Our secular year didn’t get off to a good start. The fires in Australia, where many of us have relatives and friends, have dominated the news for the last couple of months, but a few days ago this changed. A US military drone eliminated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the ensuing upheaval sucked the world’s attention and our own back to the Middle East. Fear of war and fear of both local and international reprisals set in, together with an escalation of hatred in a world that already has more than enough of it. And what about Israel, so close to the point of escalation, strong perhaps, but vulnerable too?
The Hebrew month of Kislev started on November 28/29 with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh Kislev. In our part of the world, it is normally a dark and cold winter month, warmed and illuminated nonetheless, by the promise of the lights of Chanukah, the only major Jewish festival in the month of Kislev which starts on December 22 (25 Kislev). In our home, and I guess in the homes of many, Chanukah can be a bit complicated, although I have to admit we’re not exactly the model family.
This weekend sees the start of the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. The whole month is set aside for readying ourselves to enter into the upcoming Days of Awe, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Our younger IJC members start back at school, college, university around this time. The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work.
[Ha]Tikvah means ‘hope’, and ‘hope’ is another word for ‘trust’, and ‘trust’ is another word for ‘faith’. If you don’t know what to believe, a sense of hope is a very good start. These were my thoughts as I drove into Brussels one quiet, uneventful morning in late October on the invitation of IJC member Simone Robin to share with an amazing group of women known as Hatikvah about my journey to the rabbinate.
While we might agree that ‘everything is politics’, at least at some level, it can be hard at times to believe that ‘politics is not everything’, especially coming up to an election. Europe is readying itself for community-wide elections, and here in Belgium the politicians are trying to persuade us to put a virtual ‘x’ next to their name, to make them the most popular, to elect them into government.
I remember when I first started coming to services at IJC how confused I was by the way we greet each other on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and some of you might feel the same.
On Rosh Hashanah some say Shanah Tovah – a simple greeting – ‘have a good year’. Or the longer Shanah Tovah u’Metukah – ‘A Good and Sweet Year’. The focus here is on the New Year aspect of Rosh Hashanah. New Year? That name is already a bit confusing because it’s late September, early October.
It is a privilege to study, and an even greater privilege to study at Abraham Geiger College in Berlin with inspired and inspiring people. March was a very busy month, with a couple of block seminars (a single course taught from 9-5 every day for a week!) and a couple of weekends without a trip back to Belgium. But one of those courses made the effort worthwhile. Rabbi Dr Markus Lange – a young rabbi from London working in hospice care – introduced us to some of the principals of Jewish pastoral care.