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Movement Rabbi’s High Holy Day message

There’s a moment of uncanny near-silence during a rabbinic ordination ceremony. The Ark is opened; Torah scrolls are taken out one by one. You can just make out the slight tinkle of the bells on top of the scrolls.

They are passed slowly to the ordaining rabbis to hold. They then in turn hand over the Torah scrolls to the new rabbis, continuing the line of rabbinic succession, saying a few words in hushed tones. This is a private moment of private messages, private blessings – to encourage and guide them as they start on their new careers.

This year, we celebrated the ordination of three new rabbis from Leo Baeck College: Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz, Rabbi Leah Jordan and Rabbi Benji Stanley. I had the honour that I will always treasure of being part of that process.

My blessing was inspired by the words of Abba Kovner (1918-1987), whose life story had a strong influence on me. A poet and member of the Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair (“The Young Guard”), Abba Kovner was also a resistance partisan fighter in the Vilna Ghetto who helped Jews escape from Eastern Europe after the War. He was instrumental in founding several Holocaust museums in Israel and was involved in an outstanding example of Israeli-Diaspora partnership as he partnered Nachum Goldman in establishing Beit Hatfutsot (The Museum of the Diaspora) in Tel Aviv. I loved guiding at Beit Hatfutsot when I lived in Israel. It is a museum that celebrates both the Diaspora and Israel. It does not shy away from the brutalities of history but also has gorgeous details of Diaspora communities throughout Jewish history. It answers the central question: “How did Jews survive all these centuries” by showing diversity and the power of learning and Jewish rituals.

Abba Kovner planted a deceptively simple message about Jewish life and history in the museum: “Remember the past, live the present, trust the future”. I found this a strong counterbalance to the possible messages for a very negative post-Holocaust Judaism.

“Remember the past, live the present, trust the future”. These words formed the centre of my hushed blessing and each Rosh Hashanah I revisit them as my kavannah – my focus, intention for the approaching New Year.

Misherberach avoteynu v’imoteynu, may the One who blessed our ancestors, bless us with remembering the past but not being constrained by it; by living the present to the full and by trusting the future as we have the capacity to change it for ourselves and to change how others experience their past, their present and their future.

Shanah tovah u’metukah – a good and sweet new year

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