The Simcha must go on! How the community is making sure it can still celebrate

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The Simcha must go on! How the community is making sure it can still celebrate

As coronavirus takes hold on plans many years in the making, our community is coming up with ways to ensure people can still mark their special days

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Anita Feldman with her husband Jonathan and sons, Sam and Adam, in a photograph taken two weeks ago at the Mosaic Jewish Community synagogue in Harrow (Photos by James Shaw Photography)
Anita Feldman with her husband Jonathan and sons, Sam and Adam, in a photograph taken two weeks ago at the Mosaic Jewish Community synagogue in Harrow (Photos by James Shaw Photography)

Save the Date! 

May 23. We must have said the date a million times. It was circled on the wall calendar long before the ‘Save the Date’ emails went out and we know how important those are to Jewish mothers. Planning diaries of uber social off-spring is essential as it allows those who can’t attend to forewarn hosts and flashes any clashes.

A clash of simcha dates can be as fraught as one with the Titans and mothers will battle to secure their child’s guest list. But back to May 23, the date of Madison’s bat mitzvah, which in reality is still ahead of us, but the likelihood of her performing the Bamidbah (her parsha) in front of anything other than a screen grows more unlikely by the day.

The beautifully designed invitations went out just weeks before the impact of the virus was felt on our shores and now the only large gatherings of people are on hospital wards or in mortuaries.

Our plans to host lunch then a party for kids in a marquee in our garden are currently just words and watching my daughter cry about what will inevitably be a cancelled simcha is upsetting.


I have told her that we are currently the lucky ones as the anguished cries of those who have died or lost loved ones are the victims. When our beloved minister died she wept, as only four weeks ago she had urged the soon to retire Rabbi Kraft to come back for her big day. For now there are no big days. Selfishly I still harbour the hope that in eight weeks time our marquee provider Max Hermet will be hoisting a tent outside and that despite having lost thousands due to cancellations, he will hold on to staff. Nick Richmond who was making our special film has also waved goodbye to work and is now making commemorative videos for Year 6 pupils who missed out on their end of primary school events.

At £10 per child it is a small fee for an essential memory and the schools love it. Of course none of us are loving much, not chocolatier Kushan Marthelis of Chocim  who was making the shoe-shaped sweet treats or the Hebrew tutor Hannah who is still lesson streaming with Madison.

Brigit and Maddison when she was in primary school

To hear our girl singing her parsha makes me think of that date on the horizon now steeped in clouds. I just have to remember a simcah is a luxury, survival is not. Rather than miss out on her full bimah moment Madison has decided to learn a new parsha for a date in the future and the synagogue are making it happen. Suddenly the only important Save the Date is the one that brings an end to this horror.

For marquees

For  primary school videos & events –

For party sweets


The virtual barmitzvah

Anita Feldman will still get to celebrate her son Sam’s barmitzvah this weekend, albeit from their home in Bushey: ‘It’s a situation you could never have predicted in a million years.’

“We’ve been planning Sam’s barmitzvah for two years and booked Mosaic Jewish Community in Harrow, followed by a party at the Village Hotel in Elstree on Sunday. But as things progressed, we realised we wouldn’t be able to go ahead as planned and our rabbi suggested we do it over Zoom instead.

So that’s what we will do this Saturday. We’ll be at home in our finery. Rabbi Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton will be at her home in her finery. We’ll be able to do some of what we would have done, but Sam will have no official scrolls and instead read his portion from the book he’s been practicing from.

Anita Feldman with her husband Jonathan and sons, Sam and Adam, in a photograph taken two weeks ago at the Mosaic Jewish Community synagogue in Harrow (Photos by James Shaw Photography)

At a later stage, when we are back in shul, the rabbi said he can do a Haftarah  or a couple of blessings and will be called up.

Sam was disappointed to begin with, because he’s just missed out having his barmitzvah in shul by a few weeks. But he’s still excited about this weekend, and we’ve been dropping off the personalised kippot to his friends so they can wear one while watching his barmitzvah.

Sam’s barmitzvah!
(Photos by James Shaw Photography)

It’s not the same, but it’s as close as we can get in this situation. A neighbour on our road was taken off in an ambulance last week, his friend’s grandfather is on  a ventilator and I think Sam is mature enough to know that although things are  not going to be what we’d hoped they would be, he’s lucky to do anything and commemorate his barmitzvah.

We also have some really beautiful photos taken a couple of weeks ago in shul, when it was looking unlikely we could have his barmitzvah, along with the Torah scrolls, both sets of grandparents and the four of us, and these are something we will really treasure now.

I went through a phase of getting upset, but you do have to have perspective.  It’s a situation that you would never have predicted in a million years and, for many people, they are losing loved ones and their financial security.

We have much to be thankful for and are focusing on what we have, rather than what we don’t have.”


The business owner

Samantha Kingsley, owner of Twenty@N20 in Whetstone: “Life is on hold for everyone.”

“We’re very concerned right now, because this is our business, which we’ve put years and years of work into, and we love what we do. For anyone working in the events industry, which is a very close community, the situation is really, really sad. In the past few weeks, I’ve had to move around 20 functions, and we are doing our best to accommodate anyone who wants to move their dates.

April was set to be a busy month for us and, towards the end of March alone, we had three or four bookings each week. Many people have also now moved their events that were booked for May and June.

Samantha Kingsley and her husband Michael. (Photo by E Jacobs Photography)

We will get through this, thanks to a grant from the government to help us stay open, and we also know our landlords well. Obviously everyone is in the same situation, but away from the business, I’ve found the situation emotionally hard and really feel for our clients.

People have saved up for years. It’s such a big thing to have
a bar or batmitzvah, so I’ve been trying to help as much as I can and have been helping to rearrange the DJs when they book in a new date. For many people there’s so much uncertainty because we don’t have an end date for this. Life’s on hold for everyone. 


The Liberal Rabbi

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Senior Rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue: “Our sense of community will only be doubled after this.”

“The vast majority of our families have chosen to move their bar and batmitzvahs for later in the year and we’ve been doing all we can to make that happen. The children will not have to learn a new portion.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

This is a topsy turvy world where everything is different, so it will be a topsy turvy year where we’re going to do things slightly differently to what we are used to.

In the past weeks, I’ve been asked to conduct funerals and shivas online.
The funeral was for a woman named  Rita Wright, and her son, Russell told me: ‘I was full of doubts and it was  a surreal experience, but it allowed a lot of people to participate. The comfort I gained surpassed my expectations.’

One of the most important things for me in my job is the pastoral element, and I appreciate that in the long run some people may find it difficult that they did not actually witness a coffin going into the ground or being cremated.

But the worst thing we can do right now is to keep saying to mourners it must be so difficult, because what we can do for families is really express the incredible warmth and love they can receive from people. It’s not a physical hug, but it is a sense of connection and contact, which they would never ever have dreamt they would experience.

We can commemorate life and, most importantly, comfort the bereaved, rather than keep focusing on what we can’t do.

Technology is going to double the number of people attending simchas, funerals and shivas in the future, especially for those living abroad and elderly people. It’s going to bring different life cycle events to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience them.

Likewise, I think there will be a huge outburst of appreciation for physical contact when we can meet up together again and our sense of community will only be doubled.”

  • Lucy Barnett of RSVP LUCY bespoke invitations and event stationery has offered to design a FREE digital file for anyone who has had to change the date of their simcha, which can then be sent by email or social media to friends and family.

To find out more, call 07740 199246 or visit



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