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Rabbi Jordan’s Inauguration Response

For the benefit of those who were unable to attend, we are printing Rabbi Jordan’s Inauguration Response from this past Sunday’s service (you can watch the service by clicking here:

Raising our Banner High

Let us be honest, friends – the last few years have been difficult ones.  In moments of reflection, we look down at the fabric of our lives and see that which held us together looks frayed.

Demographic trends were already at work, attenuating our community.  These last few years, the added burden of isolation and isolation tore many of the sinewous strings which hold us together. We have all felt the knots loosen. Roughness now appears where things once felt natural, felt smooth.

We are not alone, many liberal communities are contracting.

What we do in the coming years, will chart a course for our congregation’s future.  Will be a statement about the enduring value of Progressive Judaism to this world.

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Every day I am here, I can feel with more clarity the texture of this community. In every conversation, I discern the work of your previous rabbis, weaving back and forth, in and out of conversations in the functions hall, in the classrooms and in homes. So many strands of stories, picked up and woven together into the texture of this community.  Being secured and knotted into sacred connection through friendship, kindness, and a feeling of joint responsibility.

Now, I look about myself for the raw materials of community.  I see a unique East of the East End community.  I walk from my house each morning towards three Jewish Day Schools, a kosher butcher and - even more my flavour –in the neighbourhood are two establishments serving kosher-style salt-beef bagels.  In the High Streets and school yard, I catch conversations by so many descended Israelis, enlightened orthodox, reformed secular Jews, and the Jewish and not-yet Jewish counter-cultural seeking their part in an ongoing wrestling match with the established present.

Each thread unique, with its own story.

Friends, I don’t worry about there being enough raw material here to keep our community alive and vibrant. I really don’t.

But there is one thing that becomes clearer and clearer to me in each conversation I have - each trip up the high street - each Shabbat service in this building. This work requires more than an open loom - with posters about inclusion and words about diversity set as hooks into the frame.  It requires more than Rabbi Lev and I setting the warp and the woof, the underlay, and praying for the picture to come together.

It requires you.

Listen to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words:

“Life without integrity is like loosely hanging threads, easily straying from the main cloth, while in acts of piety we learn to understand that every instant is like a thread raveling out of eternity to form a delicate tassel. We must not cast off the threads but weave them into the design of an eternal fabric” (Thunder in the Soul, Plough Spiritual Guides, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Edited by Robert Erlwine. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020.)

While our choir beautifully sings כִּי הִנֵּה כַיְרִיעָה בְּיַד הָרוֹקֵם Ki Hinei Cha’y’ri’ah b’yad harokem, with God - or in this case the rabbi - as the Weaver - for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the weaver isn’t God, but rather each, each of us.

We decide if we have the energy, the will, to tie ourselves into the structure of our community.  Whether we will develop the routines that will bind us to the past, present and future of our people.  If we feel bound to better self, community and world.

Or if we remain as loosely hanging threads, tied on only by a standing order to a threadbare whole.

We face a moment where the edges of the grand tapestry of Jewish communal life are fraying. How will we respond?

Will we knit ourselves back together, will we extend ourselves to others, will we find the courage to share with those around us our own stories?  To talk about what this community has meant to us, and how it can be a banner of support in our lives?

We have the tools in our hands to weave together a future that will be as vibrant as our past, should see ourselves as covenantal partners in this work.

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The framework is here, around us.  The framework for  Jewish life informed by tradition and kept ever-modern.  A Judaism that is full of family and joy. Of Shabbat candle-sticks and children asking questions.   Of social justice and social care.

We have inherited a structure which gives permission for shocking creativity – red and pink threads, hidden beneath the surface, tugged into the fore of Talmud and Midrashic interpretation.

Now, I ask you, as you have asked me – to reach out, and make this place – these people part of the routines in your life.

9 am Torah Study, 10:30 worship and learning.

The first Friday of the month with candle-sticks and community. Community and Social Group, Tuesday Lunch Club, and more.

If a program doesn’t exist. Kvetch about it!  And then help create it.

As our community grows, if there is a person who looks different, acts different, isn’t quite sure of their place, do your best to make them feel at home here, to welcome them as they find their place in the ever-changing fabric of our community.

Just as others stepped forward to create this community for you – now you are needed to cater and sing and lead.  Invite your friends and make this truly your Jewish home, a home you still share with your children and grandchildren, whom you invite in again and again.

In a moment when Jewish communities all around the world are fraying, now is when we commit.

I feel honoured to be invited into your lives – in your moments of joy and sorrow – and I commit to do my best to listen and be there for you.

Today, we, me, you, bind ourselves into covenant, and commit to holding this community together. To interlock, and provide support.

To weave this South West Essex, East London Settlement, Oaks Lane community into a banner of pride in each of our lives, on which it’s Shem Tov – good name – is raised high.

We pray the words of the Pslamist, “May God answer you, sending you help from God’s sanctuary

 N’ran’nah Vi-shu-a-techa, U’v’shem-Eloheinu Nidgol

. נְרַנְּנָ֤ה ׀ בִּ֘ישׁ֤וּעָתֶ֗ךָ וּבְשֵֽׁם־אֱלֹהֵ֥ינוּ נִדְגֹּ֑ל  - Let us sing gladly for your achievement, and in our God’s name, our banner be raised up” (Psalm 20:5).

Ken Y’hi Ratzon - So may it be God’s will.  Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jordan