The Year of Innovation, a genuinely New Year.
Last Pesach marked a new beginning, a Year of Innovation, experiment and renewal for our community. This is also the seventh year in the seven year agricultural cycle, in Hebrew, the Shmitta year, where the land in Ancient (and for some Jews, Modern Israel) is allowed to rest. What should this experience of renewal look like for our contemporary inner city community?
Our biggest and boldest step began during Pesach. Rather than run a communal seder, as we have for the past ten years, this year saw 22 of us take part in a rural; Shabbat retreat for two days in Suffolk. We ate (lots, too much!), played games, told stories, sang, and talked together at the Belsey Bridge retreat centre. Sam Grant, youth and Communities Outreach Director for Liberal Judaism, led a fantastic two day children’s programme, which stimulated the young people, gave them the freedom to really enjoy them, and to get to know each other even better. They even swam in a freezing swimming pool and lived to tell the tale!
Services and activities that will appeal more widely, not just to people who enjoy traditional services. This spring we welcome some very fine spiritual teachers from inside and outside our tradition, who will enable us to explore new experiences. Our regular Shabbat services will continue once a month, but with ore opportunities to socialise, with lunches including picnics after the service. Cheder continues to meet as before, but with a range of trips as well.
This year will include days of learning for our whole community, adults and children, such as a trip to the British museum in December led by a leading teacher in the field of Ancient Near Eastern studies. On the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah we will hold an Ellul retreat, again for all ages, on our personal experiences of change, led by experts in play and storytelling.
Adult education will move away from the evening class format. This May, we held three special classes, combining cookery and text study, multi-sensory explorations of big Jewish ideas, and will end with a goody bag of food to take home.
One of our major aims is to reduce loneliness. Too many people, of any age, feel they are alone. Too many people are working so hard they have little time for a social life. Too many of our activities focus on what is happening within the synagogue and not in our everyday lives. Aprils sees the launch of Come Shabbes with Me, local Friday night dinners hosted by our members in six neighbourhoods throughout North and East London. We personally contact every single member who lives in each area, and provide lifts for anyone who needs one. The first Friday nights saw 40 people come to dinner with their neighbours in three separate events. The next event is in October.
A small community like ours has the potential to experiment and find out what we could be doing, to try things which are completely new. This means taking a step back from the cycle of the Jewish year, and finding the spaces to grow new possibilities. It’s an exciting time and a new beginning.