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.
The Jewish relationship with books goes back to Moses. We are known as the People of the Book. So it’s a fair bet that Jews will play a significant part in the massive upheaval that the Kindle and other digital book readers are bringing about in the publishing world.
On recording his visit to a synagogue on Simchat Torah on October 13 1663, Samuel Pepys made two observations. Firstly the decorum was terrible and secondly a special prayer was recited in Hebrew for the King. How true are both today!
Shavuot ought to be the most popular of the major festivals. There are no long services, like Rosh Hashanah; no fasting as on Yom Kippur; no rain-spattered meals in a draughty succah. And a slice of cheesecake is a lot more appetising than a week-long diet of matzah.