It is not always easy to get in the mood for Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar piercing the hush of the congregation may stir something deep within us: or we may be roused by a haunting melody from the choir. But the liturgy can seem long and difficult and ultimately leave us struggling to find the high in the High Holy Days.
Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue is a byword for genteel respectability, zealously guarded by its inhabitants. The kind of neighbourhood where every bush is trim and no brick out of place. So the local United Synagogue, too, you might imagine would be a bastion of conservatism, the eptiome of the decorous traditions of Minhag Anglia.
Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of pre-state Isarel, once wrote “If we together with the entire world were to be destroyed due to unfounded hatred, then we must reconstruct ourselves and the entire world with unfounded love”.
A wry smile might have crossed the lips of anyone who read the JC letters page last week. Not often do you find the chairman of the Reform movement jumping to the defence of the Chief Rabbi, after he had been attacked for opposing government plans to introduce civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
When an Israeli friend visited the Sephardi Synagogue in Lauderdale Road, she was shocked. “We were brought up viewing the Sephardim as the down- trodden, second-class citizens of Israel,” she said, “but here were Sephardim elegantly dressed in top hats, holding decorous services accompanied by a melodious choir. These were Sephardi aristocrats, something I never dreamed possible.”
When Rabbi Laibl Wolf was younger, he used to drop into an ashram from time to time. Not that he ever thought of giving up davening for yoga: he simply wanted to know why so many young Jews had fled the suburban Judaism of their childhood to seek spiritual gratification elsewhere.