As I type this we have passed the landmark of one hundred days of lockdown. In that time we, as a community (not just Sinai, but Leeds, Reform Judaism (RJ) and beyond), have faced up to, overcome and grown through many challenges. I am very proud of how Sinai has risen to the challenges we have faced: better on some, than others. But in every challenge we have learned, adapted and grown. In this letter there is detail around staff changes, membership subscriptions, High Holy Days and funerals. As such, please try to read at least the bits that interest you.
One particular challenge is around Sinai’s budget. Over the last, nearly two, decades we have been fortunate to have had the funds to invest in our community. Some of these initiatives have worked well, and others not as well. The current trustees are now looking at how we can ensure Sinai has many stable years ahead.
The first piece of news I want to share with you all is the sad news that, in light of the current financial position, and following my recent letter to members, I have proposed, and she has agreed, that Gwynneth Lewis will take early retirement and will leave her post as Director of Education at the end of July. Members may not realise that Gwynneth has been in post for twelve years and, in that time, has made an outstanding contribution to Sinai. She led on the development of an educational strategy for young people and adults. In the time between Rabbi Morris retiring and Rabbi Strasko starting, she ensured that educational standards remained at the exceptional level we expect at Sinai, and made sure our conversion course continued so that prospective members were able to attend the Beth Din. We will be letting you know how education will proceed in the short term during the coming weeks, and how the strategy will develop following that.
For now, I personally, and on behalf of the community, want to thank Gwynneth for all her work. Having worked myself in the Jewish community I know the unique challenges that such a post brings. Gwynneth has always approached her role with the dedication we would all wish to see from our staff, volunteers and members. What makes this retirement additionally bitter is that we cannot, as a community, gather to thank Gwynneth properly for all her service to Sinai. It doesn’t, though, detract from our desire to wish Gwynneth mazaltov on her retirement. B’hatzlacha.
Secondly, I want to thank every member who has paid their subs in full or continues to do so regularly by direct debit. Especially to those who responded to our recent letter asking you to do so if you could. As we begin to look at how we can ensure the education, rituals and community we all use is able to thrive and grow, you can easily help with this by ensuring you meet your responsibility to contribute to the kitty. That way you can be certain that when you needs us, we will be there.
As we begin to see more and more areas of life come out of lockdown, including some places of worship, I wanted to set out the position of Sinai in regards to High Holy Days. No matter which denomination of Judaism you belong to, the commandment of pikuach nefesh (saving a soul) is the highest obligation on us all. So important is it that trustees have this mitzvah (blessing), along with care for the dead and hospitality (the second and third mitzvot) at the top of, and informing, all our meeting agendas.
This makes for one simple reality at this time, and for the foreseeable future: Sinai will remain virtually open, but not physically. And it is through these three mitzvot that Rabbi Strasko, our wardens and other volunteers, are planning on delivering some of the most creative, engaging and exciting High Holy Days services any of us will have ever seen. We are working with colleagues across RJ to share and learn from the very best ideas, and are certain we can deliver meaningful, thoughtful and inspiring opportunities to experience the richness and depth of the yamim noraim (days of awe). More details will follow, including all the usual practicalities (including machzorim (prayer books)) in the coming weeks.
Finally, funerals. This has been one of the most difficult adjustments ever Jew, across the UK, has had to make to the pandemic. No matter what denomination, the restrictions around funerals has, for so many people, been the hardest. All I want do here is to remind us all that several strict restrictions still remain in place around funerals. Every single one of us carries the responsibility for pikuach nefesh. There have been incidents in other communities where dozens and dozens of people have turned up for funerals, placing, by definition, the health, and possibly lives, of people attending, including synagogue and cemetery staff who have no option but to be there, at risk. Please observe and note the instructions which come out with notices about funerals. They have been agreed by the Rabbi with the family and I am certain we will respect them.
Stay healthy, safe and well
David J Israel