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Shabbat B’ha’a’lot’cha 

2 June 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

The account of the building of the Tabernacle and its dedication concludes with the lighting of the lamps by Aaron in this week’s Torah portion.  It is a poignant moment for the High Priest whose task it is to set up the menorah, a work of hammered gold, and to light the seven lamps. His role has plunged him into the daily tasks of the priesthood: the census of all conscripts from the age of twenty and upwards, the arrangement of the tribes’ encampment around the Tent of Meeting, the appointment of the Levites to assist him and his sons, the care of the sanctuary, collection of money from the firstborn for their redemption, and the many other tasks with which he is burdened.

Somewhere near the beginning of the Book of Numbers, as each of these duties are mentioned, we are reminded of the loss of two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, who died in a conflagration inside the Tent of Meeting. Re-reading the beginning of this week’s parashah, I wonder if Aaron is the man who distracts himself from his grief and sorrow, by immersing himself in the daily tasks of life, but who suddenly – given the task of lighting the lamps, in a moment of stillness and remembrance – is stricken by the personal tragedy of losing two of his sons.

I am often asked by mourners – when do you light a candle in memory of a relative who has recently died. And I give the answer that as soon as one returns from the funeral – whether a burial or a cremation – a memorial candle is lit in the home. It is a tiny flame of light that illumines the darkness of loss and grief and, perhaps, it is also the first creative act performed by mourners after the death of a close relative, a symbol of life and a reminder of God’s first act of creation. And of course, the memorial light is also lit on the yahrzeit – the anniversary of a loved one’s death.

I once attended a funeral in the little prayer hall in the cemetery in Nottingham and was moved by the appearance of two lighted candles which remained on the coffin throughout the service. The opening verses of this week’s Torah portion speak of the lights going up – b’ha’a’lot’cha ha-nerot – and it seemed to me, in the bleakness of that moment, these flames symbolised something about the human spirit – the spirit of the man who had died, and the resilience and strength of the living, even in the darkest of times.

Light is not only associated with grief, but also with joy and festive moments: welcoming Shabbat or a festival as we light candles at home or in the synagogue, or extinguishing a thick plaited candle in wine as we say farewell to Shabbat with the ceremony of Havdalah. And there is the ner tamid – the everlasting light – that hangs above the Ark, a symbol of God’s presence in our midst – ‘In Your light we see light,’ says the Psalmist (Psalm 36:10).

Even in the aftermath of a private, family tragedy, Aaron, the distinguished High Priest and his wife, Elisheva, are called upon to fulfil their public duties in the sight of all Israel.

A midrash so accurately and poignantly captures this affirmation of life in the midst of painful loss: ‘Elisheva, the wife of Aaron had five ‘crowns’ of joy.’ Her brother-in-law, Moses, was a king; her husband, Aaron, was the High Priest; her son, Eleazar, was the deputy High Priest; her grandson, Pinchas, was a war priest; and her brother, Nachshon, a prince. But on that same day of joy, she was in mourning for her two sons, Nadav and Avihu, as it is written (Ecclesiastes 2:2): ‘Of revelry, I said, it is mad (m’holal),’ for a person’s joy in this world is not complete, it is always mixed (mahul) with sadness’ (bZevachim 102a, Leviticus Rabbah 20:2).

Light is not light without darkness and stars shine brightly in the darkest skies.  It is this fusion of life and death, darkness and light that sets us on a path to find the strength and capacity to illumine the world with our own deeply human spirit of hope and love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright


Learning from Errors and Bad Things

9 June 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

How people respond to traumatic experiences has felt like one of the most important questions over the last few years. Sometimes it feels like there has been one crisis after another and with no break. COVID was followed by the cost-of-living crisis, war and political turmoil. How does one stay calm in this ever-changing and turbulent world?

Beth Ellen Young, the Senior Director of Education at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL, found a remarkable way of exploring this week’s Torah portion through the lens of trauma. She looked at the idea of “Post-Traumatic Growth” [1]

The idea is simple yet powerful. It would be naïve to think of the world as perfect, with no sadness, challenge, or misfortune. Instead, we must try to learn to live with, and learn from, the bad things that happen to us. This is not a call to believe in fatalism but instead a call to make a conscious choice to use mistakes and misfortunes as an inspiration to improve yourself and the world.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sends twelve spies to the Land of Israel to report on the inhabitants and the country. Ten of the twelve spies return with a negative report. Despite God’s promise and the positive report of the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, the people are frightened.

Beth Ellen Young put the story of the spies into context. The spies endured many challenges, including enslavement in Egypt, rushed and stressful escape from their oppressors, and their journey had many obstacles along the way. Now, they are tasked with providing an objective and impartial assessment of whether they can conquer a new land. 

Young writes: ‘In the "model of life crisis and growth," one's coping skills are influenced by a combination of personal and external factors which allow one to thrive post-trauma. Most of the Israelites who were in the wilderness were not thriving.’

How could these spies be objective when they did not have enough time to process their trauma? How could they see a positive future when their past was dark? Turning one’s trauma into a positive life experience takes time and conscious choice. Perhaps, in the story of spies, most could only see the world through the negative lens of past trauma. Perhaps, God’s punishment of 40 years wandering in the desert was not a punishment but a gift of time for reflection. Only Caleb and Joshua had a positive vision and, as a result, were allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Many people today believe that public figures must be perfect and make no mistakes. It is a cultural norm to hide one’s imperfections and negative past experiences. However, your imperfections, errors and traumas can make you better and save many others from repeating them. 

Let’s hope that one day we will live in a world of Caleb and Joshua and find ways to grow from all our experiences.

Shabbat Shalom,

[1]  To read Beth Ellen Young’s D’var Torah, please open this link: 
To learn more about Post-Traumatic Growth, please open this link: 


Shabbat Korach

16 June 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

The new Hebrew month of Tammuz begins next Monday evening.  Tammuz and the month that follows, Av, usher in profound periods of mourning and two days of fasting for historic tragedies relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the First and Second Temples, as well as other calamities that have occurred over centuries. The Talmud relates that on the 17th Tammuz, five shattering events took place: the tablets were broken by Moses when he saw the Israelites had made a golden calf; the daily sacrificial offering (tamid) was annulled and never offered again; the city walls of Jerusalem were breached; the general Apostomos (also known as Antiochus Epiphanes) publicly burnt a Torah scroll, and Manasseh (2 Kings 21) placed an idol in the Sanctuary (bTa’anit 26a).

In these hot summer months, it is often difficult to find a connection with these catastrophes that belong somewhere in our mythic and historic past, and the sombre observances of 17th Tammuz and 9th Av may pass us by as we contemplate our seasonal holidays.

Yet this week, the heartbreaking news of the murder of two Nottingham University students, Grace O’Malley-Kumar and Barnaby Webber and school caretaker, Ian Coates, as well as the drowning of possibly hundreds of people, including children, off the southern coast of Greece, has devastated families and whole communities, many of whom do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.  It isn’t clear how many men, women and children, were packed on to the shipping vessel which sank in the early hours of Wednesday morning in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Whether it is scores or hundreds, just one death in these circumstances is a tragic indictment of the world in which we are living.

Those who make these treacherous journeys come from places such as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan. They are fleeing from war, conflict and persecution; they are in desperate need of genuine and urgent help and support. 

These people are not granted refugee visas as for Ukrainians, and there are no safe routes through which they can seek safety.  A video taken last November in Greece shows a group of people including a small baby, being taken out to sea and left on a raft until rescued by the Turkish coastguard.

In our own country, the government has proposed inhumane legislation to detain anyone who crosses the Channel in a small boat, removing the right to claim asylum.

Last Sunday, the ninth anniversary of the LJS Drop-In for families seeking asylum, one of the volunteers asked a guest, how long had they been waiting for Leave to Remain. Nearly twelve years, she said.  There is no order, no process to the asylum system in this country and people’s lives are left on hold, living with terrible uncertainty, raising their children in cramped and unsanitary accommodation.

‘It is not a crime to seek safety,’ says Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council. ‘No parent sends a child on a desperately dangerous journey without good reason.’

The only way to stop these tragedies is for Europe, including Britain, (Brexit or no Brexit), to hold an emergency conference and to work collaboratively to create safe routes and to resettle people who are simply not safe in the countries in which they are living.

That should be our moral responsibility and obligation towards those whose lives are at risk and who simply want to raise their children in countries that value freedom, human dignity and peace.

And perhaps on the 17th Tammuz, a day of fasting should be observed in protest against any form of hostility or inhumanity that is shown towards asylum seekers.

Shabbat Shalom,
Alexandra Wright

SCHOOL UNIFORM SHABBAT: Between 17 June and 5 August, the LJS Drop-In is requesting new school uniform for the children of our guests who are at primary school (5-11). You can leave it at the synagogue, marked for the attention of Hannah Tickle or order from any of the large supermarkets. Please do not buy school uniform with a logo. Parents of secondary age young people will receive financial help from us to purchase their children’s school uniform.  A list of required uniform can be found here.


Walking with Patients: The 75th Anniversary of the NHS

23 June 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

This summer we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS. This momentous occasion happens at a time when the NHS is stretched in an unprecedented way. In addition to my involvement in the LJS as the Rimon Rabbi, I am grateful to also be a Chaplain at Kingston Hospital. In honour of the upcoming 75th anniversary, I thought I might dedicate this thought for the week by sharing some of what I’ve learnt in my nearly two years as an NHS hospital Chaplain about spiritual support and those receiving care from the NHS. 

I am one member of a diverse group of faith leaders who support the spiritual and wellbeing needs of the patients and staff members at Kingston Hospital in South London. Within our team, we have Jewish, Muslim, Church of England, Free Church, Roman Catholic, Buddhist and Humanist Chaplains and volunteers. 

The NHS and its staff are witness to the most sacred and most shattering moments in the lives of our patients: the birth of children, the loss of loved ones, terminal diagnosis. The role of the chaplain within the care team is to help support the human search for meaning, hope, purpose and resilience in life and death. My passion as a Rabbi is meeting people where they are in times of crisis, helping them identify systems of support within and outside themselves and creating a safe space for honest conversation. 

Currently, our chaplains have regular visits with around 30% of the patients at Kingston Hospital. In these visits, we share in life review, meaning making, identifying systems of support, helping support a patient’s search for agency and control, creating a space for lament and expressions of emotional outrage or frustration, a space for prayer and end of life ritual. Often our visits look like a smile and a friendly chat—a chance for the patient to figuratively step outside of their hospital bed. 
Research has shown that involvement in comprehensive holistic care improves healthcare results. If a patient’s whole being is supported while they are in hospital, their hospital stay may be decreased, their willingness to engage in interventions to help them (like Occupational Therapy or Physio Therapy) is increased and their ability to articulate their needs is heightened, thereby allowing for a more effective and speedier transition home or transfer. Holistic care improves the wellbeing of our patients and enables the NHS to reach its goals more effectively. 

We all know that the NHS is very stretched. This means delays (delays for mental health support, delays for diagnostic tests, delays for CAMHS involvement, etc). I see that intellectually a patient might understand that the system is stretched, but emotionally this leaves patients and families feeling a lack of control and agency, neglected, and often ignored.  These emotions can leave patients less willing to engage in helpful interventions and more frustrated by the medical team who are doing what they can and beyond but still not able to offer what is needed. It is crushing for the human spirit to be able to name what needs to happen to support one’s health and for that not to be available to them in the way or within the timeline that would be most helpful.

This is a dynamic I see daily. Patients are struggling to feel a sense of dignity, agency and hope in a system that is moving too slowly or too disjointedly for them.  At the same time health care providers are working tirelessly and stretched beyond capacity. The health care workers at Kingston Hospital inspire me with their continued commitment to the wellbeing and healing of the patients even within an NHS system that is incredibly stretched.

Through my experience as a Chaplain at Kingston Hospital, I have seen the impact that a diverse and integrated Chaplaincy team has on providing holistic care to our patients and the impact that a hospital admission and navigating the current NHS system can have on one’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I also see regularly the impact that spiritual distress can have on a patient’s physical recovery.

I pray for healing of body and spirit for those who are currently receiving needed medical care and I offer prayers of gratitude and continued strength and resilience for our NHS employees who give of themselves tirelessly to bring healing and wellness to others.

Shabbat Shalom,


Turning Curses into Blessings in the Fight Against Poverty

30 June 2023

Dear Members and Friends,

Many people say that Judaism is mainly behaviourist and more focused on action than on belief. Those who have a strong belief in God often define themselves as God-fearing people. Those who are uncomfortable with this description call it a moral code. In any case, actions have a very high priority for Jewish people. One may say that it does not matter whether you believe in God or not, as long as you act as if you do.

The Torah Portion Balak is from the book of Numbers 22:2-25:9. It tells the story of the Moabite king Balak, who hires Balaam to curse the Israelites. However, Balaam disobeys the king’s order and blesses the Israelites instead. This famous verse is the culmination of the biblical story.

Mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov, mishk’notecha, Yisrael
מַה־טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל,

“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5).

Every time we gather for a morning service in our synagogue, we are reminded of this story and open the service with this line.

In his commentary ‘The Social Justice Torah Commentary’, Barry Block asks an important question: ‘Whatever Balaam, an outsider to the Israelite community, sees in our biblical forebears, it possesses the power to transform curse into blessing. Might we possess that same power today?’

Baal Shem Tov, a Jewish mystic and founder of Hasidic Judaism noticed an important nuance in the words of Balaam’s blessing. He noticed that the verse contains two names – Jacob and Israel. He remembered that our patriarch, Jacob, is renamed Israel when he reached a more exalted spiritual state and concluded: ‘Our tents—our external appearance, that of Jacob, a lower level. But our dwelling places — the real content, the interior -  belong to Israel, and they reflect our highest potential as a Jewish people.’

In other words, both your appearance and your inner life are important and only together they lead to a blessing. Perhaps, it would be right to say that your inner conviction and your actions are interlinked and one often leads the other. Therefore, we need to focus on both knowledge and action, understanding and exercise belief and practice.

One of the key issues of today’s society is the cost of living crisis. According to Child Poverty Action Group, there were 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2021-22. That's 29 per cent of children or nine in a classroom of 30. This number is likely to get higher in 2023. The need is great, and at the moment, it seems like a curse has been put on too many families in our country. But a deep Jewish conviction and belief is that everything can change. It is within our power to support those in need to turn their curse into a blessing. This change should come on a systematic level, but it takes a lot of time. Meanwhile, a simple donation to a foodbank or charity may provide essential support to those who need it more.  Everyone deserves to say ‘How goodly is my house, how fair is my dwelling place.’ (Numbers 24:5).

Ken yehi ratzon, may this be God’s will.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Igor

Wed, 27 September 2023 12 Tishrei 5784