Last year will be remembered for some remarkable highs but one of the worst lows our people have faced.
The year got off to a flyer as it was announced that the Chief Rabbi would receive a richly-deserved Knighthood. His Majesty King Charles III invited the Chief Rabbi and Lady Mirvis to spend Shabbat at St James’s Palace to allow him to attend the Coronation where the Chief Rabbi took part in the ceremony.
Our yearly Women’s Shabbat engaged hundreds of women and girls across our community and we launched Ma’aleh, our ambitious advanced Torah programme for women. We opened a new Holocaust memorial at Bushey New Cemetery with the grave of six victims from Auschwitz-Birkenau at its centre and we raised more than £500,000 to support US Chesed’s work providing members in need with weekly food parcels.
Dentists cried but the community rejoiced as KLBD announced that Rowntree’s Vegan Fruit Pastilles were now kosher. We launched ‘Chevra’, a new initiative to bring together older non-married Jews.
Sadly, tragic events in Israel overshadow much of 2023. Firstly in April we were devastated by the murders in Israel of Lucy, Maya and Rina Dee, the wife and daughters of Rabbi Leo Dee, formally of Hendon and Radlett United Synagogues. Then in October following the barbaric Hamas attacks we organised an evening of prayer with addresses by the Chief Rabbi and the Prime Minister.
We opened our website to more than 40 Israel charity emergency appeals with thousands of people logging on to donate. Thousands more have attended events and concerts arranged by our shuls.
I joined a small solidarity mission to Israel, led by executive members of our Rabbi and Rebbetzen representative groups. We visited displaced families, those who had been bereaved and family of hostages and heard remarkable messages of hope.
I fear the tragic events of Israel will dominate 2024 as we continue to pray for peace for all and an end to Hamas terror attacks. I thank our incredible rabbinic and lay leaders together with our dedicated professional team for all they have done over the last 12 months and I know that they will continue to power Jewish life through our many communities and the critical infrastructure and programmes we provide for the British Jewish community. I look forward to another year of communal engagement and growth as we hope to welcome more communities to the United Synagogue family.
Michael Goldstein is the President of United Synagogue