With his first year at Kinloss almost at an end, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence has got the measure of his community and has a mission statement for 5776..
The last year has been a year of change. A new Board welcomed a new rabbi and a new office team. Some valued staff and projects have been farewelled. It has been a year of learning and laying of foundations. The year ahead will see consolidation, building and growth.
Kinloss (Finchley United Synagogue) is a wonderfully diverse community. Visitors are staggered at the buzz (bordering on tumult) of our Shabbat morning. Services, shiurim and activities see our rooms constantly filling and emptying with congregants of all ages passing in the corridors or surging into a Kiddush. Our published weekly programme of social and educational events is the tip of a Kinloss iceberg.
There are educational and social activities through the week, from daily activity at the Sharon kindergarten, our weekly friendship club, regular reading and film groups (as well as whisky tasting) alongside all the big, festive and seasonal events.
One of my first impressions on arrival was the versatility of our building and the phenomenal and constant transformations effected by our remarkable caretakers and managers. Within minutes, a toddlers group and ball pit vanish from the Deal Hall. A splendid chuppah appears under our open skylight.
Every last toy is gone from the floor, replaced by a staging and lighting, white satin and silk. The corridors throng with wedding guests, photographers and crew. In the morning, the same hall will host a conference, guest speaker or be set up as a shul.
Beyond the building, many of our members are active in pastoral visiting, keeping in touch with our wider Kinloss family. Amazing support is offered by welfare volunteers, whether after a bereavement or on happier occasions, such as the arrival of a new baby.
The versatility of our building is matched by the diversity of our congregation. We cover a full gamut of ages. We span the United Synagogue religious spectrum with many shades of Orthodoxy, tradition, levels of education and observance. Kinloss is probably the most heterogeneous United Synagogue, augmented by its thriving Persian Sephardi Congregation with their dynamic rabbi, Leibush Heller.
The challenge is to build upon Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ projects, satisfying the demands of those who want more, inspire greater interest among the comfortable and reach out to those who affiliate but whom we have not engaged.
I’ve spent most of the last 25 years away from the UK; in Israel, New Zealand and Australia. The Finchley shtetl is a little different from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh and also quite different from Sydney and the Outback. Although raised and schooled in the West End of London, my experiences and my influences draw on everywhere
I have been and the leadership I have seen. It has been a priority getting to know the local community and an interesting adventure as they are getting to know me.
My wife Mandy and I have enjoyed a series of ‘Meet the Rabbi’ evenings in congregants’ houses. Everyone is invited to host. The evenings have touched on all congregants’ hopes and needs, as well as exploring questions of Jewish living, education and thought. I’m hoping to continue getting to know the community at the household level through these, through our own home hospitality and, of course, through the varied life cycle events that bring us together.
The community has hosted some remarkable Torah personalities. Last year, we were privileged to host Rabbi David Stav, Chief Rabbi of Shoham and a candidate for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, as a scholar in residence. We enjoyed a succession of outstanding presentations throughout the Shabbat and I chaired a memorable panel where he was joined by Rabbis Alan Kimche and Daniel Roselaar. Rabbanit Chana Henkin was one of the keynote presenters at the Women’s Health and Halacha seminar coordinated by our Yoetzet
Halacha, Lauren Levin. In Ellul, our scholar in residence will be Israel prize-winner, Rav Avraham Steinberg, one of the foremost authorities on Jewish medical ethics and now editor in chief of the Encyclopaedia Talmudit.
Light-hearted educational highlights include The Great Ark Debate on Shabbat UK and Desert Island Drash after a very successful Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
More serious matters were considered in an interfaith panel with Christian and Muslim representatives addressing the challenge of faith in a modern secular democracy. In the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, I interviewed former Hamas hostage Paul Martin on his experiences and on European anti-Semitism. Recently, we were inspired to hear from Mohammad Zoabi, the 17-year-old Arab Israeli whose video emails supporting Israel have gone viral.
Kinloss was also privileged to be joint sponsors of the premiere screening of award-winning film Beneath The Helmet as part of the Seret/Israel Film Festival.
While scholars in residence are supported through the sponsorship of our members, many of our speakers, such as Zoabi and Colonel Bentzi Gruber (an operational commander in Operational Protective Edge) come through the United Synagogue and its Living & Learning division. We are blessed with strong ties through Rabbi Michael Laitner, whose weekdays belong to the US but whose warmth and wisdom enhance our Shabbat.
Over several years, Barry and Chaya Colman have developed a popular youth programme. Barry turned his magic to young professionals with a superb Friday Night Dinner (joint with HGSS). Next year, he will expand his portfolio to assist me in co-ordinating Kinloss education and a new incarnation of the highly regarded KLC and shiurim. We’re looking forward to a series of exciting keynote speakers, outreach, advanced and family learning.
Within Halacha, the Jewish experience is authentic. It must also be accessible, attractive and engaging. The world is supposed to marvel at our spiritual civilisation. A personal goal is to enable our members and those less involved around us to feel more fully enfranchised and embraced within a dynamic Orthodox synagogue. It is our shared challenge to listen, to consider and to learn.
With our committed lay leadership, who bring together a vast range of skills, experience and vision, I hope that the year ahead will see Kinloss’ remarkable diversity thrive, while nurturing a spirit of unity within our community.
Shana Tova “