Wednesday, 21 August 2013

New Cantor, New Year

We welcomed Cantor Jason Green, and his family, to the community on Shabbat for what was the first of what we all hope will be a long and fruitful relationship, for us all.   It was wonderful to have him, finally, here, and to enjoy his Shlichut from our Bimah.   He’s made a terrific start and I have every confidence in him, but it’s a big change for him, and his family, and it’s a big change for us.

I wanted to share some thoughts about newness, and change.   They apply to our new relationship with our new Cantor, and more broadly to the new relationship we are seeking to create and attend to in the coming year.

We bless God, in the run up to the Shema as the One who ‘renews each day the stuff of creation’.   Creation is continuous, whether we recognise it or otherwise.   It’s also good;  the medical term for something that does not change is ‘dead’.

But newness disturbs.   As Isaac Newton noted, we tend – us NLS members, us Jews, us humans, all the fabric of the Universe – to entropy.   We like homeostasis, it feels comfortable, even if we know that comfort is not the touchstone by which all else should be judged.   Change disturbs.   More than that, distance lends a certain tint to memories of the past even if the realities of the past were hardly rosy.   The Torah reports the children of Israel looking back to their time in Egypt (which entailed genocidal mass-murder) with a remarkable fondness, ‘we remember the fish we had for free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons ...’.

Synagogues in general tend to be particularly poor at dealing with change.   New Cantors, new tunes, new ways of doing things that, even if they aren’t ‘wrong’ feel different.   And the mammoth Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur season is a fierce challenge.   Not only is there just so much liturgy, but, for good reason, these are the services which we feel most deeply and care about most passionately.

Many of us view ‘our Shul’ as the island of constancy when change elsewhere seems so constant.   But I do believe among the markers of the best communities, Shuls just as corporations, is the ability to celebrate and thrive in the face of change.

Of course it helps to have a new Cantor who is excellent, experienced and highly competent, and, in Cantor Jason we have that.   It helps to have a detailed and careful induction into our particular ways and traditions, and Stephen Cotsen, Lester, the Services Committee, Jo, myself and many others have been doing that.   And then it is down to the rest of us.   Hospitality takes many forms, food, of course counts (we are Jews, after all), but a warm smile and a kind word makes a huge difference – as would a brief e-mail (   Show your welcome by coming to the Slichot service – 31 August 2013 at 9.30 pm – or one of the educational events Jason and I are running in the coming weeks.   But the real key is to cultivate an open heart.   It’s something that ‘the other’ can feel and also it helps us deal with our own discomfort with change.   Judgementalism and a closedness that insists that ‘what was’ has to ‘always be’ are dangers, and not only in the matter of welcoming new members of a Synagogue’s clerical team.

If all this fails, here is the request I mentioned from the Bimah on Shabbat;  if Cantor Jason does something that lifts you, warms you, brings you into a closer relationship with our liturgy and Creator, please do tell him.   If, God forbid, he does something that disturbs you or something that feels wrong, please let me know –   You can also, of course, contact Ed Teeger, chair of the services committee or indeed our Chairman, Stephen Greene.

These are exciting times, may we celebrate the new year well and together.

Rabbi Jeremy

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