With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, Vivian Wineman, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Matt Plen, Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Rabbi Danny Rich and Daniel Taub share their thoughts on the coming Jewish year with readers of the Jewish News. Click here to read our special Rosh Hashanah pull-out supplement in full.[divider]
Chief Rabbi Mirvis:
The Jewish new year is closely associated with Abraham, the founder of monotheism and the father of the Jewish faith. At the height of our Rosh Hashanah service, we recall God’s promise: “And I will remember My covenant with Abraham.”
The Patriarch’s legendary characteristics include his selfless devotion to all people, regardless of race or faith, his deep-rooted and unquestioning faith in the Almighty, his passion for loving-kindness, his sense of fairness and justice and his devotion to family.
The Talmud presents a fascinating further dimension to Abraham’s greatness. When the Torah mentions the mitzvah of etrog that we will perform in two weeks’ time on Succot, it uses the phrase pri etz hadar – the fruit of the citrus tree. The Midrash comments that “this is a reference to Abraham our father”. But what is the connection between Abraham and an etrog? The Talmud explains that in addition to hadar meaning ‘glory’ or ‘citrus’, it also means ‘the one which resides’. The etrog is a unique fruit. It never falls off the tree. Its attachment is so strong that it will only become detached if it is plucked off. Like the etrog, Abraham was a symbol of steadfast connectedness, never wavering nor weakening in his resolve to consistently remain attached to his Creator and the Almighty’s expectations of him.
The book of Bereshit is filled with examples of this impressive feature of Abraham’s character. Neither the aftermath of his brit milah, nor the intense heat of the desert sun, could keep him away from showering hospitality on strangers.
We are told how he devotedly came to the same place every morning to pray, regardless of whether or not a response was forthcoming. In true etrog style, Abraham realised that the continuity of his newly-found faith would depend, not on occasional or seasonal devotion, but rather on steadfast, regular involvement.
As we usher in a new year, we reflect on the importance of regular engagement with our Judaism, its values and practices. Although he lived millennia ago, Abraham continues to set a fine example of etrog-like commitment. May we be inspired by the founding father of our faith to make this new year one in which we redouble our efforts to engage meaningfully and regularly with our Judaism and to uphold those values and ideals for which the Almighty chose Abraham, so that we may be his worthy descendants.
Wishing you all a shana tova umetuka– a happy, healthy and sweet new year.[divider]
Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner:
Movement for Reform Judaism
My friend in Leeds lives in another time. She keeps her watch on Israel time, reminding her of her gap year, years ago. It acts like a hand-mezuzah, constantly reminding her of another space, another time. She epitomises ‘Jewish Time’.
Jewish Time is not about starting late; it is our capacity to live simultaneously in multiple times zones, which reflect and refract diverse elements of our identities. As one of many Jews who live simultaneously in UK and Jerusalem time, I find the duality enriching but also disconcerting. Social media and instant communications add to the sense of blended space and time.
Rosh Hashanah also encapsulates this duality of time, of our “moadim”, our “set times of the Eternal” (Leviticus 23:44). It is both the first of Tishri, 5774, and 5 September, 2013.
To my engrained two time zones I have, like many thousands of other Jews, added a third one this year – the Talmud calendar, the “Daf Yomi” – the seven-and-a-half year cycle of studying a folio of Talmud a day. We are one year into this study cycle, which has tens of thousands of Jews around the globe studying the same Talmud folio every single day, including Rosh Hashanah. In poignant synchronicity, the folio for Rosh Hashanah (Pesachim 77) focuses on “set times”, moadim, which of course include Rosh Hashanah. Back to our multiple time zones, to watches set to another country. As we enter this new year, I pray that whatever our internal clocks are set to, we welcome 5774 in health, finding our multiple identities enthralling and enriching.[divider]
Rabbi Danny Rich:
Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism
The Talmud tells of a debate between Rabbis Chiyah and Simon bar Abba. One said: “When we pray, we must direct our eyes downward, for so it is written: ‘My eyes and My heart will be there (on earth) for all time (I Kings 9:3)’”. The other said: “Our eyes must be directed upward, for it is written: ‘Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven (Lamentations 3:41)’”.
As we approach the Yamim Noraim 57, it is, of course, appropriate that our thoughts turn to the spiritual and indeed even to a little selfabsorption. Yet combined with this attempt to refresh ourselves and how we behave must be a hard look at our world – and the consequences of tough decisions on the lives of the vulnerable – and a commitment to renew the values and fabric of society.
Thus we shall fulfil the vision of Isaiah (58: 6-7) who demands in God’s name: “Is not this the fact I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked to clothe them, and never to hide yourself from your own kin?” This Yamim Noraim, do not go for a half measure![divider]
President, Board of Deputies
I am delighted this new year to be able to report that 5773 has seen excellent progress at the Board. In addition to our team of high calibre honorary officers, we now have excellent new staff who are proud to represent you, through our elected Deputies representing synagogues and organisations in communities throughout the country. Our mission is to promote the welfare and vitality of the community and defend its rights.
In this, we have much to be proud of. Whether it be promoting the rights of Jewish schools to teach Hebrew as a first foreign language – which we successfully managed to do this year through our representations and by galvanising communal support in response to a Government consultation – or working with other faiths to combat common threats, we have been at the forefront of representing the community’s interests to the outside world.
Similarly, we have been active in defending the community against the great challenges to our practices, such as brit milah and shechita, as well as the everpressing issues of anti-Semitism and the growing attacks on Israel’s legitimacy. We continue to be at the forefront of political engagement. In the spring, we hosted Ed Miliband jointly with the Jewish News in a hugely successful question and answer session. Our Chanukah reception at the House of Commons drew a large number of Parliamentarians, including Cabinet members, MPs, MEPs and members of the House of Lords. Our work will be supported by the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, which will enable us to work with communal partners to protect and promote Jewish interests.
Over the next 12 months, the challenges to the Jewish community will no doubt intensify. We look forward to meeting them on your behalf.[divider]
Israel’s ambassador to the UK
I am delighted to wish a happy and healthy new year to the staff and readers of the Jewish News. Looking back on the past year, there is much to celebrate.
Britain and Israel increased trade and enhanced scientific cooperation; we worked together to successfully designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation by the European Union; and the unbreakable bonds between the British Jewish community are evident for all to see, both in challenging times, such as during Operation Pillar of Defence, and in times of celebration, such as through the Closer to Israel parade and the related initiatives that will come to fruition in the coming months.
During Rosh Hashanah prayers, we recite the words: “On this day it is determined for countries: which for war and which for peace”. We hope that the coming year will bring peace and prosperity to all. And while our region experiences great instability and uncertainty, we hope that new negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will give birth to a true and lasting agreement, one that will allow future generations to live side by side in peace and security.
Regardless of what the future brings, I know that the new year will be one in which the bonds between Anglo-Jewry and Israel will remain strong. As I travel around the country, I have been moved and inspired to meet so many individuals who have impacted on Israel in so many ways, helping it to become the exciting centre of innovation and creativity that it is today, and playing a central role in the remarkable story that is the state of Israel.
I invite you all to continue doing just that, so that together we can reach new heights, and wish you all a Shana Tova u’metuka![divider]
Rabbi Joseph Dweck:
Spanish and Portuguese Congregation
Winston Churchill said: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Throughout the prayers on Rosh Hahanah, we refer to the day as ‘Yom HaZikaron’ – the Day of Memory. For us, the new year is a time we reflect on our past deeds and choices and consider our lives as a continuum rather than a series of unrelated days and acts.
Rosh Hashanah has been a preponderant contributor to Jewish continuity and viability across our long and arduous history, because it prompts our nation to self examine and look at our lives, both individual and national, as a cohesive whole. Our strength lies in our memory.
Prompted by the shofar’s primal call, we look back and consider the lives we have lived thus far and pay special attention to the elements we hope to improve and address.
From this perspective, we look to the future and commit to living more consciously and deliberately. Included in this recollection is the attention to the world’s events and developments and their relationship to us. Much has happened this year. A Pope resigned, we were harrowed by terror attacks in London and Boston, the Middle East seethed with civil unrest, we successfully cloned human stem cells, we printed in 3D and the world joyfully celebrated the birth of a prince who will one day be king.
All of these things, as with the events of our own lives, are connected and ultimately relevant to us. Powered by God, they all converge in a vast and intricate weave to constitute the vibrant life of this planet, of which our own lives are included. How prominently our lives show up in this weave depends entirely on us. When we live from the perspective of memory, we maintain a strong and rooted identity and with it, we walk confidently into the future. On behalf of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, I wish a year of health, happiness and success to the readers of the Jewish News and all of Klal Yisrael.
Leshana tova tekatevu vetehatemu – may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.[divider]
Chief Executive, Masorti Judaism
In the ancient world, how did Jews know when to celebrate the festivals?
The rabbis declared the beginning of each month upon sighting the new moon – but how did this news reach communities across the Diaspora? The Mishnah teaches us that, originally, beacons were lit on progressively distant hilltops, thereby transmitting the message to far-flung communities. But when this method proved unreliable it was abandoned, and the practice was instituted of sending messengers to carry the news in person.
The exercise was one of binding together the Jewish people across a geographical expanse when the limits of technology made this almost impossible. This challenge of uniting Jews continues to be at the core of Masorti Judaism’s mission. Masorti Judaism is a family of 12 communities, concentrated in London and Hertfordshire, but stretching from Leeds to Bournemouth.
Noam, the Masorti youth movement, runs regular youth activities and summer camps for hundreds of young people in Wales, France and Israel. Marom – Masorti students – organises programmes on 10 campuses across the country, as well as seminars for young adults in London, Europe and Israel. And the Masorti Bet Din offers a rigorous yet compassionate approach to conversion, divorce and kashrut for hundreds of people each year. Our unique combination of halachic practice, intellectual openness and our inclusive approach to community life offers a powerful message for Anglo-Jewry and has, I believe, the potential to revitalise and uplift the entire community. We look forward to welcoming you into one of our communities over the coming year.
For now, from everyone at Masorti Judaism, I want to wish you Shana Tova – a truly good new year.[divider]
I send my best wishes to Jews in the UK and around the world observing the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
At the beginning of the new Jewish year of 5774, millions around the world will spend time with friends and family, reflect on the past 12 months and make resolutions and plans for the coming year. At this important time for Jewish communities, let us join them in praying for a new year that will achieve progress towards a lasting peace for Israel and the Middle East.
I pay tribute to all those involved who have taken the brave step to return to the negotiating table and I hope that they will find the courage and determination to engage in dialogue until a solution is- achieved.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to once again applaud Britain’s strong Jewish community for their historic and immense contribution to our country, where they have given and achieved so much to the benefit of us all. I wish you all around the world a shana tova![divider]
Leader of the Opposition
As we approach the most significant period in the Jewish calendar, I want to send my best wishes to the Jewish community throughout Britain. These ten days, starting with the splendour of Rosh Hashanah and culminating in the solemnity of Yom Kippur, are an important time for personal reflection.
At the same time, I know how much this is also a time for families and communities to join together and reflect on the year gone by. Over the past year, I have been privileged to spend time with the Jewish community, with schools, representative organisations, including the Board of Deputies, Labour activists and supporters and university students.Rosh Hashanah is an appropriate time for me to express my gratitude to the community and my admiration for its values. In so many ways, these values are bound up with the prayers of the Jewish new year – a reaffirmation of life, the pursuit of justice and a commitment to make the world a better place. More than any other, it is the shofar that has become the sound of Rosh Hashanah. And as it rings out across this new year, may we all be written into the ‘Book of Life’. I wish you a happy, healthy and sweet new year. Shana tova![divider]
Deputy Prime Minister
At this time of Rosh Hashanah, I want to wish all Jewish communities in the UK and around the world shana tova – a good year.
The start of a new year is a time when all of us look to remember the lessons of what’s gone before and commit to the changes we believe are necessary for us to achieve a better life and brighter future.
That is the power of Rosh Hashanah. A chance for you to take time out away from the demands and stresses of your work and home lives – to reflect on the past and celebrate what’s to come. As you gather at synagogue with your family, friends and neighbours or sit down to eat and give blessings, we in the rest of Britain also hear the call of the shofar and recognise and thank you for the contribution of your family and wider community to ensuring our country is the prosperous, tolerant and diverse nation it is today.
The central principles of your faith are woven into the fabric of what makes us stronger as a society. That commitment to kindness, peace and justice, as well as progress through education and hard work. And I would like to wish you and your family tzom kal – an easy fast and shana tova umetukah for a very happy and joyful new year.”[divider_top]