BHPS in the 21st Century – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah – SJN, December 2016
Over the past year, some of the long-standing members of BHPS have joined me in reflecting on the history of the synagogue and sharing their memories. For this final instalment, I review developments since I began working as the rabbi of BHPS on 1 December 2000.
Drawing on the congregation’s well-deserved reputation for warmth and hospitality, during the past 16 years the focus has been on enabling and celebrating Jewish life in the spirit of our Liberal Jewish values of openness and inclusion. There have been some important milestones on this journey. From January 2001, my weekly Access to Hebrew and Exploring Judaism classes, open to all, which in more recent years have taken place on Shabbat afternoons. From autumn 2001, a variety of approaches on succeeding Erev Shabbatot of the month: a shared supper; an oneg with speaker; a creative service; and a regular service. That same year: the renovation of the library, with its new role as the heart of adult learning. From January 2002, the move of the Religion School, later renamed the Beit Lameid to Shabbat mornings, to enable the children to participate more in the life of the community, including leading what became known as the Tikkun Shabbat morning once a month for the whole congregation. In September 2002, the inauguration of annual ‘Are you Jewish or Jew-ish?’ events reaching out to Jews on the margins of Jewish life. From September 2003, the reinvigoration of the Kabbalat Torah programme for 13 to 15-year-olds. In 2004, the establishment of L’Chayyim, a pastoral project run by and for members aged 70+. That same year, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Czech scrolls that survived the Sho’ah coming to Britain, the creation of a calendar of activities to celebrate our Czech Scroll. In 2005, the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the congregation and the establishment of ArtShul, an arts-based approach to Jewish experience, including exhibitions – most notably in May 2008, a Brighton Festival Open House exhibition. Also in 2005: the adoption of Liberal Judaism’s new inclusive policy towards lesbian and gay individuals and couples, with same-sex weddings from 2006. In 2007, the first moves towards redevelopment of the synagogue, with the production of a CD of Shabbat Songs, which in six months raised £3500 towards the accessible toilet fund. Over the next two years, an overhaul of the synagogue website to make it more attractive and user-friendly. In 2010, the 75th anniversary of the synagogue, followed in 2011, by the start of the synagogue redevelopment project and launch of BHPS on Facebook and Twitter. The day after Yom Kippur 2011, we moved out of the old building. Fortunate to be able to hold our Shabbat and Festival services at Ralli Hall, the time it took to plan the new building was well spent. Fifty months later, on Shabbat Chanukkah, 12 December 2015, in the year that we marked the Shul’s 80th anniversary, BHPS entered a new era as we occupied our wonderful accessible new building for the first time. The innovations continue. During Sukkot, we launched Open Wednesdays, a weekly opportunity to socialise and engage in activities from Bridge and Chess to Weaving and IT.
On our first day back at 6 Lansdowne Road, it was appropriate that one of our adult members, who had joined the Shul and embarked on a journey of Jewish learning just a few years earlier, should celebrate her Bat Mitzvah and read from the Sefer Torah for the first time. As we look forward to celebrating another Chanukkah, we give thanks for the commitment to inclusion that ensures that this synagogue with such a rich past can look forward to the future with hope. Chanukkah Samei’ach!