New Chief Rabbi Mirvis aims to unite community

By Jewish Chronicle Reporter, September 1, 2013
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New Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (right) at his installation ceremony with Prince Charles and his predecessor Lord Sacks (photo: Yakir Zur)

New Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (right) at his installation ceremony with Prince Charles and his predecessor Lord Sacks (photo: Yakir Zur)

More than 1,400 guests, headed by the Prince of Wales, packed St John’s Wood Synagogue in London on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the installation of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

In a ceremony which featured specially composed choral music and readings by Jewish schoolchildren, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who has retired after 22 years in office, handed over the reins to his successor.

Rabbi Mirvis, in a 35-minute address, said the three pillars of his chief rabbinate would be enhancing Jewish education, building and developing Jewish communities and encouraging social responsibility.

He wanted synagogues to become powerhouses of religion, education and culture, and he urged the community to “come and engage with me in tikkun olam” – making the world a better place.

Strengthing values of friendship and communal togetherness was another important aim – he noted that the community had been damaged by “totally unnecessary in-fighting”.

He said he was “excited to be the first Chief Rabbi to inducted in the digital age” and joked that when Lord Sacks took office, "the Iron Curtain was still falling, the internet was not yet an integral part of people’s lives, and Arsenal were still winning tropies".(Rabbi Mirvis is Tottenham Hotspur supporter.)

As he finished his speech, the guests, who included Labour leader Ed Miliband and representatives from across the community, rose to give him a standing ovation.

Rabbi Mirvis, who turns 57 on Shabbat, is the 11th Chief Rabbi since 1704 – or eighth since 1802, which some regard as the birth of the office.

South-African born, Rabbi Mirvis is a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and was minister of one of the United Synagogue’s largest congregations, Finchley, for 17 years.

He now becomes the spiritual leader of some 150 central Orthodox congregations in the UK and abroad.

Lord Sacks, describing the Chief Rabbinate as "one of the great positions of rabbinic leadership", told Rabbi Mirvis, "You are the right man in the right job at the right time."

Observing that the Beatles's famous Abbey Road studio was just around the corner, he quoted an adapted line from one of their songs, "You say hello, and I say goodbye."

Last updated: 8:18am, September 2 2013