Friday, 20 March 2009

What does it mean to the Rabbi of New London Synagogue

Dear Friends,


I am just back from the New London Synagogue UJIA Mission to Israel.


The highlight of the trip, undoubtedly, was the opening of the Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs Resource Centre at the High School of the Western Galil. The UJIA has a long-term strategic relationship with the Western Galil and some years ago this particular project was adopted by our Synagogue. Many of you have been more than generous in your support of this project and it was hugely exciting to see the centre finally open and buzzing. The Centre allows for smaller-group teaching to ensure every student is taught at the appropriate level. It allows for full disability access. It contains multi-media provision so students can develop skills which will equip them professionally into the future. And all this is happening in an area which has traditionally suffered social and economic hardship.


At the opening of the Centre, I was asked to explain Rabbi Jacobs’ legacy to a large crowd of NLS members, representative of our philanthropic partners, members of Rabbi Jacobs’ family and teachers and pupils from the school – a daunting task.

I chose three lessons which have always been at the heart of our work at New London. They are at the heart of how I understand my own task.


Firstly – be a mentsch.

As I arrived at New London I spent some time speaking with founder members about why they created this Synagogue. More than Rabbi Jacobs’ intellect the thing they referred to again and again our founder Rabbi’s decency, kindness and presence at times of pain.


Secondly – do not be swayed from what is right by the temptations of honour.

After the publication of We Have Reason to Believe, Rabbi Jacobs was given the opportunity of distancing himself from his work and beliefs.  Indeed this was the ultimatum offered in return for the office of the Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Jacobs rejected the inducements of high office. He chose a more lonely, less prestigious path, but a ultimately this was the path that allowed him, and all of us, the freedom to believe in what we know to be true.


Thirdly – be proud to walk the middle way.

We live in a world that beckons us to extremes. Secularism and religious fundamentalism are dangers not only in the UK, but Israel also. Rabbi Jacobs forged a path which engaged both with an ancient holy tradition and also the modern world – modern science, modern philosophy and so forth. My claim is that we need to walk this path not only to understand how to live as better Jews, but also how to deal with many of the most important and challenging issues that face us as human beings.


It is a true honour for me to serve a congregation with such a special history and founding narrative. I hope only that you share with me this sense of pride and commitment to our future.


Shabbat Shalom

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