Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seven dances for Simchat Torah in the Youtube Era

On Simchat Torah (literally 'Rejoicing of the Torah'), one of the ways we rejoice is by dancing with the Torah.  Traditionally we do 7 hakafot - 7 circles, or 7 rounds of singing and dancing before we read the closing verses followed immediately by the opening verses of the Torah.  In Kabbalah - Jewish mystical teachings - these 7 cycles are associated with the 7 lower sephirot of the Tree of Life.  These vibrate with the energy of 7 attributes of God and we, made in God's likeness, also possess these attributes.  At our synagogue, each of our cycles is accompanied by our wonderful B'nai Israel Band striking up another tune, but we don't really pick up on different energies or styles for our 7 dances; we begin a little more sedately, but then we bring things up to a lively tempo and we largely remain there for the rest of our celebration.  Its a great atmosphere, and we try to ensure that as many people can dance with a Sefer Torah as possible.

But this year I thought I'd explore the idea of these 7 different energies/attributes through associations with dance on the blog - something that is possible in this Youtube Era.  And so, with a little help from Google, this year's Simchat Torah blog is a journey through the 7 hakafot as 7 dance images that reflect the 7 energies of the sephirot.

Hakafah 1: Hesed - the Dance of Love
Free-flowing, generous, all-encompassing; like the waves lapping on the shore, over and over...

Hakafah 2: Gevurah - the Dance of Power
Hard-edged, bounded, firm, strong, staccato...

Hakafah 3: Tiferet - the Dance of Beauty
Graceful, balanced, blending, soulful...

Hakafah 4: Netsach - the Dance of Eternity
Vision, expansive, unfolding, embracing...
The artwork of Francene Hart, Visionary Artist

We are surrounded by spiral every time we step into relationship. Guided by love and respect, spiral fearlessly into what might just be one of the most important dances of life. Know that in loving you will be loved.

Hakafah 5: Hod - the Dance of Splendor
Explosion of sensation, joyful fulfillment,  elegant, spirit (ruach)...

After an overdose of streptomycin to treat a high fever at the age of two, Tai began to lose her hearing. She didn't realize this until she tried to join a group of friends in a sound-distinguishing game. She was five by then and other kids were going to normal schools. Little Tai, thrust in deep depression and solitude, had to go to a primary school for the disabled.

Life had to carry on but a young heart sobbed on in a soundless world… All until one day when a teacher at the special school brought a drum to class and started to beat it, Tai was thrilled by the rhythmic vibration that passed over her body from under her feet. She was overwhelmed and simply bent over to the wooden floor: It was the most beautiful sound in the world to her.

 To again experience such a feeling, Tai would press her little face to a loudspeaker and imagine the dance on TV. It was her language and the only one, to express her understanding of the world. From then on, Tai became obsessed with dancing...

Tai's outstanding performance brought her to the world stage. She is the only Chinese dancer to have performed both at Carnegie Hall inNew York and La Scala in Milan. And a poster of The Spirit of the Peacock by her at Carnegie Hall is the only one from China.

Now when the curtain rises, the lights come up and the music fades in, there is Tai in the elegant flowing dress signature to the piece. She moves with her impressionistic interpretation of that precise-stepping and extraordinary land bird. As if in a silent wood, on a green lawn, or by a gurgling brook, with expression of face and body she captivates with physical interpretation and spirit

Hakafah 6: Yesod - the Dance of Foundation/Life Force
Righteousness, justice, inclusion, connection...

There are so many Dance Foundations to choose from, focusing on all kinds of dance of all kinds of communities.  The following clip from the American Dance Wheels Foundation felt like a particularly appropriate interpretation of life force; something unexpected, yet powerfully integrative:

Hakafah 7: Malchut - the Dance of the Shechinah
The earth, the moon, the apple orchard, the rainbow...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Super Sukkahs - the Sukkah re-imagined at Union Square, NYC

If you are in NYC or able to head down there this Sunday or Monday, make sure you check out Sukkah City at Union Square - http://www.sukkahcity.com/
See the Sukkah re-imagined and renewed with the 12 winning entries of a competition that has born fruit to some very creative and imaginative designs.  This was a project initiated by Reboot, who are often finding innovative ways to reclaim and re-make ritual into something very contemporary and thought-provoking.

Take a look at the sukkah city website, and see them up close if you can.  Perhaps they will inspire you to try something a little different this year in your Sukkah; perhaps you'll try your hand at creating a Sukkah for the very first time - it's a great thing to do with family or friends, and a lot of fun.

At B'nai Israel our structure is a bit more conventional, but we let our kids go to town in the creative inventions they construct to decorate for us.  Sukkah decorating is from 5-6pm, followed by a dairy, pot-luck dinner, and then a service for the whole community at 7pm.  If you are in the neighborhood, do join us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to ensure your Yom Kippur isn't an epic fail

Rabbi Donniel Hartman published a thought-provoking piece this past week entitled 'Yom Kippur: Why it doesn't work outside of the synagogue' .  He argues that Yom Kippur has been a profound failure as a force for change within individuals and communities who spend the day in synagogue.  He notes, 'The passion, seriousness, and devotion which accompany many of us throughout Yom Kippur, peters out into a form of amnesia during the break-fast meal as we return to our behavior of yesterday.'
Hartman goes on to say, 'The problem with Yom Kippur in the synagogue is that it is too complete and comprehensive. It creates the myth of putting all of one's life and behavior up for judgment, where we confront every one of our failings and repent for them all. The list of sins in the vidui is too extensive to have any impact on the life of a real person. For a prayer, and within the isolated environment of the synagogue, it is fine. As a force for facilitating change in real life, the comprehensive nature of our service makes it impossible to be a significant factor in everyday life.'

I think he's right about this.  One of the reasons why I, and others, have used blogs and other events and programs during the month of Elul, is to provide vehicles to help those who want to engage more deeply in a spiritual practice that can help us to really work on aspects of ourselves that we want to change.  It simply isn't possible to just show up on Yom Kippur and expect anything of great meaning or significance that will have any lasting impact on our lives or our community to happen in those 24 hours.

But while I've been focused on preparing, reviewing, and taking time to reflect on aspects of our selves in advance of the day, Rabbi Hartman's proposal for the day itself and what happens afterwards, is also sage advice:
If Yom Kippur is to be the force that our tradition aspires it to be, it must cease to be the end and culmination of the process, and instead serve as its beginning. The purpose of the all-inclusive lists cannot be to ask an individual to review all of his life, but to create a menu from within which every individual can find one dimension, one quality that they can commit to working on.

As a Rabbi working in a large Reform congregation, one of my roles is to lead the congregation through the liturgy of the day.  And there is a great deal of liturgy.  There is a place for the almost constant rhythm of words and music maintaining the momentum of mood and focus but, as a congregant, I do not recommend reciting all those words and all those pages along with those leading the service.  To do so leaves no room for the kind of work that Rabbi Hartman advises we simply begin as those words bring our failings and weaknesses to the surface.

When something appears on the page that resonates with an aspect of your self that you want to work on, take time to sit with it and consider how you will try to do things differently - don't worry if the congregation moves a few pages ahead; you'll join in again with the rhythm when you are ready and, in so doing, you'll help to provide the pulse of the prayer that hums in the background as someone else in the room takes some time out for introspection and private prayer.

For me, a walk is an important part of the day too.  It can be quiet, alone time, to continue to look more deeply at some aspect of teshuvah that has risen to the surface for you this year, or a time to meditate, or sit under a tree and make space for a deeper awareness of the Godliness that is all around us, inspiring us and encouraging us to reach toward our highest self.  But it can also be walking or sitting with a partner or a friend.  Some of my most meaningful Yom Kippur experiences have involved reflecting out loud on the things that I am contemplating, with a non-judgmental witness who listens, and then asks me to bear witness to their struggles.

For others, some time on Yom Kippur is for being spurred to commit or recommit to important work in this world.  At B'nai Israel, our early afternoon discussion provides a forum for some of these themes - this year, on our engagement with Israel.

We also have a new Afternoon service that will provide space and meditative opportunities, when we stop with the words on the page, and invite congregants to take themselves to that deeper place of honest and authentic introspection.

But the question still remains... what will come next?  Donniel Hartman's invitation - to choose one thing that you wish to work on and commit yourself to it over the coming weeks and months - awaits your RSVP.  But, like the rhythm and hum of the prayers on Yom Kippur that provide the vessel of a potentially meaningful day but do not provide the meaning in and of themselves, we need to create vessels for ourselves to make our commitments into realities.  It might be to commit to a nightly written reflection, or a morning prayer to begin each day with a kavannah - an intention, or a calendar where one marks off days or tasks that we have set ourselves to help us fulfill our commitment; perhaps 30 minutes of meditation, examining our trait and creating greater mindfulness as we go about our daily activities.  Choose one thing, and choose a vessel that can help provide the structure you need to make this Yom Kippur a meaningful one; meaningful because it was about so much more than just surviving the day - it was the day that the turning began, for this is the true essence of teshuvah.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Speaking out & standing up for Religious Freedom

In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, and over this past weekend, amidst the noisy and negative voices whipping up fear, anger and hate in our country, there have been many beacons of light emerging from voices of faith, speaking up for Religious Freedom, pluralism, tolerance, and compassion.

Here are just  a couple of examples that have been brought to my attention.  First, organized by 5th year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, New York (and son of our Senior Rabbi, Jim Prosnit), Jonathan Prosnit organized a group of some 40 students and faculty, including the Dean, Rabbi Shirley Idelson, to peacefully march from Hebrew Union College to Park 51 last week, in support of the proposed Muslim community center.  He writes a report of the event, originally posted at the blog of the Religious Action Center:

Over 40 Hebrew Union College (HUC) students, faculty and administrators turned out in a rally to support Park 51 (aka-"The Ground Zero Mosque") on Tuesday. Despite vicious New York City heat, the HUC representatives walked the 1.5 miles from Hebrew Union College to the future site of Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. As the closest seminary (of any religion) to Ground Zero and to Park 51, the HUC participants gathered in support of religious freedom, of interfaith dialogue and to welcome Park 51 into the unique religious landscape that is New York City.

Carrying signs, wearing tallitot and blowing shofarot, the group sang throughout the entire walk. Fittingly the march took place during the holy months of Ramadan and Elul. Elul, in the Jewish calendar, is the month prior to the Jewish High Holidays where Jews prepare themselves for the days of awe. Prayer during Elul is marked by the call of the shofar and the rally began and culminated in the blast of the shofar. The shofar, for those who marched, served as a call to action, a call of awakening and a call to justice. 

For the HUC representatives the walk was an opportunity to affirm America as a beacon of Freedom of Religion. Upon reaching Park 51 the group was invited into the building and warmly greeted in the temporary prayer room at Park 51. Employees of Park 51 greeted each of the HUC participants individually and said that rally and the presence of so many, helped lift the spirits of those associated with Park 51.

Seminarians echoed the words of the great social justice warrior 
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and said that by rallying in support of tolerance and peace they were "praying with our feet."

Secondly, the Religious Action Center - the social action, Washington-based arm of the Union for Reform Judaism, participated in several interfaith statements on the central American value of Religious Freedom, and a press conference with the Islamic Society of North America.  Links to the conference, televised on CSPAN, and the statements that were released, are found below:

  • the RAC helped convene an important summit of American religious leaders to focus on religious freedom and the recent wave of Islamophobic activity in the United States. The joint statement we issued is available here, and you can watch a video of the press conference here. Also, the New York Times had a good report on the meeting, which you can read here.
  • We also participated in a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on this issue yesterday. You can read the joint press release about that meeting here.  
Finally, there was a Liberty March held in NYC on September 12th, bringing together people of all faiths, walking peacefully in the name of Religious Freedom.  Erica Bower, who graduated High School last Summer and is now a Freshman at Columbia University, participated in the March, and sent me a brief description of the event.  Erica participated in two semesters of our Interfaith Interaction class with Merkaz, our Jewish High School Program, while she was in High School, engaging in dialog with Christian and Muslim teens.

I was able to attend the Liberty Walk yesterday. It started off at 3 pm with a series of speakers in a Church nearby the world trade center and location of Park51. The speakers consisted of a variety of religious leaders (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) and the husband of a 9/11 victim who all spoke passionately about the importance of religious freedom across cultures and the symbolic necessity of this Muslim cultural center near the site of the twin towers. Following the speeches, we all gathered outside the church and marched along the streets singing songs such as Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore, This land is your land, and God Bless America at the termination of the route. It was an incredibly powerful experience to see so many people (I believe the final count was about 1000) of all ages, religions, and motives walking together for a unifying cause, particularly because it was raining fairly hard. I was inspired to go because this is an issue I feel passionate about and I am interested in getting involved with the Columbia Democrats who were sending a delegation down. Overall, it was a pretty inspiring experience and I really hope this issue starts recieving positive media attention and can be resolved.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Elul Reflections 10: Immersing ourselves in Ritual

Last week I took a group of 5 women to our local mikvah for a pre-High Holyday preparation ritual.  We ranged in age from about 40 to mid-80s; some had experienced the ritual of mikvah before and some had never been.  It was a meaningful and powerful ritual for us all - reading prayers that helped to set our intentions and then, guided by a beautiful mikvah ritual created for Mayyim Hayyim - the community mikvah and educational center in Boston, we took it in turns to immerse while the rest of the group provided witness by gently chanting in the background, Peleg Elohim, Mayim, Mayim, Mayim Chayyim (Streams of God, full of water.  Waters of Life)[music by Rabbi Shefa Gold; words from Ps. 65:10].
This coming week we will have the opportunity to engage in another water-based High Holyday ritual - tashlich; casting bread into running waters in a nearby brook or river to symbolically indicate our intention and desire to cast away the sins of the past year - the ways we failed to recognize our highest path and our highest self, whether by intention as we were driven by other motives, or by omission through lack of presence to a moment or to a person who needed more from us.

Rosh Hashanah is filled with opportunities for ritual moments drawn from the tradition - the dipping of apple into honey, hearing the shofar, deciding what to wear, making a special meal to be shared.  Deciding what to wear?  For some, my including a ritual such as this on the list brings to mind negative associations with past experiences in synagogues where community members seemed more focused on what each other was wearing, or obsessing about 'getting something new' than they did on why we were all there in the first place.  But I've come to understand that ritual, when done mindfully and with intention, can be a powerful and meaningful thing.  It can also be empty and superficial if one is simply going through the motions.  Each year, I make a conscious decision about which suit I will wear on Rosh Hashanah - I feel no obligation to go out and get something 'new', but there might be something about the color, or something about my associations with the suit - when I got it, who got it, a previous occasion when I wore it that I now to bring to mind and I wish to connect with walking into the synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah, bringing with me a set of intentions or associations.

Rituals often attract rituals.  At B'nai Israel it is the custom for members of our Youth Group - BIFTY - to compile and lead our tashlich ritual on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.  It is meaningful for our community to be led in this way by our youth.  There is nothing innate about this having been given to them that is connected to the ritual of tashlich, but it has become important to us, and I look forward each year to receiving the new design and any additions from our new Religious and Cultural VPs - my 'new' taste, each year, of who they are and how they respond to the first ritual task requested of them.  I also believe that our community engages with the ritual itself with greater attention and intention when our teens lead the way - there is a mutual inspiration that we feel.
Dipping apple in honey symbolizes our hopes for a sweet new year.  That is about the future.  But for me, dipping apple in honey is so much more about the past because my associations with this ritual - what really makes it powerful for me - are years of memories of dipping apple in honey with my family, and those ritual moments we created together in the home - the first thing we would do when we got back from synagogue.  It made Rosh Hashanah an 'in here' experience for us and not just an 'out there' experience; just through the simple act of standing together as a household for 10 mins to say the blessings over wine, challah and apple and honey.  This year, the chanting/meditation group that I co-lead, Chantsformations, is gathering on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and our theme is 'savoring the sweetness' - intentionally bringing to awareness not just the connections with the past or the hopes for the future, but recognizing that the ritual of dipping apple into honey can also be a meditation on the present - to truly savor the sweetness of just being here now.

In so many ways, our rituals can take on meaning far beyond the simple, symbolic associations that we often hear as the 'official' reasons why they exist.  I am sure that you have rituals for this season, or associations and stories that accompany specific rituals that are most meaningful to you that often come to mind at the moment that you engage in the activity.  Please click on the comments link and share them with us here.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Elul Reflections 9: A Muslim sister reflects on Ramadan

This year, the month of Elul has largely coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.  There are some specific rituals associated with Ramadan - a daily fast from sunrise to sundown for the month, the giving of charity, and a heightened consciousness around not engaging in gossip or malicious speech.  While there are differences, these two months share much in common - a time of spiritual purification and preparation, a time of atonement, and a time of re-centering ourselves in relationship to God and to others as we strive to be the best human being we can be.

Over the past four years, through the work of an interfaith group, The Tent of Abraham, our congregation has built bridges and created new friendships with Christians and Muslims in our local community.  We organize 2-3 dialog programs each year, and a parallel program brings our teenagers together each Spring.

Last week, our Rosh Hodesh group - the women's spirituality group of B'nai Israel - was invited to Iftar - break-fast - with the women of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center.  It was a wonderful evening of sharing and meeting and our hosts laid on a feast.  We are looking forward to reciprocating when we host an evening for Christian, Muslim and Jewish women during our Festival of Sukkot later this month.

This evening, our guest post is by Olga Shibtini.  Olga is the Vice-President of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center, is involved with the Tent of Abraham and helps to organize our teen interfaith program.  She shares with us the meaning of Ramadan for her.  We wish all of our Muslim friends a Blessed Ramadan.  May our spiritual practice inspire us to reach ever higher and reach out as we continue to build the bridges between us.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

My feelings for Ramadan have changed tremendously over the years since I first became a Muslim 16 years ago.  Initially, I didn't like it because I didn't undersand the true meaning and spirituality of the month.  I used to just look at it as another month faced with not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset and actually being depressed over it. 

However, as the years passed and I began to really understand the true meaning of what it really means to fast, I started loving the month of Ramadan and even feeling sad when it came to an end.

Many times we are so busy that we cannot find the time to really connect with God.  Maybe we go through the motions of prayers and of everything else during the day, but we really don't feel connected because we are so busy working, eating, etc.  However, during Ramadan everything changes.  We tend to slow down a bit and find more time to be with family and friends breaking fast together and praying at the mosque.  I remember the first time I really understood what it meant to sacrifice something for the sake of God, and how I felt ashamed of myself for initially seeing this month as an obstacle rather than as a reward that God gives us to cleanse our souls and be forgiven for our sins. 
And, of course, the realization that this is the month when God opens the heavens and closes the gates of hell made me feel like a fool for not appreciating the chance that God gives me to be forgiven by allowing me to live another year and make it to another month of Ramadan.  How blessed  am I that God grants me this reward.

I never really quite understood the meaning of our supplications being answered more during the month of Ramadan until my husband became very ill in 1998.  It was during the last 10 days of Ramadan and he was given a 50/50 chance to survive.  He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent's Medical Center.  I recall staying up most of the night asking God to save my husband so that my then 7 year old son would not be left without his father, and I remember feeling really connected with God and his giving me a sense of calm and peace during those nights when I didn't know whether my husband would live or die.  I still remember when I returned to the hospital the second day and having the doctors tell me that my husband was going to make it.  I just knew God had really heard me.
This is my most cherished memory of Ramadan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Elul Reflections 8: The Islamic Cultural Center in My Jewish New Year's Prayers

This is a re-posting from 'Torah Around the World' - a weekly Torah commentary produced by the World Union for Progressive Judaism in their e-newsletter.  To subscribe to the e-newsletter, simply send an email with no subject and no message to wupjnews-subscribe@wupj.org.il
"The Islamic Cultural Center in My Jewish New Year’s Prayers" - on Akedat Yitzchak (Genesis 22:1-24)
By Rabbi Mark L. Winer, Senior Rabbi, West London Synagogue

At the season of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hoshana, a time for taking stock has been established.  God commands us as Jews to confront the world in which we are God’s partners, and do something about making it a better place.  That is our mission, God’s purpose for Jewish existence,L’taken Olam B’Malchut Shaddai, “to repair the world under the rule of God.”

In this season of self-reflection and prayer, my heart reaches out to You, O Lord.  We need Your help.  This year when the Book of Life is opened and You judge us, we seek a pathway to reconciliation with You and our community.  We wish to act so that we may both honor our dead and preserve our values.  Please Lord Hear Our Prayers.

Give courage and strength to those who have lost loved ones. 
Comfort them in their grief and suffering. 
Give understanding and compassion to those of all traditions
who would build centers for cultural understanding.
Guard us from confusing those who would help us
with those who would harm us.
Bring us together in goodwill and peace, and not in pain, fear, and outrage. 
Grant us the vision to build bridges between our differences so that
we may honor our dead, preserve our values,
and create a more secure community.
May the bonds forged in our endeavors to bring peace and understanding to
Your world be an ever-lasting testament to Your grace and love.

Do not allow anyone to destroy what we would build with Your help and guidance.
Silence those who would exploit this conflict, pander to our weaknesses,
or use our pain to gain power for themselves.

When the Book of Life is closed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur,
may we know that we have done everything that we can to bring about
peace and reconciliation with You and our community.

Blessed are You O Lord our God who grants the greatest gift of peace to our hearts and our world
Though these words have broad implications, they are, of course, about the building of an Islamic Cultural Center near ground zero.  I consider the Islamic Cultural Center as one who has spent my life’s work in Tikkun Olam – repairing the world through interfaith dialogue and action, trying to reconcile the members of God’s dysfunctional family of humanity.  For thirteen years I have lived and worked in the heart of Arab London.  Together with my Muslim neighbors and imam colleagues I have on a daily basis studied the ancient wisdom of the Talmudic dictum “one who makes peace within his neighborhood is viewed as having made peace within the entire world.”  I have read about the development of the controversy in New York, and I have been deeply saddened by it.  This is especially true because we share so much with Islam as this time of year so vividly reminds me.

The Torah portion Jews read in synagogue on Rosh Hoshana morning,Akedat Yitzchak, “the binding of Isaac,” has a parallel in the Koran.  In the Jewish version, God tests Abraham’s faith by commanding his willingness to sacrifice his only son by Sarah, Isaac.  In the Koran, God commands Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son by Hagar, Ismail.  In its essence, both versions are the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.  For both religions, this story plays a central role in its traditions.  For Judaism, the story is told every Rosh Hoshana.  For Islam, the story is central to the celebration of Id Al-Adha that comes at the end of the Hajj on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar.  In both cases, the sons of Abraham live, and there are indications in the Hebrew Bible that they come together afterwards.  The lesson for all of us is that human sacrifice is forbidden.

We seem to need this reminder.  We seem too ready to hate, and too slow to listen. We take pride in our intolerance, and despise anyone who disagrees with us.  I fear more the kind of world we would create with such responses than I fear the world that terrorists would impose upon us, because it is easier to fight terrorism than the worst in ourselves.

Our ancestors fought for the freedoms with which we have been blessed.  The people who died on 9/11 died for the way of life these freedoms gave us.  These freedoms are the basis of our strength and have encouraged our great diversity.  They have made us among the most inventive people in the world, and have given us a depth and breadth that is a source of ever-renewable wealth.  In our pain, please do not allow us to compromise these freedoms, and thereby weaken ourselves.  With hope, I will end my New Year’s prayers by tapping into the very diversity of our resources.

I pray that we allow the values of equality, charity, and hospitality
which are so much a part of the Muslim culture and tradition be extended to all.

I pray that we allow the respect for diverse understandings
that is so much a part of Jewish tradition be extended to all.

I pray that the love and grace that is integral to
Christian tradition be extended to all.

And finally I pray that all of our religious traditions teach us to seek
understanding because only a world filled
with understanding can be filled with Your presence, O Lord,
and Your great gift of peace.

We need Your Help; we cannot do it alone. Please God Hear Our Prayers.

Mark L Winer is the President of FAITH: the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony and has been the Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue of British Jews since 1998