REBBETZENS FROM across the Commonwealth were last week brought together for an intensive, 36-hour leadership training programme in Gibraltar that focused on the complementary but crucial communal role we play in contrast to that of our husbands – no less important, but with its own set of unique challenges. The programme was devised by Valerie Mirvis, wife of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, together with Rachel Shababo, director of the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Rabbinic Excellence.
After spending a few hours exploring this old English colony, the highlight of our trip awaited.
We were charmed by the articulate and multi-talented Levy Attias, who spoke with sensitivity about interfaith dialogue and the work he has been doing for decades in bridging the gap between the diverse faiths in Gibraltar.
We were also introduced to Alice Mascarenhas, deputy editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle, and Puisne Judge Karen Prescott of the Gibraltarian Supreme Court, two inspirational professional women, who sat together with Valerie to discuss the challenges leadership affords.
They spoke of responsibility, bravery and determination – qualities that our rebbetzens have in spades – but it was imperative that we hear it directly from women who, through struggles of their own, held fast to their values.
We were then joined at dinner by 180 of the community’s women. Considering that the Jewish community of “Gib” numbers just 600 strong, including the men and children, it would be fair and humbling to say that the entire cohort of Jewish Gibraltarian women dined with us.
Our next session was a perfect example of Valerie’s expertise in managing change. Some of the rebbetzens were dispatched into the primary school and the girls’ high school to teach the students, to run a training session for the Judaic studies educators. The success of the Torah study was only rivalled by the magnificence of the interior of the synagogue. We also visited the Shaarei Shamayim Synagogue, which was built in 1740.
Chana, the mother of the prophet Samuel, is the first person we know of who prayed to God silently, though her lips formed the words. She is the first one to call God “Tzur Yisrael”, the Rock of Israel. The Jews of Gibraltar tell of a legend that the peninsula of Gibraltar, was once attached to the Land of Israel and with the shift of land masses it attached itself to the edge of Spain. Its inherent connection to the land of our forefathers makes it a safe haven for the Jews who call it home.
These people who, like their ancestors, live among their close friends and family, surrounded by nature’s hard elements; rock, wind and ocean, feel the warm embrace of the prayer to the Rock of Israel – God – who lives within their midst.
• Ilana is head of project development at the United Synagogue’s Living & Learning Department and rebbetzen at Cockfosters and North Southgate