Rabbi Dr Michael Harris to leave Hampstead Synagogue after 30 years

Hampstead rabbi to make aliyah – the ‘only adequate response to October 7’


Rabbi Dr Michael and Judith Harris at Hampstead Synagogue

A north-west London rabbi will make aliyah next summer as a response to October 7.

Rabbi Dr Michael Harris has served Hampstead Synagogue for 29 years and will move to Israel next summer with his family.

Rabbi Harris told the JC he had always wanted to move to Israel,“but October 7 spurred the decision on”.

Making aliyah is “ultimately the only adequate response to the tragic events of 7th October”, the Hampstead Shul rabbi said this week, announcing that he will leave the community after nearly 30 years next summer.

Along with his wife, Judith, and their youngest son, Rabbi Harris wrote on social media: “I intend – be'ezrat Hashem –  to go on aliyah in Summer 2025, on leaving Hampstead. Aliyah has been a lifelong ambition and seems ultimately the only adequate response to the tragic events of October 7 and its ongoing traumatic aftermath.”

The rabbi added that the couple are “not retiring and plan to continue working in Israel”. He said this would include rabbinic work.

"I'm planning to focus on academic and educational pursuits and hope to make use of the dayanut qualification from the course I recently completed with Eretz Hemdah and the Montefiore Endowment.”

The couple have two daughters aged 30 and 32 who live in London, and four young grandchildren.

The rabbi told the JC: “I will miss the community greatly. It has been great to be able to officiate at life events for more than one generation in the same family – to do bar mitzvahs for several children from the same family or a child’s bar mitzvah and then their wedding.”

Rabbi Harris added: “I would like to leave the community in the most healthy state I can, for them to go forward and make sure things are in as good a shape as possible to hand onto a successor.”

Rabbi Harris is only the eighth rabbi to serve the shul. “The shul has an incredible amount going for it. It is one of the most beautiful shuls in the world; it has a very supportive, thoughtful membership and it has always had a distinct lack of shul politics, which has been a huge strength. It has been very harmonious.”

The rabbi said that other highlights at the shul have been the Sir Isaiah Berlin lectures, which have included guests such as former Prime Minister Gordan Brown and American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and packed-out Selichot midnight services.

Speaking after the announcement, Zaki Cooper, the shul’s former community development director, said: “We are sad to see Rabbi Harris and his family go but well understand their desire to make aliyah. He and Hampstead Shul have been synonymous for such a long time. He has been such a significant, reassuring and positive presence in many members' lives for 30 years.

“More than that, his intellect has been a gift to Anglo-Jewry. He has articulated a vision of a Modern Orthodox Rabbi and backed it up with first-rate scholarship. Some of his early sermons on Rosh Hashanah are still seared in my memory. Over the years, his speaking and writing have inspired many of us, giving people the confidence to engage with the secular world from an Orthodox standpoint. We wish him and his family every success when they make aliyah next year.”

Rabbi Harris’s first full-time communal position was as education officer of the Union of Jewish Students in 1986 to 1987. Before moving to Hampstead Shul, he served as rabbi of the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation. He is the author of several books and scholarly articles and a regular speaker at Limmud.

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