One of the things that I treasure about the IJC is its commitment to being egalitarian and inclusive. The Religious Affairs Committee and I have been working together to embed those principles in all aspects of our communal lives. We are also working to build more entry points to explore Judaism’s rich heritage and how it can add meaning and spirituality to our lives.
Thank you all for an extraordinary first six months with the IJC. While it has been a point of change and transition, it has also been incredibly fruitful and for me personally, extremely rewarding. Again and again, the IJC family has demonstrated its warmth and inclusivity.
As we look outside, we see life returning to nature- crocuses blooming and winter grey giving way to the green of spring. Soon we will be celebrating Pesach, Passover, the holiday of spring. The IJC has a wonderful communal Seder planned for Friday night 3 April.
Unfortunately, our Hebrew School’s head teacher, Alex Licht, will be leaving the Hebrew School this year. In the short time that we have worked together, it became abundantly clear how lucky we are to have someone with the energy, commitment, great ideas and real love for the Hebrew School students, their families, the bnai mitzvah students she tutored, and the IJC. Luckily, Alex will remain a part of the IJC family. We wish her success in her final year studies and on her onward journey.
Much has happened since I departed on sabbatical from the IJC at the end of February. We have suffered the murderous attack at the Jewish Museum in May. Israel has come under attack from Gaza, and has responded fiercely. The resulting shockwaves have caught up with us here in Europe, and much ink has been spilled about the future for Jewish life on this continent. I am adamant that despite recent events, such as in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Europe does have a strong Jewish future, and the IJC is at the forefront of this. I say that sincerely, yet, in a few months I will depart this continent where I have lived my whole life and where, despite my well-known desire to live one day in New York City, I expected to spend my entire working career.
Yet "man plans and God laughs", as the Yiddish expression goes - and you never know what will happen next. During my sabbatical I also made a huge personal decision. After over a decade spent working to revitalise European Judaism in several countries, including seven happy years at the IJC, I decided to take on a fresh challenge as a pioneer for Jewish life in Asia.
New York it ain't, but the United Hebrew Congregation of Singapore - where I will begin serving as rabbi in January - are a largely ex-pat and international congregation, with a demographic not unlike our own. Between the Bermans and the Benskys, and now of course the Nijkerks, the IJC and the UHC are already linked through their past and present members. Still more have lived in both places - including Andy Lester and David Sapiro - and despite the distances involved, and the difference in weather, I hope that we are able to maintain and nurture these intercontinental links in the years to come.
This year I have used my sabbatical to broaden my horizons in Jewish Europe. Without a doubt, the highlight was the ten-day mission that Paco Bataller and I embarked on to Azerbaijan, where we met with rabbis and community leaders in the capital, Baku, a town with two synagogues, Oguz, and the 100% Jewish village in the north of the country, Qirmizi Qesebe. The shabbat spent in the latter village "over the red bridge" was a unique experience; the Mountain Jews opened our eyes to one of the lesser-known corners of Europe's rich Jewish tapestry.
A sabbatical is designed to refresh and renew. It acknowledges that the rough-and-tumble community life can leave a rabbi jaded. I am excited to be back in Brussels this weekend to lead once more our Shabbat services, and in particular to welcome new and welcome back our members, including celebrating the fruits of our latest conversion cycle on Saturday morning. Please join us also on Friday night, when my close friend and colleague Rabbi Leonid Bimbat will talk to us about Jewish life in the former Soviet Union and particularly about the current situation in the Crimea - where he has been serving Reform communities since Russia took over the peninsula in late February. It is another contemporary story about modern Jewish life in Europe that we in Brussels should not overlook.
The IJC has had a busy few months. It has been a pleasure working with all the incredible, committed people who have so generously given of themselves in numerous ways to make all the wonderful events possible.Over the next few months we will be planning for the coming year.
Meaning in the Celebration of Purim
I want to thank you all for the way my family and I have been embraced by the warm, welcoming IJC community. Being with all the kind, committed people at the IJC makes being at services and events a true pleasure. Special thanks to our teachers and Hebrew school participants for their regular contributions which enrich our Shabbat services.