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Shabbat Nitzavim/Rosh Hashanah 

23 September 2022

Dear Members and Friends,

What are your wishes and prayers for the New Year?  In just two days, we will come together to celebrate Rosh Hashanah 5783. Some of us will gather with families or friends to light candles and recite Kiddush in our homes to usher in the New Year.  I hope many of you will join us for the services in the Sanctuary, or for our variety of Family Services adapted for children of all ages.  No doubt, there will be some of you, too far away to join us at the LJS, who will tune in via Zoom, You Tube or Facebook.

One of my wishes is for people to return to the synagogue if they can.  To help us form a tzibbur – a congregation, a community, that comes together to offer our prayers for a good year, a year of blessings, health, happiness, goodness – a year, if I can quote from John Donne out of context, of ‘one equal light…one equal music.’  In these words, Donne envisions life beyond this earth, but how we long for that light and music to bless us all equally.  How can we recalibrate our world to ensure that human beings stand arrayed before God, not as rich or poor, privileged or disadvantaged, but with equal opportunity and free in the choices they can make in life?

The Sages counselled individuals to come together to recite the unique prayers for Rosh Hashanah – especially the verses that focus on our festival as a Day of Judgement.  No one should pray these prayers of Malchuyyot, Zichronot and Shofarot individually, says the Talmud, no one should separate themselves from the community.

The Austrian Jewish novelist, Stefan Zweig, writes this about the power of prayer in his novel The Buried Candelabrum:

‘On this disturbed planet, prayer alone offered refuge, rest and comfort. Prayer had a marvellous power: it deadened fear by recalling great promises; it put to slumber the soul’s terror by means of its singing litany; on its murmuring pinions it lifted up to God the heaviness of heart. Prayer in need was good. Common prayer was better still, for all burdens were lighter if borne in common and the good was better in God’s sight if done in unison.’

The need to stand as a community in prayer seems to me to be stronger than ever.  Listening to the music and liturgy of the Queen’s State Funeral on Monday, and then the more intimate farewell in St George’s Chapel, Windsor later on in the day, I was struck by the unifying element of religious traditions and rituals.  Yes, it was a Christian funeral for a Christian soul, but it brought us together as one humanity to mourn, to remember and to express our gratitude for her long years of service.

Rosh Hashanah and its monumental liturgy, with its themes of sovereignty, remembrance, judgement, repentance and redemption, will bring us together as a Jewish community over the next few days, acknowledging that God is Sovereign in the present, judges our past deeds, and calls us to look forward to a redemptive future. Past, present and future are fused in the stillness and holiness of the day - our regret for past misdeeds, the promises that we make to ourselves, and our hope for the future.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw us near to God’s presence – not only the God of judgement and remembrance, but a compassionate and forgiving God, a loving God, who longs for humanity to put right the wrongs that we see constantly before us, and to mend the fractures in our world.  We must find the strength from coming together as a community to accept our moral responsibility for what has gone wrong this past year and find our voices to make this year a better year for all people. In the words we pray at the end of our Rosh Hashanah service: 

We pray with all our hearts: let violence cease; let the day come soon when evil shall give way to goodness, when war shall be forgotten, hunger be no more, and all at last shall live in freedom.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shanah Tovah Tikkateivu – Rabbi Igor and I join together to wish you and all your dear ones a peaceful Shabbat and a New Year of health, happiness and peace.

Alexandra Wright

Wed, 28 September 2022 3 Tishrei 5783