My First 100 Days – By Rabbi Shalom Morris
It’s now been over three months since I arrived in the UK and at Bevis Marks Synagogue. As you might expect, it’s taken some time to adjust to my new surroundings and to a new home. That being said, I’ve found the transition exhilarating and I’m energised by our initial successes. The High Holy Days were breathtaking and offered me the wonderful opportunity to engage with our broader community, and to see Bevis Marks in all of its glory! Allow to me thank all of you who have welcomed me, and helped me to truly feel a part of the community. Thank you to the Mahamad and to the Bevis Marks committee for their unequivocal support. It already feels like ‘family,’ and that means a great deal to me.
We have many objectives, both long and short term. I’m pleased to report that we’ve already achieved our initial goals of strengthening our minyanim, though there is still more work to do. Over the past six weeks, we’ve made weekday minyan over 95% of the time. This is due to increasing consistency amongst our regulars, as well as many more visitors, likely a result of our new attractive and user friendly website. Attendance at our Friday evening services, with our new ‘Candles & Kiddush,’ has also increased to 30. Furthermore, we’ve also held a variety of Friday night dinners with specific audiences in mind including University Students, Young Professionals, Internationals, and of course dinners for the broader community too.
On top of that, we launched several new weekday programmes including our monthly afternoon ‘Bevis Tea Party,’ and monthly UK Jewish History series. All of this was in addition to the already successful monthly lecture by Rabbi Dweck. There is even more to come in the months ahead!
With the ‘base’ increasingly stabilised, I now look to extend our reach beyond our brick walls. I hope to visit Jewish students on their campuses and to lecture in city offices. By the time Hanukah passes, I’ll have already spoken to city workers at Clifford Chance, KPMG, EY, Linklaters, Grant Thorton, and PwC. These connections will allow us to run additional programs at Bevis Marks that appeal to such demographics. I hope that we will soon be able to launch a multi-pronged initiative aimed at supporting and engaging Jewish city workers with plans are already underway.
Ultimately, we intend to solidify our gains with a New Year’s membership drive. Our community already offers a variety of membership options aimed at different age populations. We will now also offer an attractive limited option for those who wish to make Bevis Marks their second synagogue. We welcome those that enjoy attending services and programmes at Bevis Marks to become supporters and stakeholders in our historic and living community.
It’s been thrilling to experience the ambiance of Bevis Marks. I often imagine the countless numbers of souls that have prayed in her pews over the past three centuries. We remain unflinchingly dedicated to preserving the community’s rich traditions, as they inspire us into the future. In sermons we’ve explored elements of the community’s history, including the works that preserve its legacy. These include the legal treatise ‘Keter Shem Tob’ by Rabbi Shemtob Gaguine (1934), ‘The Ancient Melodies of the Liturgy of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ by Rev. D. A. de Sola (1857), ‘The Sephardim of England’ by Albert M. Hyamson (1951), and even the culinary traditions of the community in the first English language Jewish cookbook written by Lady Judith Montefiore (‘The Jewish Manual,’ 1846). It’s been a true honour to begin to learn the authentic minhag of the London S&P and I’ve begun to lead morning services, and to read from the Torah. I look forward to increasing my competence in the minhag over the months and years to come.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention my Sunday mornings, as they are a highlight of my week. Each Sunday I set out on the tube to Maide Vale where I run the Shaare Tikva Sunday classes at Lauderdale Road Synagogue. We are about to conclude our first term. Here too, there has been a lot to learn, especially with an entirely new school system from what I was used to in America. We’ve hired new staff, scoured the globe for the best Jewish educational materials, and recruited new students. I believe that we can be confident in the quality of our educational program, and that we can look forward to the school’s growth.
You are most welcome at Bevis Marks, the jewel of our S&P Sephardi Community, for any of our upcoming programmes, dinners, or prayer services.
Finally, please let me know if you intend to visit so that I can be sure to personally welcome you! I can be reached at [email protected]. I look forward to my formal induction on Sunday 13th December. My remarks will draw from the history and traditions of our sacred community. I can’t wait to celebrate with you! I hope to see you there.
Rabbi Shalom Morris