Dweck embraces the changing times


Change can be difficult for any organisation with a long history and a deep sense of tradition.

But Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who arrived from the United States a year ago to be the senior rabbi of the 350-year-old Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, is gratified that it has agreed to henceforth be known as the S and P Sephardi Community.

He had floated the idea of a name change in a strategic plan he drew up after his appointment. "I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of acceptance," he said.

"It was very important for me to retain the Spanish and Portuguese aspect, which is so central to the philosophy and customs of the community. It's an aspect I deeply respect.

"Pretty much since the 1960s, there has been a great influx of Oriental Sephardim who have become members and, I think, now are the majority.

"So I thought our name should be able to represent the inclusiveness. It coincides with other aspects of the institution - we have the Sephardi Beth Din, the Sephardi Kashrut Authority. And we are more than one congregation - we are several. I think the word 'community' better represents the wholeness, diversity and dynamism."

The new name "helps us for all our future endeavours. It gives us a chance to reach out. And reaching out has been a marked feature of his first year in London as he has delivered talks, lectures and classes to a variety of Jewish groups.

For example, he teaches two weekly classes at Porat Yosef, the Moroccan synagogue in Hendon, one of a number of independent Sephardi congregations. The turnout of 40 young professionals at his Jewish philosophy class has particularly pleased him.

The SPSC has its eye on attracting new affiliate synagogues. "There has been some interest and dialogue - I can't say more than that."

He has strengthened the ministerial team with Rabbi Daniel Kada taking the helm at Wembley and Rabbi Shalom Morris newly installed at Bevis Marks. A new head for the Sephardi Beth Din has also been recruited.

"Dayan Yaron Navon will be coming here once a month from Israel," Rabbi Dweck explained. "He does a lot of work with the chief rabbinate in Israel abroad and has helped batei din in India, Spain and was just in Switzerland. He is a Sephardi and he has a good sense of communities outside Israel."

A revamped website would better display the community's services and activities, he added. "It brings everything under one umbrella. It gives a unified face and presentation to the public.

"We are very excited at new programming. We are looking forward at doing events that give opportunity to young families to meet. We are going to be doing Shabbat lunch once a month for young families and dinners for young professionals."

Lauderdale Road Synagogue in Maida Vale remains the hub and, while some might consider it a prohibitively expensive area, he noted that couples were marrying and starting families locally.

"During the week, we have Little Lauderdales for mothers and toddlers, which has been very successful.

"I have also been doing a book club where we read secular books from a Torah perspective, like Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning."

He further intended to "start an Oriental Sephardi service on Shabbat, possibly once a month".

Having a rabbi at Bevis Marks would make it easier to connect with young people and students living in the City.

"I have found that people very much want to learn," Rabbi Dweck said. "It's not all about a great kiddush - though a great kiddush is important. Young people are eager to learn, to know, to understand and to be part of something. It gives me confidence for the future."

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