Next weekend’s services (Friday 10 and Saturday 11 July) will unfortunately be Rabbi Gershon’s last as Rabbi of NLJC. Gershon has been our rabbi for nearly two years now and he shall be greatly missed.
Gershon has enjoyed an illustrious career. He was Liberal Judaism’s first rabbi cantor, having served previously as cantor in Toronto, New York, New Brunswick, Illinois and Kensington, Maryland. He also taught at the Abraham Geiger College Cantorial School in Berlin and the Levisson Institute in Amsterdam. We recall with reflected pride how Gershon conducted his first service as an ordained rabbi in Norwich following his ordination by Leo Baeck College in July 2019.
During his time with us, Gershon has masterfully applied his wonderful voice and great erudition to our services, and regularly extended the hand of kinship to our friends within the NHC.
We shall not forget how he has led our community through the difficult times of lockdown and COVID-19, and we are deeply indebted to him for switching from the bimah to the laptop to enable services to continue. It is no easy feat to lead a service alone from your own home, isolated from the voices and company of a ‘virtual’ congregation. Nevertheless, Gershon has managed this with aplomb and sensitivity.
It is a real shame that none of us will be able to bid farewell to Gershon in person this weekend. I do hope, however, that you will be able to join one of the services over the weekend to say your own goodbye and to wish Gershon mazel tov on his new role with the West London Synagogue. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to Gershon we have been able to hold monthly Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning services online during the lockdown. Our communal proficiency in the use of Zoom may be growing at an exponential rate, but we all miss the opportunity to meet, mingle and schmooze in shul.
Although the Government updated its guidance for the safe use of places of worship with effect from 4 July, I am afraid we will be unable to return to worship in the OMH in the short term. We received the following advice from Liberal Judaism (LJ) this week:
‘Liberal Judaism’s advice, in line with guidance we have received from public health specialists, is that synagogue buildings should stay shut for communal services until after the High Holy Days at the earliest, and that they should continue their offer of streamed services in the meantime.’
This may be ‘advice’ but we are well advised to follow it, particularly in view of some of the limitations presented by the OMH building and its facilities. I am sure this will be disappointing news, but we must prioritise the health and safety of our community. When LJ feels able to amend its advice, and once we have conducted a thorough risk assessment of the building, we will be able to consider a return to services in the OMH.
Last month, I wrote that I should try to be more imaginative. I must confess that the daily grind of interpreting fresh government guidance and rewriting risk assessments tends to dull the senses. Fortunately, the Friday evening messages, wonderfully curated by Steve Pruner, bring a weekly and welcome injection of contemplative pleasure. These letters bristle with honesty, insight and above all, hope. Once again, our heartfelt thanks to all who have written. You bring comfort to us all. And to those who are still waiting for Steve’s finger to tap them virtually on the shoulder, we look forward to what you have to say.
My best wishes to you all,