On July 14th, the Jewish community of Brighton and Hove joined the city’s dignitaries to unveil the blue plaque fixed at 22 East Street in honour of Israel Abrahams, the first Jewish resident of what was then a town called Brighthelmston, who came to live there in 1766. Today, Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, established in 1935, is paying tribute to this milestone.
There is much to celebrate. Uniquely, past Jewish residents of the city made such a significant contribution that several streets are named after them – some of which lie within a few hundred yards from here: Somerhill Road and Somerhill Avenue; Palmeira Square and Palmeira Avenue; Holland Road; Davigdor Road; Goldsmid Road; Montefiore Road and Lyon Close. And we shouldn’t forget that two of the most iconic landmarks in the city are connected with Jews: Brighton Station, designed by David Mocatta, which opened in 1841, and the ‘Peace’ Statue on the seafront, on the old border between Brighton and Hove, erected in 1913 with the support of the Sassoons. Meanwhile, St Ann’s Well Gardens, by Somerhill Road, is associated with the Goldsmids and Sassoons.
We can be justly proud of the history of Jewish life in Brighton and Hove. We can also be very proud of the Jewish life that we are generating today. As we pay tribute to the past, we do so as a living Jewish community. Importantly, Brighton Jewry 250, the fascinating ‘Anthology of the Brighton Hove Jewish Community, 1766 to 2016’, edited by Godfrey Gould and Michael Crook, both, surveys the history of Jewish life in the city and includes articles on all the different synagogues and groups and that constitute the Jewish community in Brighton and Hove today.
At this service, we have focussed on four of the organisations that undertake the care and welfare activities that make such a difference to the lives of individuals: the Welfare Board, the Housing Association, Hyman Fine House and Helping Hands, and I’m delighted that representatives of these bodies are here with us and have participated in reading the relevant passages from the book.
As we celebrate 250 years of Brighton Jewry, we are challenged to continue to undertake the sacred work of tz’dakah and g’milut chasadim – loving deeds – alongside all the other vital tasks of Jewish life, so that the vibrant community we enjoy today may continue into the future.
Remembrance of all those Jews whose names are commemorated on several streets, and whose contributions are evident in city landmarks, also challenges us to participate in the wider community of Brighton and Hove. First and foremost, all-too-familiar with the experience of being migrants and refugees, we need to play our part in welcoming refugees to our ‘City of Sanctuary’. Here at BHPS, for example, a weekly collection of non-perishable foods and toiletries goes to Brighton Voices in Exile, a charity which supports refugees in the city. BViE has told us that these collections are desperately needed and much appreciated, and they would welcome contributions from as many communities as possible.
Fostering connections between the various faith and ethnic communities in Brighton and Hove is another vital task. The Interfaith Contact Group has played a leading role in this area for several years, and on November 20, BHPS will be hosting the annual IFCG Interfaith Service that brings together faith groups to share our different traditions in a spirit of mutual respect.
There are so many ways we can contribute to the life of Brighton and Hove. On the cultural front, the city is a major centre, and now back in our congregational home, in May 2017, the Shul will be an Open House once again on Sundays during the Brighton Festival, displaying an exhibition of Jewish, Christian and Muslim art.
The history of Brighton and Hove Jewry demonstrates that in addition to focusing our efforts on maintaining the Jewish community, for Jewish life to thrive we also need to engage with others in the wider community.
This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, relates how the five daughters of Tz’lophchad petitioned Moses to allow their father’s property to pass to them after his death, since he had no sons. We read that when Moses took their petition to the Eternal One, he received this response (B’midbar/Numbers 27:7)
Kein dov’rot b’not Tz’lophchad – The daughters of Tz’lophchad speak correctly: You shall surely give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; and transfer their father’s inheritance to them.
We learn from this story that Jewish teaching should be and can be responsive to the needs of the people. We also learn that we have a responsibility to take the steps needed to ensure that the Jewish inheritance we have received passes to the next generation.
Hinneinu – Here we are: this generation of Brighton and Hove Jewry celebrating the generations that went before us. The Torah relates that when Moses was apprehended achar ha-midbar – ‘behind the wilderness’ – by the Divine voice, speaking to him out of the midst of a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames, he responded: Hinneni – ‘Here I am’ (Sh’mot/Exodus 3:4). Hinneni – ‘Here I am’: fully present in this moment. Paradoxically, throughout millennia those who have said hinneini, ‘here I am’, have also signalled their readiness to move on. In Moses’ case, a fugitive in the land of Midian, he was challenged to return to Egypt and play his part in the liberation of the slaves. As we celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Brighton Jewry and reflect on Jewish life in Brighton and Hove, past and present, let us say, hinneinu, ‘here we are’, and take steps to ensure a dynamic Jewish future in this wonderful city of ours.
Kein y’hi ratzon – May this be our will. And let us say: Amen.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue – Adat Shalom V’rei’ut
23rd July 2016 / 17th Tammuz 5776