Thursday, 3 November 2016

What does success look like?

The glorious month of Tishrei is over, Rosh Hashanah is a long forgotten memory and even the succah and the flayed willows are tidied up and gone for another year.
What is left?

Measuring the success of the Rosh Hashanah season is a strange business. Did more people come? Did they have more fun? Did they pay more money? Did we finish on time? All important, but drastically incomplete scales of measurement. Maybe better markers of success can be found in these sorts of question; Did more people come the Shabbat after all the festive decorations are dismantled? 
Will we be, as a community, stronger next year than we were last year? 

I never know how to answer the question, ‘are you ready?’ put to me with remarkable regularity in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The answer I usually give is that I have no idea. I’m wholly persuaded by the sagacity of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai who, when asked in 1972, what he thought of the eighteenth century French Revolution, reportedly responded, ‘It’s too soon to tell.’

But here are a few observations that interest me.
We had visiting grandparents. One of the most savage markers of the decline of a Jewish community is when grandparents leave to be closer to their children and grandchildren. It’s something I’ve seen in a number of provincial communities in particular. For some years we were that community. Our youth went elsewhere and a number of grandparents followed. But now we are experiencing the reverse, visiting grandparents, often, interestingly spending time with us rather than their home orthodox communities because of the welcome we have provided their children, in-laws and next generations.

The new Machzor went down very well. I had only excellent feedback on the new Sacks/Koren Machzor we debuted this year. Well one member raised a concern that the commentary was too interesting and distracted them from prayer, therefore proving that you really can’t please everyone. A development like this is a huge challenge, and the fact that it didn’t feel that way is a testament to the openness of the community (and in particular Ed’s sterling work on page number duty). We know there were a few periods where it was very difficult to follow Cantor Jason’s Routledge-led service in the Koren, and that will have attention over the year. Please do let me have any other feedback.

Some people listened to my sermons. I had a correspondent share they were writing stuff down, in the context of my Yizkor sermon. I found someone using the image of the Port Jew I had shared on Rosh Hashanah. I even had someone share their best advice on how to treat an invasion of drosophila. Most touchingly my sermon on refugee and in particular the work of the Separated Child Foundation and the Asylum Drop-In Centre (which launches this week) seems to have struck a chord. Many of you have been generous with your funds, your clothes and other gifts and your time. I salute your generosity and feel very humbled by the impact the services have made. For more information on ways to support these important projects - in particular for more information on how to volunteer, please be in touch.

There is plenty to do; to continue our open-hearted and open-minded approach to Judaism. We remain utterly dependent on people coming, taking part and supporting the community financially as well as physically and spiritually. To everyone who supported us in this last month in any way, I am deeply grateful.

So normality returns. We need your support on dark Friday evenings, at the start of Shabbat morning prayers, the Cheder is back, we’ve a communal Friday night dinner to look forward to and I hope all this, and so much more, will have your support.
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Jeremy

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