Do you remember the spectacular April Fools’ yarn spun by The Guardian newspaper in 1977 over several pages about that amazing archipelago of islands of the ‘republic of San Seriffe’ that rushed around the Indian Ocean? While I started work at Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue on December 1, 2000, my formal induction as Rabbi was held on April 1, 2001. What a strange way to spend April Fools Day! Perhaps, some would think that it was not an auspicious beginning for either Rabbi or congregation. And yet, here we are in 2015, and B&HPS is now 80 years old.
More important, our synagogue is not, simply, still functioning 80 years after it was established; it is thriving. As we mark our 80th anniversary, the redevelopment of our building is underway, and before the secular year ends, we will be back home at 6 Landsdowne Road. And, of course, it’s not just that ‘the bricks and mortar’ of B&HPS is in the process of being redesigned and renewed. In recent years, we have attracted increasing numbers of new members of all ages, and in particular, younger people – and now have a monthly Shabbatots group of 25 babies to 7-year-olds – plus two new-borns already in 2015. So, contrary to statistics on the decline of the Jewish community in Britain, B&HPS is flourishing – not unlike that incredible mobile archipelago, in defiance of the laws of logic and probability; except in our case, it is not an April Fool.
Why is this? There is no doubt in my mind that the secret to our success lies in our commitment to celebrating Jewish life in relevant and meaningful ways, and how we practice our values of inclusivity and equality. I am proud to be the rabbi of a congregation that welcomes those who are Jewish, Jew-ish, and not Jewish at all, and embraces people of all backgrounds and circumstances, lifestyles, sexualities and genders. As the name of our synagogue magazine proclaims, those who come to the congregation will find an open door. Of course, those who hold views that are anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or transphobic, or who express bigotry of any kind, would need to go on a journey before they would feel at home with us. B&HPS is open to all those, who share our commitment to reinvigorating Jewish life and our Liberal and Progressive values.
And so, as we embark on a season that includes the Festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, and recall the beginnings of our people, and the journey of our ancestors from Egypt to Sinai, from liberation to responsibility, let us also celebrate the renewal of our beloved congregation, the journey we have taken so far, and the commitment we are making to build a future for Liberal and Progressive Jewish life in Sussex. Chag Samei’ach! Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah