there. Chag Chanukah sameach!
We are seeing horrors every day on the tv. Last year Ukraine and Russia, which was horrific and this year in 5784, we are seeing horrors that seem much closer to home. Many of us in MJC know of people who have lost their lives in the recent war in the Middle East. I know that our rabbis are around, around the clock, to help those in the community, who are in need of an ear and a shoulder, and I thank the team for being there. It is sadly going to be a task that is not going to be remedied in the coming months.
This thought played on my mind on Sunday as I, along with some other Mosaic members, attended the Act of Remembrance service in Pinner. It was a damp and chilling air as I stood there looking at the very large and diverse age crowd. I think I am a young fellow but I was in the minority and it was heartening to see people, both younger and very much younger, than me, paying tribute to the fallen plenty. Prayers were said in English, Jain and Hebrew and I thought of people in foreign lands saying prayers for their war fallen too. The following exhortation was recited
They shall grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
A truer phrase cannot be said and this coming Sunday many of the Jews of the UK will gather at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, to show that “we will remember them” and, in particular, the Jewish people who died in past wars to make it possible for me to grow up and live, in the UK, in peace. I will also be thinking of people who live in Israel who are mourning their family members who in 5784 are among those who are perishing leaving their families and their country to live in peace. History repeats itself and in our lifetimes. I can only speak for myself and those from Mosaic Jewish Community who march alongside me to salute the war dead, as we pass by the Cenotaph. Please come along and support your past family members who served in the Great Wars, as well as in other wars and who paid a heavy toll. I derive great inspiration from seeing the young people from Emmanuel College, JFS and other schools, as well as the Scouts, Guides and JLGB take part in this ceremony and showing visual support, which I am sure those who are still alive and able to attend the ceremony, from the last war, will appreciate too
The Kohima Epitaph, which is recited in every memorial ceremony throughout the land from John O’Groats to Lands End, both last week and this week in Whitehall, reminds us of the fallen, as if they were speaking to us today, in person.
When you go home,
Tell them of us and say For your tomorrow We gave our today.
The MJC members taking part look forward to seeing many of you, at Whitehall, on Sunday.
Mosaic is of course concerned that congregants are informed as quickly and as widely as possible about current events beyond Mosaic but we do not have the resources or desire to bombard members with emails..
It is therefore suggested that the best way to achieve this is to recommend congregants sign up to national websites which can provide up-to-date information faster than we can. The following are suggested. Additionally you may choose to sign up for any other organisations that meet your requirements.
Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, Ukraine’s Chief Progressive Rabbi, currently living in Israel, but having been in Kyiv for the High Holy Days, is in London for a few days. He will be coming to our service on Shabbat morning, 21st October, and is will speak to people in the community afterwards. Please stay for the light kiddush lunch after the services so that we can spend some time with him, hearing about his recent experiences in Ukraine and Israel.
These past six days have been profoundly painful and challenging, as the shocking and terrible news from Israel continues to unfold and we learn that, at the latest count, more than 1,200 Israelis have been brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists. We are all affected by this and, for many of us, it directly affects our family and friends in Israel.
We mourn those who have died, we pray for the healing of the thousands wounded, and for the immediate release of the hostages in Gaza. Our hearts go out to the bereaved families, and to all those who are living with this awful new reality, not knowing what the future will hold.
If you or your family have been directly affected by the attacks, please let us know so we can offer you support.
If you need to talk to someone about how this is affecting you personally, please contact us directly in confidence.
Here at Mosaic Jewish Community, we need to be more aware of security than normal. If you have been asked to do security, please turn up for your shift and many thanks to those who have done so recently. If you experience or witness antisemitism, please ring the police first on 999 and then the CST on 0800 032 3263.
We pray with all our hearts for an end to the violence, for all hostages to be returned to their families, and we pray fervently for stability and peace to come to both Israelis and Palestinians.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I pray for your well-being…” (Psalm 122:6-7)
Rabbis Anna, Anthony, Kathleen and Rachel
Rabbi Charley Baginsky, CEO of Liberal Judaism, spoke at the vigil that took place outside Downing Street on Monday afternoon – the full video of the event can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_IS-m9lLTk
And on the 8th Day you shall have an Atzeretand do no labouring work. (Numbers 29.35)
The passage from Parshat Pinchas which we read as a maftir during Sukkot describes the 8th day of Sukkot as an Atzeret, without really explaining what that is. Amongst his three proposals, Rashi’s final explanation, derived from the Midrash Sifrei Bamidbar, is his most beautiful: the 70 bulls offered during the festival of Sukkot represent the 70 nations of the world, as Sukkot celebrates God’s relationship to all creation. The 8th is a day in which only the Jews are requested to remain in Jerusalem as if God is saying: ‘Please, just make a small final banquet for Me, so that I may celebrate just with you.’
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, in his commentary HaKtav v’HaKabbalah, expands this idea. Humans have ‘a very powerful desire for worldly goods, and expend great effort labouring for them.’ But the more time we invest in gathering riches, the less time we have to work on ourselves and our spiritual lives. One of the main points of the Torah, for Mecklenburg, is to give us days and times when we are prohibited from worrying about things which are only things, and can come closer to things which have deeper and more lasting value. This is why the rare word Atzeret is applied in Torah to the last day of Pesach, the last day/day after of Sukkot, and the festival of Shavuot (after 40 days of Omer counting). Atzeret indicates that after a festival, or a period of significant time, when we have strived to be closer to Judaism and our community – rather than rush straight back off to the world of trade and phones and hurry and chaos, we should pause, take a breath, and hold ourselves in the special atmosphere of the Jewish festivals. Judaism gives us moments of calm, and encourages us not to run away from them, but rather to cherish them whilst they are here and hold the memory with us when they are gone.
This weekend we will all celebrate Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah – the Liberal and Reform synagogues over a single day; and the Masorti over two. Please do join on Friday night with Mosaic Reform (6pm) and/or Mosaic Liberal (7pm), on Saturday morning at our usual times, on Saturday night with Mosaic Masorti at 6.45pm and on Sunday morning with Mosaic Masorti at 9.45am. Really, you might as well just stay at the synagogue for the duration… Wishing you well over these final Yamim Tovim, and a happy return to normality thereafter.
The transition from Yom Kippur to Sukkot, in the heart of the High Holy Day season, is a special time. Yom Kippur is a day of profound reflection, introspection, a day on which we suspend normal living, through such acts as fasting, only to be restored to life and quiet joy in the resolution of the day. The depth of joy of Sukkot, five days later, grows out of this. Only when we have experienced the fragility of life can we truly appreciate its preciousness.
One of the names of the festival of Sukkot is z’man simchateinu, ‘the season of our happiness’. ‘You shall rejoice before the Eternal One your God’, we read in Leviticus 23:40. The building of the Sukkah, the smells and sights of the foliage, fruit and flowers that adorn it, the lulav and etrog, our gratitude for the bounty of nature, welcoming guests into the Sukkah… all contribute to the lightening of our mood.
Our Sukkah looks amazing, so well done – kol ha-kavod – to the builders who worked so hard on it. ‘If we build it, they will come…’ – let’s hope that is so! We had a lot of fun making decorations for it, on Tuesday afternoon, and hanging the decorations and fruit, ready for the festival which begins on Friday evening.
The book of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes – is traditionally read on Sukkot. The author’s message, given probably in the autumn of his years, about the transience of life, links powerfully to the themes of fragility and impermanence of this festival. Sukkot combines both the serious and the joyful, a fitting festival to act as a bridge between what has come before (Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur), and the spiritual free-wheel of Simchat Torah that lies ahead.
Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur gave us opportunities to take stock of where we are in our lives, and Sukkot, in placing us outside our comfortable lives, at the mercy of the elements, reminds us about the blessings we have – how fortunate we are to have clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and food on our tables – and encourages us to share those blessings with those less fortunate than ourselves. Please give generously to the food bank and bring your donations to place in the basket in the synagogue.
We look forward to seeing you at our Sukkot celebrations over the weekend. On Friday evening, there will be a pot-luck dinner in the Sukkah after services. We will all try to squeeze into the Sukkah for Kiddush on Shabbat. And PLEASE do come along to the Open Day at the Synagogue on Sunday, from 3:30-5:30pm, to welcome our neighbours into our shul, and into the Sukkah, to share food, good companionship and for a chance to shake the lulav and etrog.
A few years ago I stumbled upon a book called ‘Why won’t you apologise’ a book about the art of apology and how bad most people are at it. Harriett Lerner, a Clinical Psychologist and author of the book, breaks down the do’s and don’ts of a good apology and how to approach conversations where we hope the other will right the wrongs they have done to us. Hilchot teshuvah teaches us that the sins committed between people will not be atoned on Yom Kippur unless the work has been done to repair the relationship. Or in other words, God can’t accept an apology on our behalf. At this time of year where we are encouraged to analyse our relationships and make amends, Lerner’s book offers crucial food for thought and advice on how to go about those conversations. She gives insight as to where so many of us mess up our apologies.
Here are Lerner’s ‘5 ways to ruin an apology’:
Following up your apology with a ‘but’. A ‘but’ in an apology can undo the sincerity of what you are apologising for, invalidate the person’s experience and cause hurt once again.
‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. Apologising for a person’s feelings is not apologising for your actions that caused them to feel that way.
The mystified apology – ‘look what you’re making him do’. A child snatches a toy and the other child starts a tantrum and is hitting their head against the floor – ‘look what you’re making them do’; the apology is not for the toy snatching but for the actions of the other child.
Intrusive apology – eg. apologising to a victim in order to alleviate your own guilt, but they may be threatened by your re-appearance in their life.
An apology that demands forgiveness.
How do we grapple with our apologies at this time of year? A proper apology can heal relationships while a poor apology, even when our hearts are in the right place, can have the opposite effect.
It might not quite feel like it at the moment, as it seems as if the summer has only just begun with last week’s heat wave, but the season is turning; summer is coming to an end, and so does the year 5783.
With endings and new beginnings inevitably comes reflection and self-evaluation: how do we rate the year that has just passed and, more importantly: How did we do in it? Have we truly been the best version of ourselves as we think we could have been? Did we live up to the high expectations we have for ourselves and others?
This process of self-reflection, which comes to us so naturally, is of course part and parcel of our High Holy Day preparations. It is what our Rabbis call cheshbon ha-nephesh (accounting for the soul), a process of self-evaluation, which precedes Teshuvah – Repentance.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom ha-din, the day in which we stand in judgement before God. We truly feel the need for atonement from God and forgiveness from our fellows, whom we have hurt or wronged during the year – whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Making teshuvah is hard work and seeking forgiveness involves more than merely saying that we are sorry. Moses Maimonides, sets out in Hilchot Teshuvah (the Laws of Teshuvah), that it involves owning up to the hurt we have caused and changing our ways. However, whilst it might be possible to improve ourselves, to diminish the possibility (or temptation even) of making the same mistakes again, we also know that some actions cannot be undone and some words cannot become unsaid… If we take teshuvah seriously, we might feel weighed down by guilt.
How do we forgive ourselves? One way to let go of our guilt and the burden of our misdeeds is by taking part in tashlich (the act of casting our sins away), which is done by throwing breadcrumbs into a body of water. Although it is only symbolic, taking part in a tashlich ceremony can be truly cathartic, even more so if we do this communally.
Why not join us for a Mosaic-wide tashlich at Temple Mead Pond (off Gordon Avenue) at 5pm on First Day Rosh Hashanah, Saturday 16th September. Read the notices for more information.
May we all feel lifted from the burden of our past and look forward to a truly good and sweet 5784. Shanah tovah tikateivu.
I am a recovering football fan. When I was a child, most weeks I, and 40,000 other people, would congregate at Stamford Bridge to watch 22 men kick a ball about. I still do sometimes. We would cheer, sing songs, have a laugh etc. But the most satisfying matches to watch by far were the let-downs: when we were robbed blind, when the referee had a shocker, and I and 40,000 other people could join together in shouting the most angry and vitriolic critique at one man in the middle who was having a bad day at the office. Those afternoons are not the most fun, but I believe they represent perhaps the most essential work of being a football fan – work, that is, in the sense of therapeutic work. After all, we had all had difficult weeks, let-downs and dissatisfactions, but here we could come together and burn it off, getting it off our chest. Catharsis is really the word for a good football match. It’s a tough life for a referee, but those days they really stood in place of therapy for me.
I began to lose interest in football when I started to gain interest in shul (a correlation which I appreciate is far from necessary). Judaism, I found, was for me a far richer and more demanding way of burning off those feelings which I had been letting off at the football. Judaism should be the engine for our anger, our bitterness, and our guilt; or, perhaps, those feelings should be the fuel which Judaism helps direct towards a more productive goal.
On Yom Kippur we imagine that everything in the world is really our fault, mobilizing guilt and regret and to inspire better living. On Tisha b’Av we mourn, we reflect on the sorry, sorry state of the world around us, we cry for the decline of the Jewish people. We cry for the pogroms and for the persecution and for the destruction. But we do more than that. We create a cathartic space where our sadness can be worked on – where the load can be lightened, and the energy redirected towards living better. The best football match can leave you cleansed of your anger, and a good Yom Kippur leaves you washed free from guilt. Tisha b’Av is one of the most beautiful days of the Jewish calendar because it gives us a space and a time for our sadness and for our mourning. And the world is not so perfect that any of us have nothing to be sad about.
During Tea and Torah on Wednesday 26th July we will learn some passages of Eicha (Lamentations), the book traditionally read over Tisha b’Av. That evening, at 6.30pm, all are welcome to join Rabbi Kathleen and me for some topical learning. There will be a break from Tisha b’Av solemnity for the Mosaic Board meeting at 7.30pm. At 9.15 pm there will be a candlelit Ma’ariv service – open to all, using the Masorti liturgy – including recitation of Eicha and selected kinnot (mournful poems for the day). The next morning there will be Shacharit at 8.30 AM – again featuring Eicha and selected kinnot.
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