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Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

Simchat Torah 5781 – celebrating 50 years of Rabbi Jeffrey Newman's rabbinate

Whenever we have two scrolls, there is a PAUSE to honour the first and prepare to read from the second. Today, however, it has especial significance as we imagine re-rolling all the way from the end of Devarim back to the beginning of Bereshit.

I would like to highlight this pause, and make three points.

First, thank you, Rabbi Miriam, Bob and all the members of FRS for recognising today my 50 years as a rabbi, 27 of them (from 1973-2000 spent in the full service of this community). Most particularly, I want to thank you for giving me the honour, pleasure and privilege of being Rabbi Emeritus. In 2000 we had no idea what that might mean and, in some ways, we are no clearer. However, today I feel able to make a pledge…I will always be here for you, in my remaining years and Hopefully, I will never do or say anything to shame you.

Secondly, about Simchat Torah itself. I instituted in FRS our tradition of unrolling the scroll, a custom we undertook particularly memorably and imaginatively this year, as those of you who were with us last night will have seen.

I do not want to say I invented the idea but certainly I had never experienced it when we practised it the first time in FRS.

1. Perhaps I had read or heard of it somewhere. Perhaps it came from the States…. I seem to remember David Jacobs being very involved?

2. That first year, it was a truly numinous moment and I remember my nervousness and that of the community. It was never something we did every year

3. for me, it is and needs to remain a special occasion, perhaps once every three years or even seven years, perhaps the years of the Shemita.

4. It needs to give us Pause, a moment of wonder and reflection on the sacred nature of our Torah.


So now to the word Pause itself.

In Hebrew, there are two principal interesting contenders

1. Hafsakah, the same word which gives us Pasuk, verse and,

2. more surprisingly, the word

3. Selah. No-one knows its true signification, but one possibility is a word of emphasis, to indicate ‘reflect’ on the importance of what has gone before or what is to come.

Today is the Shabbat in the midst of a hugely important decision for Kehillah Kedosha Eytz Chayim, the Holy Congregation of the Tree of Life, that is, Finchley Reform Synagogue – the Tree of Life, of course, being a way of referring to the Torah.

On Monday we had the first of three meetings which will culminate on October 29th, my dad’s birthday, in an EGM to decide whether or not to proceed with our new Synagogue building.

In the first, on Monday, I asked for a PAUSE, a hafsakah or Selah! Ruth Rabin properly asked, ‘How long did I mean?’ and I could not answer, I had not thought about it.

Either at the end of the meeting, or immediately afterwards, I realised, however, that WE could consider ourselves as being IN IT!

In other words, we on Monday raised many questions, possibilities, considerations brought about by our sense of the needs we see, as emphasised by the changes brought about by COVID, the Global Pandemic.

We are living in the Footsteps of the Time to Come….which, in so many ways, is likely to be one of many challenges – a changing world, afflicted by climate –

♦ fire,

♦ flood,

♦ famine,

♦ migration,

♦ economic inequalities,

♦ authoritarianism,

♦ violence:

here I give seven, but we could easily imagine 10 Plagues.

The Jewish community will be called upon for all its strengths and resilience. What sort of adaptable, sustainable, hybrid building will we need?

On Monday, the Building Committee will present its answer to these questions, and we will hear, listen, understand, reflect and PAUSE. Are the answers adequate? Are they real? Is this building proper to the needs of this time and of the future?

Then, two weeks later, the community will decide, both individually and collectively having prayed and listened to words from Torah….by then, we will be in Sedra Noach, with all its many dire warnings, and looking forward to Lech lecha.

So now, today, in the pause we are given between the two scrolls and before my friend Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp teaches us about Bereshit, I would like you to realise the significance of this pausal time we are in – this Caesura we are being given when we can fully and honestly reflect on the very great significance of the decision we are about to make.

Ruth made me realise that pause does not have to be a period in the future. It can be HINENI, here and now, if we allow ourselves to enter into it sufficiently deeply.

In this moment, NOW, all time is present, past, present and the time to come….

In these weeks we have time, to pause and reflect, to think truly, deeply and honestly and come to our decision…..

ק״ק עץ חיים לך לך בשלום בעבורך ובעבור כל העולם

FRS may you move forward in peace and wholeness for your own sake and for the sake of the whole world!

Sun, 7 March 2021 23 Adar 5781