Shabbat Shalom everyone! We have already begun to celebrate our return to 6 Lansdowne Road by expressing our thanks to those who made it possible. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Myra Bianco, the redevelopment project coordinator, whose efforts over so many years have been truly heroic, and to everyone on Council, who supported her in this mammoth task, and who took responsibility, collectively, for bringing it to fruition. It is one thing to have a vision of the building best suited to our needs as a congregation now and as we look towards the future; it is quite another thing to make it happen. I know I speak for everyone when I say there are no words adequate to express our gratitude.
So, what a joy it is on this Shabbat Chanukkah morning to say welcome to our new spiritual home. Our last service in the old building took place on Yom Kippur, October 8, 2011. And now, here we are again, 50 months later, ready to embark on a new adventure in the life of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue. In ancient times, the Torah tells us, the 50th year after seven cycles of seven years was a Jubilee, yoveil, in Hebrew; a year of d’ror, ‘freedom’, proclaimed with the sound of the shofar, when debts were cancelled and people returned to their ancestral homes. There is another significant ‘50’ in Jewish teaching. In the cycle of the year, the early summer harvest festival of Shavuot, ‘Weeks’, which became ‘the season for the giving of our Torah’, after the Temple was destroyed, falls on the 50th day, following seven cycles of seven weeks. We learn from these traditions of our people that the number ‘50’ signals a new beginning. And so it is a wonderful coincidence that today we are making a new beginning after 50 months of homelessness with the rededication of our congregation. And, what better moment to rededicate ourselves and our community to the practice of our Liberal Jewish values, than on the Festival of Chanukkah, the Festival of ‘Dedication,’ when our ancestors reclaimed and rededicated the Temple in 164 BCE, and restored the practices of Jewish life.
And if that wasn’t enough: surely, there can be no more fitting way to rededicate our congregation than by celebrating the journey of Jewish learning of one of our members, Leslie Burns, who is becoming Bat Torah, a ‘daughter of the Torah’, and who will shortly join me in leading the service. Ultimately, what is most exceptional about Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue centres on how our congregation enables and empowers individuals on their journeys, while managing at the same time to bring individuals together to form a vibrant community. In the contemporary jargon, this is our USP, our ‘unique selling point’ – and we have found a unique way of conveying the message right here in the sanctuary.
I’m sure you can guess what it is I’m alluding to. Today, for the first time we are standing before our new Aron Ha-Kodesh, Holy Ark. Like the monumental Ark that graced our old sanctuary, and the lovely temporary Ark that Michael Reese, zichrono livrachah, May his memory be for blessing, created for us and was the focus of our services at Ralli Hall, our new Ark is the home of our familiar and beloved Torah scrolls. It also makes a radical new statement in its rainbow hues about inclusion and diversity. Our new Aron Ha-kodesh celebrates our rainbow congregation, and all the individuals, with their varying talents and skills, interests and concerns, who, by coming together make congregational life possible. Our new Ark also proclaims a message of welcome to all those, who wish to journey with us.
The time has come to begin the first service in our new building. Let us mark this unique moment in the traditional way with the words of the Shehecheyanu blessing:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, she-he-che-ya-nu v’ki-yi-ma-nu, vi-hi-gi-ya-nu laz-man ha-zeh.
Blessed are you, Eternal One, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this time.
And let us say: Amen.
It now gives me great pleasure to invite Leslie to start the service.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue – Adat Shalom v’Rei’ut
12th December 2015 – 30th Kislev 5776