Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Jewish Legacy


I had, today, possibly the most extraordinary double meetings of my Rabbinic career. It’s emboldened me to discuss the sort of issue that I rarely have the courage to broach.


I met, this morning with a couple, longstanding members of the Synagogue of a certain age, who arranged to meet so I can get to know them better, ‘We aren’t getting any younger,’ they said. They mentioned they had been married 59 years.

‘Goodness,’ said I, ‘when did you get married?’

‘3rd July 1955,’ they respond.

I ask if they might be interested in celebrating a 60th Anniversary at New London. ‘What a lovely idea, I’m sure we would.’


My next meeting arrives. I’ve been scheduled, back to back, with another couple, longstanding members of the Synagogue of a certain age who have stopped by for much the same reason, ‘I’m not getting any younger,’ admits the husband, the wife professes to be in excellent health, ‘but you can always go under a bus.’ And they also mention they have been married 59 years.

‘Goodness,’ says I, ‘when did you get married?’

‘I think it was the 2nd July 1955,’ they respond.

‘Oh,’ says I, ‘I think, in 1955 the 2nd was a Saturday, you might mean the 3rd.’ ‘Of course, the third, quite right.’


There are three morals, perhaps, we can draw.

One is that the secret of a long happy marriage is being a member, of long standing, of New London Synagogue.

The second is that in early July next year, please God, we should make a particular effort to come to Shul for a very special celebration.

The third is has something to do with Jewish Legacy Shabbat. Jewish Legacy is a collaboration of 46 different Jewish charities drawn from across the spectrum, all of whom are committed to raising awareness of the need for charitable legacies. ‘While the Jewish community is known for its generosity,’ the website notes, ‘only one in four members of the Jewish community leaves a charitable Legacy, compared to 80% who give during their lifetime. Jewish Legacy believes they can help members of the community to understand the importance of leaving a Legacy to a charity of their choice in their Will.’

The tag line of this tremendous cross-communal endeavour is ‘if there is a space in your heart for a Jewish cause ... make a little room in your will too.’

Information on legal technicalities, tax benefits and more can be found at


For many, this Rabbi included, raising the spectre of inevitable mortality isn’t easy. I’m not sure there is ever a ‘good time.’ But New London Synagogue, like so many important Jewish organisations in this country and abroad, are dependent on charitable donations given both during life and beyond. A triumphant life is a wonderful thing, a long happy marriage is a glorious achievement, but the ability to give a legacy – and a legacy of any size is valued and cherished – is an opportunity given to all of us to leave a commitment to do good that will outlast us.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The 2014 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Book Award

I’ve had the huge honour, this year, of serving as a judge on the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. The award is for a book of literary merit which encourages conversations on matters of Jewish interest. Every book on the shortlist is well worth a read, and the winner .... well the winner will be announced as part of the Jewish Book Week celebrations of all things Jewish and bookish on the 26th February.


Edith Pearlman short story collection, Binocular Vision, contains both new stories and highlights from a career as one of American’s leading short-story writers. At her best Pearlman has an extraordinary ability to capture something poignant and moving and her insights into Jewish suburban life are gorgeous.


Otto Dov Kulka is a mature historian of the Holocaust who, late in life, has finally attempted to lift the veil on his academic work and reveal something of his own life’s journey, as a Holocaust survivor and a scholar. The Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death is wise, haunting, personal and terribly moving.


Shani Boianjiu’s novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid, is a look inside life in the contemporary Israeli Army as seen through the eyes of young female soldiers. It’s raw, sexual and vibrant. It’s a book about the absence of an existential threat to the state and search for meaning without something that so inspired previous generations.


Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet charts life in a dystopian imagined world where language kills – and the language of children most especially. It’s a brave attempt to portray a world almost unimaginable – especially for a Jew, for whom speech is so integral.


Anouk Markovits grew up in an ultra-orthodox world, and left. It’s a personal insight that illuminates I Am Forbidden, a page turner tale of a young woman who leaves, and another who stays in the Satmar community into which they were born. It’s a tale about the collision of law and love and I thought it worked beautifully.


Yudit Kiss reflects on The Summer My Father Died . Kiss grew up in Budapest, daughter of a proud communist. As communism fails and she begins her own exploration of Judaism her father suffers first one then a second brain tumour. It’s the story of a century, told with insight and a daughter’s love.


There are still some tickets available for the discussion and presentation of the award. You can book tickets at It should be a wonderful evening.


Shabbat shalom


Rabbi Jeremy


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Love Makes the Melody Immortal


I have a soft spot for the music of Louis Lewandowski, the greatest composer of Jewish liturgical music in modern times. Lewandowski was the first Jew to be admitted to the Berlin Academy – on the specific request of no less than Felix Mendlesohn, and served as music director for the Neue Synagogue in Berlin – the central Synagogue of Jewish life at that time. I knew a number of his settings from my childhood at New London, and others from my time at Belsize Square Synagogue – which was founded by refugees from Berlin. Many will be familiar to members here.


Lewandowski’s music is characterised by a touching combination of German dignity and Heimishe warmth. It aims towards the heavens and on a good day touches these heights and opens, for me, a window into a place where otherwise ineffable thoughts and emotions succeed in standing before God.


We celebrate, this Sunday evening at New London 7:30pm, our Winter Quest Lecture – Passions and Perspectives on Synagogue Music with Dr Alexander Knapp and our own Cantor Jason Green. These Quest events are special events in our year-round journey, offering a depth and a richness it’s impossible to convey purely in a Shabbat service. I do hope you will be able to join us this Sunday.


And the beautiful aphorism at the head of this note? It is the epitaph on Lewandowski’s gravestone. Love does make melody immortal, but so does our continued turning towards these beautiful melodies using them for our contemporary engagement in prayer and religious life.


Monday, 3 February 2014

New on my other blog

I’m blogging 1,000 intros to different aspects of Jewish law.


Newly published

An introduction to Talmud and Gemarah


An introduction to the Mishneh Torah


Hope you enjoy them,



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