In the middle of a complicated discussion about what we are allowed to carry on Shabbat – baskets of grain, jugs of oil and wine, how much each might contain, what they should weigh, and how far we are permitted to carry them – the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) spills over into a discussion of some important Jewish principles: “Rav Yehuda bar Sheila said that Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Yochanan said: There are six matters people enjoy the profits of in this world […] and they are: hospitality toward guests, visiting the sick, consideration during prayer, rising early to the study hall, raising one’s children to engage in Torah study, and judging others favourably, giving them the benefit of the doubt.”
Two of the six are about study. The Gamara adds “[…] honouring one’s parents, acts of loving kindness, and bringing peace between one person and another, but Torah study is equal to all of them.” IJC is known for its open and welcoming hospitality, for its outreach to those among us living with illness, loneliness and bereavement, for its meaningful prayer, for its acts of kindness and generosity, for the gentleness and respect with which we interact with each other, for the peace we try to create in our community and in our homes.
But one of the most striking features of IJC’s Zoom existence is a renewed thirst for study. Our Hebrew School, B’nei Mitzvah preparation, regular Torah Breakfasts (now mostly lay-led), and book club have continued online, but so much has also been added: bi-monthly Sunday afternoon classes on Reform Judaism organized by rabbinical student Andres Mosquera, monthly talks of Jewish and cultural interest organized by Helen Bloom, fascinating webinars organized by Bill Echikson, chief of the EUPJ Brussels office, exploring Biblical Hebrew Poetry (to be continued when my ‘virtual year in Jerusalem’ is complete), preparation sessions for High Holy Days and Pesach organized by student rabbi Ilana Sumka, and a soon- to-be announced international Tikkun Le’il Shavuot in no fewer than ten languages, organized by myself and other members of the EUPJ Rabbinical Association. And that does not include the countless opportunities, both local and international, shared on our Facebook page and eagerly followed by many of our members.
We now have three student rabbis in our midst, one soon to graduate Ba’alat Tefilah/Prayer Leader – Anneke Silverstein – and four eager and enthusiastic candidates who have been accepted in the Ba’alei Tefilah programme being organized by the EUPJ, led by Rabbi Nathan Alfred: Miriam Loose, Ezra Feller, Mikael Garellick and Paco Bataller.
The IJC is maturing as a synagogue community. What we can carry on Shabbat might not be our number one concern, but if Torah study is equal to all the mitzvot, then we’re surely doing something right.
Brian Doyle-Du Breuil
IJC Rabbinical Intern