Traditionally at North West Surrey Synagogue (NWSS) Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is celebrated with a Shabbat morning service led by members of the Israel Group. That happened this year on 14 May, but with a difference, because on that same Shabbat the synagogue held a special celebration to thank Avril Hallé (pictured) for her many years of teaching – starting at Cheder 40 years ago, being Head Teacher for 11 years, teaching both teenagers and adults preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah as well as adults wanting to learn more about Judaism and preparation for conversion, as Jean Cohen explains.
Avril has also led the Israel Group for more years than anyone can remember and so Shabbat Atzma’ut was the ideal time to celebrate her commitment and devotion.
Avril herself led much of the service, assisted by Marilyn Glicker who led the congregation up to the Bar’chu, by Uri Winterstein who filled the sermon slot with well-chosen words both about Israel and about Avril, and by other members of the Israel group who read Torah, read the translation of the Torah portions or study passages, or undertook other mitzvot. Instead of a D’var Torah there was a short play written by Laurence Smith, directed by Rebecca Claesen and read by three teenagers whose B’not Mitzvah will take place over the next couple of months.
Another of the NWSS Shabbat Atzma’ut traditions is that for one aliyah all those who were born in Israel, have lived in Israel or have visited Israel are called up together. That happened this year too, but there was also an aliyah for all those present who had been taught by Avril: a large number of people of all ages came up to the bimah to jointly recite the blessings.
The service was followed by a chavurah luncheon and concert of Hebrew and Yiddish songs from the Yoav Oved Duo. Council presented Avril with a certificate confirming that five trees have been planted in Israel in her honour, and three commemorative books of essays and letters were compiled and presented to her- from bar and bat mitzvah pupils, from conversion and Judaism students, and from present and former members of the Israel Group.
The festivities ended with the cutting of a birthday cake for Israel and the singing of Hatikvah.
Avril commented: “The joy and pleasure has been entirely mine and it has been a privilege to be involved in people’s lives, especially at happy occasions. I am the one who has been enriched.”