Rabbi Miriam Berger reflects on a year of progress and planning at Finchley Reform Synagogue

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Rabbi Berger, student cantor Sarah Grabiner, cantor Zoe Jacobs and FRS children making Havdalah

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Rabbi Miriam Berger

The Talmud tells us: “A person should always pray in a house where there are windows” (B. Berachot 31a, 34b). One reason for this is that synagogues should always have windows out of which people can look at the world around them. 5775 has been a year of looking out of those windows for Finchley Reform Synagogue (even though our sanctuary lacks actual windows!). It was a year to be proud of, but a year that did not enable us to go far enough, so we still have plenty to do in 5776. 

FRS is a living wage employer; we’ve seen the difference it can make to the lives of individuals and wider society. Citizens UK introduced us to the idea that, by paying a living wage, not only do our lower paid staff no longer have to make up their income with second jobs through the night, but also have the dignity of supporting themselves without needing to use the benefit system. 5776 is our opportunity to convince other synagogues and Jewish organisations that a living wage employer is the only way to be a Jewish employer.

5775 saw our third Ramadan of hosting nightly prayers for a local Muslim community whose community centre was destroyed in an arson attack.

It’s been an opportunity to make extraordinary friendships, but we hope to use 5776 to help combat Islamaphobia locally, to ensure their new
community centre is built and their new neighbours don’t see them as ‘the other’ but part of the Barnet community.

5775 saw another year of FRS hosting a winter shelter for Barnet’s homeless. Not only does it provide them with a welcome space and delicious dinner, it’s a wonderful opportunity for our members to do a mitzvah, which they relish. 5776 must however be a year of discussion with Barnet Council to tackle the causes of homelessness and not keep putting a sticking plaster over the symptoms.

As we look from the outside in through the windows, we see a community that has been growing and flourishing in 5775, a community enjoying the challenges raised by an increasing number of Jewish schools; we’re reaping the benefits of the first generation of children more Jewishly literate and engaged than their parents.

While we are also seeking to fulfil the increasing demands of parents whose children are not at Jewish schools and are seeking the same standard of Jewish education through their synagogue. In 5776, we’re going to be starting the journey even younger as we are taking the huge step together with our partners, Alyth Synagogue and the Movement for Reform Judaism, as we open our first daycare for children aged six months to five years. ‘Shofar’ offers all the benefits of our shul kindergartens with all that is necessary for working parents.

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Rabbi Miriam with Sadiq Khan and members of the Somali Bravanese Muslim community at a Ramadan Iftar FRS encouraging Barnet Council to find a new home for this displaced community

5776 brings the London Mayoral election, and London Citizens will help us find our voice to encourage a new mayor to take on board our priorities for a better London. Whether it’s affordable housing or mental health care provision, we’ll need to be able to influence the creation of an ethical and just society. 

We cannot do so solely through elected leadership; we have to listen to the concerns of our own community and must be there to support each other. One major concern for 5776 is the increasing burden financially and emotionally of elderly relatives. We need to create a framework in which we can enjoy and celebrate our loved ones living longer because we, and they, have the physical and emotional support to make that end of life chapter a good one.

Reflecting on 5775 and being geared up for 5776 leaves us as a community quoting Pirkei Avot:

Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor
V’lo ata ben chorin lehibatel mimena
It’s not for you to finish the task
But you are not free to cease trying