Monday, 20 September 2010

Be Involved

Writing In Next Year at New London


To those of you who have been moved not one bit by all this.

To those of you who

  • Have been bored by the Rabbi
  • Or you can’t stand the Chazan & choir
  • If you are unmoved by all this tradition and after nine days and 22 hours of involvement with Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur remain resolutely nonplussed by having to have spent as much time as you have, these last ten days, with the other members of this community


I’m sorry.

The good news is we are almost over and this sermon is not about you.

You don’t have to listen.


This is a sermon for everyone else.

It’s a sermon for people who think this has been special.

All of this or any of this.

If you have been excited, enthused, engaged, provoked, moved – at all – these past ten days.

If you feel you have come to a closer understanding of what it means to be a Jew, a human being, a member of New London Synagogue.

Whether you are all fired up, whether there is but a single spark struck off the flint of your soul.

If this, all this, has touched you at all.

This sermon is for you.


This Shul has no foundation.

Don’t worry, the building isn’t going to fall down.

It’s the soul of the community that has no clump of concrete guaranteeing its stability.

But there is nothing holding this community up, apart from us.

And despite the liturgical heroics of Stephen and the best efforts of the lay leadership and the Professional Team, this community does not rest on any single set of shoulders.

And to the extent that we are strong – and I believe we are strong – we are strong because the burden of carrying this community forward is shared by so many of us.

And to the extent that we are not strong enough – and we are not strong enough – we are weak because the burden of carrying this community is not shared by enough of us.


Being passed around the Shul are some fliers.

The idea was that they looked a little like schnodering slips, from the days when Kol Nidrei would involve being asked for money.

We are not asking for money tonight.

We are asking for involvement, your involvement.


I’m going to take a few moments to talk through the flier and after Yom Tov, during Maariv, we are going to pass round some pencils and ask you to fill in your name and a way in which you can help this community – our community - become even stronger.

I know, it’s a late fast, and no-one wants to hang around.

It should take a minute at the end of the service.

And if you are grateful for the opportunity to being part of this community we would love to ask you to show that, by filling in your name and ticking a box before you rush home.


So …

There are eleven options on the flier. This is what our community needs. From you, from all of us.


Helping Hands is our pastoral support team. We need volunteers to take responsibility for keeping in touch with two or three of our more elderly and home-bound members. Committing to calling once a fortnight and being a communication channel between our members and the office.


There are two options for learning.

The more we know about our Jewish heritage, the stronger we become.

Learn How To is about learning skills, how to live a Jewish life. This winter we are running a How To series about Shabbat. We’re also going to be offering some adult Hebrew learning opportunities. We need members, particularly those who feel least comfortable with their skills, to be brave enough to say they want to know more.


Learn Lishmah means learning just for the sake of learning, so we can gain a deeper appreciation of this incredible tradition, so we can connect to that tradition and the source of that tradition – God. This winter we are running a series on the Talmud, suitable for those both with and without previous experience. We need members who believe that study is a life-long journey and understanding is a worthy goal.


Sponsor a Kiddush – OK, this one does involve money. We have great Kiddushim at New London. They are the heart of our ability to come together as a community over Shabbat. We would love to encourage people to sponsor a Kiddush for a reason – a birthday perhaps – or even for no reason at all – just because, for the other weeks of the year you know someone else is providing the food and you believe a good nosh after Shabbat services is a huge part of what it means to be a Jew.


Kids – It’s been fabulous to see children becoming so much more prominent in the Shul. Children’s services, Cheder, Babes in the Wood and Noam are all thriving and growing, but we aren’t joined up in our approach and we still have a long way to go. We need parental support, particularly with the Cheder, we want to establish a PTA and we need a committee who can ensure that are doing everything we can to inspire, educate and develop the next generation of New Londoners. We need members to inspire and drive forward an agenda for Youth in our community.


Office Support – is about two things. At present a small number of lay members come in on a Sunday morning and staff the office. It’s not complicated work. It involves taking messages when the phone rings and buzzing Cheder Families in and out the building. If you can offer a Sunday morning even every couple of months, that would be great. There are also weekday occasions, about once every couple of months, when we need packers and envelope stuffers, particularly to send out Newsletters. We need people to help the office stay open and focussed on the increasingly busy calendar.


A Minyanaire is someone we can count on – literally – to ensure we are quorate for our prayer services. Of course, by Musaf on a Shabbat morning numbers are terrific, but we need to know we can rely on a Minyan at 9:15 on a Shabbat morning, or a Sunday morning, or once a month for Rosh Chodesh at the most holy hour of 7:15 in the morning. If you would be able to say, ‘yes, you can count on me,’ once every three months on a weekend or mid-week, it would make a significant contribution to our strength as a prayer community.


Programming – We need to offer two kinds of programmes at New London. We need to run exciting flagship events, the sort of stuff that only a shul like ours, here, with our story and our outlook on Jewish life could ever do. And we need to run warm, fun events that make us all feel more a part of this big happy family. We need some sleeves rolled up organisers with spreadsheets and clipboards, good ideas and a bit of marketing nouse.


Justice – Those of you here on 2nd day Rosh Hashanah will know that I spoke about our engagement with the community around us, supporting those who have less, creating a fairer society Mipnei Darkhei Shalom – because that is how we get to live in a peaceful society. Involvement here means developing leadership skills and volunteering with London Citizens, being at the heart of what is the most exciting kind of people-driven politics in Britain.


Welcome – My guess is that only 60% of the people here tonight were here four years ago. That’s how fast this community is growing. We have new members and first time visitors arriving all the time. We need people to be part of our membership team, reaching out to new members and prospective members and offering a warm welcome in services and around the community. Please don’t be put off this piece of work if you have only been around a short period of time, or you feel you don’t know everyone or anything yet. It’s the best way to learn and if you are new, you know, better than anyone, what it needed to make New London an even more welcoming place for those who join us.


Fundraising – OK, this is also about money. But not just about money. New London is a flagship community. We should be ruthless about cutting wastage and unnecessary expenditure – and we are. But we can’t do what we want to do, what we need to do, only with money raised by membership dues. There are capital needs and ongoing expenses that we need to raise funds to meet. We need a larger pool of members to help us tap into the huge wells of support and love of community that exist among our members to raise these funds. The fundraising committee had a bumpy year last year, but we cannot walk away from the obligation to secure and finance the future of our community. If this is a conversation that interests you please volunteer your support.


And there are, of course, a whole host of other ways to make contributions to the community. You can fill in anything else you feel you can offer that you believe that we need.


So, that’s it.

That’s where we are.

This is where we need to go.

Hang on to the slips of paper, and when the pencils come round, fill in your name so clearly that even I will be able to read the handwriting and tick a box or two.

As the book of our last year is being sealed, we begin the work of composing the book of our life in the year to come.


Now I know what is going to happen when the shofar is sounded.

Two voices will start chattering away in our heads.

One voice – let me call is the Yetzer HaTov will say – Halleluyah, I feel great, cleansed, ready for the year, I want in – now where’s that pencil, I’m ready to sign up.

And the other voice – the Yetzer HaRa – will say – Halleluyah, I feel hungry, straight home, kettle on, and let’s see if we can dodge the people standing at the doors to collect these fliers.

Or maybe you have a more sophisticated Yetzer HaRa, the sort of chattering voice that says – well, of course I would love to sign up, but there aren’t enough pencils, or I’ve dropped the slip, or I’ll do it tomorrow – that’s the kind of Yetzer HaRa I have – terrific at finding excuses.


You can think of this as the first test of our year ahead.

Can you focus on the Yetzer HaTov for the time it takes to fill in the form before the siren call of the Yetzer HaRa becomes deafening.


As the book of our last year is being sealed, we begin the work of composing the book of our life in the year to come.

May it come to us all in sweetness and health,

May we all merit a gemar hatimah tovah,


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