Rabbi Mark Goldsmith

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith

Progressive Judaism’s weekly opinion column 

By Rabbi Mark GOLDSMITH

When Operation Cast Lead was in full force in Gaza in 2009, the Leo Baeck School and Community Centre in Haifa in the north of Israel opened its doors to coachloads of people from Sderot to sit out the conflict in peace and safety.

Alyth Synagogue has been twinned with this Reform Jewish centre for years, so our members joined the Leo Baeck community to pay for it. By being with them in their challenge we opened our eyes to the pain. For nearly 15 years, our synagogue has been twinned with the Jewish community in Kerch, Crimea.

This Reform Jewish centre is home to a synagogue, a welfare centre for Jews of all ages, a kindergarten, a Jewish museum, a cheder and youth club. Many Kerch Jews are Russians who came to Crimea in recent decades or Crimeans who always had a Russian Jewish identity Others are Ukrainian in allegiance, still others Krymchaks, the original Crimean Jews.

This was a town where the Nazis killed 5,000 Jews after a forced march to the surrounding fields. The Jewish community was revived in the late 1990s by a Russian Jewish navy officer stationed in the town.

In the 21st Century, the thriving synagogue’s large blue Magen David on its façade leaves no-one in any doubt that the Jews of Kerch are proud. Our emails and phone calls mean that they know they are not alone in the uncertainty of the Russian takeover of the Crimea.

The support of a British synagogue does little in itself to meet the challenges that an Israeli or Crimean community faces. Yet we hear repeatedly from them that knowing Jews a continent away care about their lives and their troubles is a great comfort.

Rabbi Abba bar Hanina said that visiting the sick is as if one took away one 60th of the pain the person suffers. Creating real connections from Jewish community to Jewish community means that when Jews are in trouble a whole community – so to speak – comes to visit and help.

Twinning links between Jewish communities worldwide are very valuable.

• Rabbi Mark Goldsmith – Alyth-North Western Reform Synagogue