Why I davened at 200 different places in a year

Michael Ziff set himself a personal challenge during his year of saying Kaddish


Praying at the site of the Supernova Festival massacre near Kibbutz Re'im

Over the past year, Maccabi GB president Michael Ziff has recited Kaddish in Lords, in Wembley, on a bus, a train and in synagogues across the country from Charedi to Liberal.

The Board of Deputies treasurer, who is standing this spring for the presidency, set himself the task of reciting the prayer in memory of his mother Marjorie, who died last April, in 200 venues during his period of mourning.

And he managed to reach goal with weeks to spare.

His odyssey has taken him from synagogues where there was just a minyan to the celebration of Jerusalem Day at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, when two chazans and a choir of 36 sang to a congregation of 1,700.

The idea for the challenge arose some years ago following the death of his father Arnold. The businessman, who is originally from Leeds but is now a member of Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London, was then in retailing.

“I wanted to say Kaddish for my father at least twice a day. We lived near Rabbi Sacks of blessed memory, who was a good friend, and I mentioned that I’d be going to Gateshead, Glasgow, Dublin because we had shops there. He said, ‘You should keep a list of all the places you go to [where you say Kaddish] and one day you’ll make a book about it’.”

At Lords last summer, during the England-Australia Test, he was invited during the break to lead minchah in the prayer room by Highgate Synagogue’s Rabbi Nicky Liss. However, an Australian supporter was already about to take the service.

“England went on to have a bad afternoon,” he recalled. “Rabbi Liss blamed me for it. He said if I had led the davening, England would have done better.”

When he attended the midnight selichot service at Western Marble Arch last autumn, he met a couple of young Strictly Orthodox attenders who invited him to Stamford Hill. “It took me six months to get there - the Bobov shul in Egerton Road, which goes down at the most beautiful shul I’ve been to. I got the most fantastic welcome. One of the rabbis came over to talk to me and said he was from Leeds.”

It was one of several encounters with Jews from his native city that he experienced over the year. At a Maccabi conference in Israel, for example, he was on the bus in Jerusalem when he asked “Do you mind if we could stop to say minchah. They said no problem. We started davening and an American came up to me and said ‘Can I join you?’

“I had my Leeds kippah on and he said, ‘My rabbi’s from Leeds’.”

The rabbi turned out to be Yoni Refson, who is now in Charleston and whom Ziff is actually related to. When he saw a WhatsApp photo of the rabbi, the rabbi had a Leeds United shirt draped over the back of his chair. “He still supported Leeds.”

He has davened at Kensington Palace during a UJIA dinner, near the Cenotaph during a vigil after the October 7 massacre and most movingly, during a trip to Israel, at the site of the Supernova Festival where so many were murdered by Hamas.

But two of the highlights in terms of ruach (spirit) were services with youth at the Hasmonean High School for Boys and South Tottenham Synagogue. “I was emotionally bowled over by those kids,” he said.

Having travelled the breadth of the country, he reflected, “Underneath all the different religious points of view, there is a group of people who care about the Jewish religion, who care for one another.

“The whole experience has just been tremendous. It’s that care and attention we have got to foster to bring the community to work together.”

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