Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.
Some seek power for the sake of power itself and for high status. A few seek it because they have a sense of mission and believe they can make a difference to the world. Even fewer do not seek it at all, but become leaders because of one or more of the following circumstances: they are blessed with great gifts; they are in the right place at the right time; they are chosen by God or by the people. Perish the thought that I might be talking of what is currently happening with some of our politicians at this difficult, fractious time in Britain. I am talking, of course, of Korach, who is one of the first kind and of Moses, who is one of the third. Korach and his fellow malcontents accuse Moses and Aaron of precisely what they wish to do themselves, i.e. set themselves above God’s congregation. Ironically, Moses never wanted to be a leader and he certainly never abuses his position. Rather he prays to God to take the burden away from him.
No sooner does God show whom he has chosen to lead the Israelites than the entire community complain that Moses and Aaron have “killed God’s people”. This time it is Aaron who saves the people from God’s wrath. It seems that, at this period of the journey through the desert, there is an awful lot of complaining and discontent, what with the demand for meat, the report of the spies and the brief resentment of Miriam and Aaron. Despite this, the ordering of Israelite society and the principles and ideas by which we still try to live our lives goes on. Most of the rest of Korach sets out the duties and rights governing the priests and the Levites.
At the start of Chukkat, we come to the puzzling episode of the Red Cow and the purification rites associated with its sacrifice. Much more follows. Miriam, who has been such an inspiration to the people and, who as a girl, saved Moses from death, dies. This is followed by more complaining, sadly, this time, leading to Moses and Aaron losing their tempers and incurring the punishment of never entering the promised land. Sadly, too, this is followed by Edom, the descendants of Esau, refusing safe passage to their kinsfolk. And then Aaron dies. Then confrontation with Canaan and yet more backsliding by the people, overwhelmed again by fear. Yet the parsha ends with two victories and two songs. There is hope for us yet. To share this hope, come along on Saturday to Three Bridges School at 10.30. Harvey Kurzfield will be leading the service.
Last month I went to three of the oldest provincial communities in England. Each has a glorious history, and all have unusual buildings or artefacts that make them worth visiting.
I began in Exeter, a community that has the second oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in the UK. Opened in 1763, it now has an unusual cross communal community that appears to work fairly satisfactorily, with some services being traditional and some progressive, and generally the community supports whatever is going on. Apart from playing a major part in the life of the city, Exeter Hebrew Congregation has in the past boasted a number of sophisticated adult education courses, while its toddlers group, rejoicing in the name of “Dreidel Dribblers”(!) is now becoming Hebrew classes.
The shul itself is beautiful with some interesting Georgian features and the unique addition of a Bimah that is neither square nor rectangular, but actually egg shaped!
I then went to visit Kehillat Kernow (the old Cornish name for Cornwall). The community is widely scattered across the beautiful county, with services usually taking place in Truro. They do however have one of the original Sifrei Torah that belonged to the community of Falmouth which flourished between 1740 and 1879. The Sifrei Torah then slumbered in the Royal Cornwall Museum until I inspected them in 2010. This was then was repaired by the Sofer Bernard Benarroch, reconsecrated at a service in May 2014 and is now in use.
However the purpose of my visit was to be present at the ceremony marking the refurbishment of the Penzance Jewish cemetery. Established in 1740, the oldest legible stone is dated 1801 and many of the inscriptions are extremely unusual and interesting, including the young daughter of the Rabbi who, unusually, died of cholera and was buried on Shabbat 10th November 1832 “Bamagefa – because of the plague”.
I then spent a lovely Shabbat in Cheltenham, whose beautiful Regency Synagogue houses the original 1751 furniture from the New Synagogue in Leadenhall Street.
A trip to view these wonderful historical sights of Anglo-Jewish history is very worthwhile, and all of these communities have websites that will assist you.
At the recent Seder, a good time was had by all, despite the absence of esteemed Newsletter Editor and stalwart Seder chef Pat Lipert, and Treasurer and general logistics wizard Leslie Lipert, who crossed the Atlantic to sample an American Pesach. The potential imbalance of populations was restored by the movement the other way of Rachel Brown’s parents , who travelled from New York to Cornwall to spend Pesach with daughter and grandchildren. Kehillat Kernow Chair Harvey Kurtzfield and Vice-Chair Adam Feldman led the service with great verve. The food was carefully and tastefully prepared by members of the community and the afikomen was found by Isaac Feldman, the last time he will qualify to take part in the search. Once again, we experienced the moving yet joyful story of the Exodus.
The restoration was completed in August 2105. For more details of this and of the cemetery in general go to Penzance Cemetery on this site and to Friends of Penzance Jewish Cemetery. A great deal of credit for the restoration rests with Leslie Lipert, Treasurer of both Kehillat Kernow and the Friends of the Cemetery, in raising the funds, and with Jon Pender, former Planning Officer and Chairman of the Friends, in processing the listed building applications and overseeing the restoration itself.
Two ceremonies are scheduled to mark the restoration. The first of these will be a re-sanctification, which will take place on 13 March, to be attended by the Jewish community in Cornwall and to be led by David Jacobs.
The second ceremony will take place on 18 May and will be attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, Colonel Bolitho OBE, Colin Spanjar, of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, local dignitaries, significant donors and friends of the cemetery. Please note that attendance at the civic ceremony is strictly by invitation.