Chief Rabbi-elect Ephraim Mirvis said he was “totally and absolutely overwhelmed” after hundreds of Kinloss members and supporters bid their minister a fond farewell with a weekend of celebrations marking his contribution to the community, writes Justin Cohen.
With just two months until the former Ireland chief rabbi succeeds Lord Sacks, each of the synagogue’s prayer groups came together for a single service and packed gala kiddush, attended by an estimated 1,500 people, on Shabbat.
Tears mixed with applause the following night as a ‘This is Your Kinloss’ dinner brought the curtain down on rabbi and wife Valerie Mirvis’ 17 years at the helm.
Former US president and Kinloss member Peter Sheldon said the weekend’s events had been “an outstanding representation of the love this community has for a rabbi who frankly changed all our lives” with a can-do approach and by encouraging its different elements to flourish.
Addressing 300 guests including local MP Mike Freer and Lord Levy, Fiona Seitler, who sponsored the dinner with husband Jonathan, said: “Voices which were dissonant have become harmonious.
“Yet your leadership style in bringing that about has not been autocratic but has been permissive. You have ruled not with an iron fist but with outstretched arms. You said “This is Your Kinloss” to every group and faction. Young and old, male and female, observant and less observant: nobody can say that the Kinloss you have created in not their Kinloss.”
Following the format of the popular television show, lifelong community member Mark Wagner entertainingly guided guests on a journey through Mirvis’ life from birth to now, aided by video messages from pupils of the Sacks Morasha School, of which he is founding principal, and Gordon Brown.
Describing the minister as a “great pastor, thinker, humanitarian”, the former premier added: “I know he will make a wonderful Chief Rabbi.” The presentation referred to the many initiatives introduced under the rabbi’s leadership including Morasha, Kinloss Community Centre and Kinloss Learning Centre, which over the past decade has hosted political and religious leaders including Benjamin Netanyahu, Rowan Williams and Brown himself.
In a red ‘This is Your Kinloss’ book produced for the occasion – which was media partnered by the Jewish News – Lord Sacks described what Rabbi Mirvis and his wife had done for the community as “the stuff of legend” while David Cameron said he was looking forward to working with Rabbi Mirvis in his new role.
The next Chief Rabbi said: “I was incredibly humbled by the farewell given to me, Valerie and our family. We have often reflected on our feeling that the honeymoon period after our arrival 17 years ago has never ended.”
And looking ahead to Finchley’s “magnificent future”, he promised to return frequently as a visitor starting just days after he takes office. “Over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I’ll spend every single service at a different shul and for neilah it will be Kinloss,” he said. “Over the High Holy Days I’ll be addressing over 10,000 people.
“It’s part of the chief rabbinate we’re seeking to establish through which we’ll be both geographically and practically in touch with as many people as possible.”
Nicola Mendelsohn, chair of the dinner committee, said the weekend’s events and the unprecedented turnout showed the “warmth and affection” for the pair. “He provided the material for the night through his many achievements,” she said. That palpable affection for Finchley’s long-term first couple was summed up with the presentation of a spice box, created by acclaimed artist David Breuer-Weill, bearing the inscription ‘Kinloss will always love you’.
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