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Jonathan Lewis (Chair) - Sermon 12th May 2018

The Parasha we have just read is Bechukotai. A wide ranging parasha which deals with reward and punishment particularly for keeping or not keeping Shabbat but also, as we have just read communal and social responsibilities, and pledges or covenants for dedicating ourselves to God and to our community.


This had me thinking about where Sinai is at the moment. The vows and pledges we make are no longer fixed based on who we are, and certainly do not differ depending on our gender.

Although I was interested in the concept of junior membership for toddlers and babies – an opportunity perhaps? This all comes from a different time. But the parasha clearly tells us that we are only expected to donate what we can afford – an important principle for us even today.


In Sinai’s case, we have already asked people to consider helping us in terms of financial contributions if this can be afforded – don’t worry this is not an appeal from a new Chair. But it is a reminder that if you wish to help us remove our deficit faster, then I am sure that those involved in fund raising would appreciate it. But more importantly so many of Sinai’s members are willing to donate some of their most precious assets - time and skills and do so regularly. Just look around. We are in a period with no rabbi – hopefully not for too long, but it is where we are right now.


We have read this week bad news stories about the decline of Leeds shuls. Don’t let the spin get in the way of the facts. Sinai is growing. We have attracted members, despite having to raise our subscription levels and despite sadly losing two rabbis in a year. That is because of the community we are. Yes, of course we can do more, be more inclusive, welcoming, inspirational, progressive and relevant. And we will. As I said on Wednesday, we are Reform and not reformed. We will continue on that journey, both before and after our new rabbi joins us. But let’s celebrate what we do well.


We have not had any gaps in our service leadership, leyning or lifecycle events. This is largely due to the hard work Sally and Janet have put in making sure we are properly covered but also thanks to so many who have stepped up to help.

And of course to the wonderful level of learning and knowledge we have in this community. Where we have needed rabbinic assistance, such as for b’nei mitzvah, conversions, funerals and other life cycle events, our national movement has been amazingly helpful and we have had the services of a fantastic student rabbi, Deborah Blausten from the Leo Baeck College. At the High Holy days, Rabbis Young Somers and Janner-Klausner will be here – a real honour for us and a demonstration of the love and affection our national movement has for this community. The organisation of this is no small task and we also thank Gwynneth for stepping up and doing this in addition to her day job.


My worry was that services would have simply become poor impressions of a much loved certain Australian. But I have been delighted that this has not been the case. People have been innovative while respecting our traditions, and extremely imaginative. We have seen a fabulous example of that today as Gillian and Richard have introduced a meditation opportunity prior to the service. I really hope that will become a regular occurrence.


But mostly I want to acknowledge the fantastic contribution by our members for the support you have given this community, the contributions you continue to make and more. Griselda made a really poignant comment at our AGM this week when she said that we are not just interviewing for a new rabbi. We are being interviewed ourselves and we need to demonstrate to candidates that this is a great place and great community to work with and make your life amongst. The way we are stepping up with service leadership is probably the finest example of this.


So if you wish to fulfil the mitzvot detailed in the parasha, with anything you can contribute – be that fifty shekels of silver, a Chomer of barley or your time, it will all be gratefully received – but please, no animals, clean or unclean. And of course if you are leading services, you don’t have to do the Aussie accent.

Jonathan Lewis

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