On Rosh Hashanah we affirm that we can change.

On Rosh Hashanah we affirm that we can change.

Friends,

This is an incredibly special time of the year.  In a few weeks we will celebrate, separated but still together, the High Holy Days; Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, then Sukkot and Simchat Torah. With all the uncertainties that surround us these days, the High Holy Days will be very different this year.  But what remains constant is the ability of Bet David to enter the High Holy Days on a path toward forgiveness, repentance, reflection, and renewal. We have worked hard and thoughtfully to ensure that these spiritual themes and prayerful experiences, as much you seek them, find their way to you.

The Torah declares:

“Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Nitzavim, Dtn. 30)

On Rosh Hashanah we affirm that we can change. We proclaim that we can fix our mistakes and mend our ways. We believe that human beings are capable of repentance and change. Change however comes with difficulty. We know that we all have a tendency to resist it. This is part of our human nature. Everyone wants to hold on to the past and their image of the past. However, when we attempt to hold on to such imaginings, we never serve the future. We find ourselves alone and comforted only by memories. Thus, change is necessary. It is required for our society. It is required for our people. It is required in our personal lives. We must regularly reinvent ourselves.

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate our ability to change. We dip the apples into honey and say, “May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to renew this year for us with sweetness and happiness.” The Hebrew word for renew is chadesh. We make new. We make the old new. We are never trapped in our old ways. Our lives are not predestined. Our choices are not predetermined.

Too often we feel that our lives are beyond our control. The past six months have proven that there are things that we cannot determine. Our health is not entirely in our own hands. Often, other people’s choices affect us and direct our lives in uncharted territories. Yet our choices remain in our own hands. This is what we can change. And this is what we mark on Rosh Hashanah.

For Chayim and me these High Holy Days will be a time of a huge transition, moving from Johannesburg to the UK. The beginning of 5781 will also be the end for us of six wonderful years at Bet David. It is a time to say goodbye, but also to embrace the change that will be happening. I know that Bet David is in good hands and that you will continue to go from strength to strength.

Chayim joins me in wishing all of you and your families a blessed New Year filled with love, peace, joy, health, prosperity and Yiddishkeit.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good new year.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Get busy!

Get busy!

Friends,

A priest frantically phones the rabbi down the street and whispers into the phone: “Rabbi, I think Jesus just walked into my church. What should I do?” And the rabbi replies: “Look busy!”

At this time of the year it is time for all of us to ‘get busy,’ – it is time for us to look within and search for our true selves.  The weeks before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered as the weeks when we should do this soul search. It is the time of year when we look inwardly, reviewing our past deeds and misdeeds. We come, searching for solace and for peace, for answers to, often, unanswerable questions or perhaps  even to hear what the questions might be. Maybe we are seeking to be challenged by God, to find new reasons to continue our struggle with God, or perhaps just to say ‘thank you’ to God. Whatever our reasons, whatever our questions, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, they are valid, and the presence of   every one of you, shows how important they are.

So, let us get busy. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?

Dear Friends,

The past few weeks have been difficult here in South Africa, as they have been for almost everyone. We said goodbye to cherished friends, family members and congregants who were laid to eternal rest due to the pandemic. As we continue to make sense of the turmoil and disruption this crisis has caused, both close to home and to  society as a whole, I find myself – as I often do – turning to Jewish heritage and tradition to help find meaning in the world around me.

Last week, we marked the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, the beginning of three weeks of ritual mourning. These weeks follow a path that begins with this anniversary of the Babylonian breach of the gates of ancient Jerusalem and carries us until the anniversary of the burning of Solomon’s Temple and the start of the first exile. That date is marked, along with a great many other Jewish tragedies, including the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492,  by a fast on the 9th of Av, observed this year on July 30th.

I’m always struck by the liturgy of this period. The words of Psalm 137, By the Rivers of Babylon are exemplary for the profound mourning of our people’s loss:

There we sat,
Sat and wept,
As we thought of Zion…

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right-hand wither…

Still, as we read  Lamentations on Tisha B’Av, we find, even in the words of  sorrow, messages of hope and of the possibility of renewal. Even the fast itself is considered a Mo’ed, a  festival. For though it is a day of profound sadness, it is also a day of promise for a joyful future, as the prophet Zechariah assures the people it “shall become occasion for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah.” (Zech. 8:19)

These texts and our tradition hold all our emotions that feel so right for this  moment in our world.  We hold the sorrow of profound loss, we sit with  anxieties and fears in this time of transition, and still we find a way to  express our hope for the future.

We need to grieve. We need to name the anxiety and fear that comes with this crisis and we need to lift up hope – hope for what is possible, hope for a brighter future, hope for what we will build together in the years to come. And we need to do all these things at the same time.

I invite you to share your losses, your fears, and your hopes as we continue to walk through this crisis.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

By the Waters of Babylon, painting by Arthur Hacker, c. 1888
By the Waters of Babylon, painting by Arthur Hacker, c. 1888
(c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A new chapter

A new chapter

Signing my new contract with Wimbledon

With gratitude and happiness, I am excited to announce my appointment by The Wimbledon Shul, to become their new rabbi, moving to London, UK after the High Holy Days this year. I am feeling blessed beyond words for this incredible chance to open the next chapter in my rabbinic journey and Chayim’s and my life.

The Wimbledon Shul is the largest Reform Congregation in the South of London, reaching out to Jewish families in the South of England beyond the district borders. The congregation is proud of its cheder, its religious life and the adult learning opportunities and its open and welcoming community.I am looking forward to walking with the congregation on their path in making The Wimbledon Shul a Jewish home for everyone, providing space for families, singles, seniors and students, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and Allies and those who feel comfortable in a traditional Jewish setting.

I am grateful to the wonderful team and leadership of The Wimbledon Shul for putting so much trust and hope into me, allowing me to take on this outstanding opportunity to lead the congregation into its future.

To my Bet David family: Six years ago, I arrived in Johannesburg to be your new Rabbi. In these past years, we learned and prayed, laughed and celebrated, sang and danced, marched and mourned together. I am the rabbi I am today because you let me into your lives. You opened up your hearts and taught me how to comfort. You opened up your minds and taught me the power of teaching Torah. You opened up your hands and showed me the value of helping those in need. You elevated your spirit and taught me what it means to live with spiritual intention. Your love for your family and friends helped me understand the power and importance of community.

The funny thing about rabbinic transition timelines is that it forces a slow goodbye, but that’s actually a good thing. I’ll be here until the end of the High Holy Days and want to take that time to personally tell each of you how much you have meant to me and how much I have learned from you.

And to my new Wimbledon family: I am looking forward to meeting all of you and to enter with you this new chapter. And to all of you: Stay tuned for blog posts and more as I prepare for and celebrate the big move! Can’t wait to share the journey with you all! Please feel free to reach out, by email (rabbi.schell@gmail.com) or via Facebook (facebook.com/RabbiAdrianSchell)