How to ad­just the ‘sails’ of your Ju­daism

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY BEV­ER­LEY D SILVA ‘More “Ish” than Jew’ re­con­nects peo­ple with Ju­daism

AS YOU en­ter the re­cep­tion of the Tikun cen­tre, the walls speak to you. “We are all meant to shine, as chil­dren do.” “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” “You can­not di­rect the wind but you can ad­just the sails.”

Words of wis­dom writ large on Tikun’s walls are from the world’s great­est thinkers and philoso­phers (these three are from Amer­i­can spir­i­tual guru Marianne Wil­liamson, In­dian leader Ma­hatma Gandhi and a Yid­dish proverb). If it’s self-im­prove­ment and a bet­ter life you’re af­ter, or re­con­nect­ing with your Jewish roots, you’ve come to the right place. “Tikun”, af­ter all, comes from the He­brew for im­prove­ment and that’s what the cen­tre prom­ises -— “a bet­ter world through an­cient Jewish wis­dom”.

The cen­tre, at the Tem­ple For­tune end of Finch­ley Road, has grown in leaps and bounds since open­ing in 2007. Ac­cord­ing to Rabbi Yosef Solomon, Tikun’s di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion, it ex­ists “to help the An­glo-Jewish com­mu­nity to be a light to the na­tions”. And though TIkun’s core au­di­ence is “‘young cou­ples and sin­gles se­ri­ously look­ing to set­tle down”, it re­ally has some­thing to of­fer ev­ery­one.

“We welcome any­one who wants to live in a more spir­i­tual way and con­trib­ute pos­i­tively to the world,” says Kaela Stark­man, the cen­tre’s pro­ject man­ager. “Tikun is about help­ing visi­tors to learn, un­der­stand and be the best and most spir­i­tu­ally aware they can be — at the level they choose to be.”

Tikun’s Stand-Up Purim din­ner, which fea­tured a per­for­mance by co­me­dian and pro­ducer Ash­ley Blaker

Hence the flour­ish­ing of one of its most pop­u­lar classes — “More ‘Ish’ than Jew”. De­spite its hu­mor­ous name, it has a se­ri­ous in­ten­tion: ap­peal­ing to those who have drifted from Ju­daism and want to re­con­nect but with­out the pres­sure of “con­ver­sion”. The first class “took matzah from card­board to smor­gas­bord”; par­tic­i­pants cre­ated de­li­cious dishes (and a cook­book) while gain­ing in­sights for the Seder. Another class had stu­dents writ­ing their He­brew name in the same clas­si­cal script used in a To­rah scroll.

One of Tikun’s main con­cerns is help­ing cou­ples pre­pare for mar­riage. “If some­one wants to get mar­ried in main­stream Ortho­dox to­day, the bu­reau­cracy can be daunt­ing,” says Rabbi Solomon. “So we work with cou­ples, fo­cus­ing on the foun­da­tions of a solid, happy mar­riage, the laws of fam­ily pu­rity, and the wed­ding day it­self.” Be­yond mar­riage and re­la­tion­ships, par­tic­i­pants look at as­pects of Ju­daism and what to pass on to their chil­dren. There is also a course on the Jewish Home. For those who have not yet met their in­tended, there is help too, in the shape of the Sin­gles Shab­bat Meals — small Fri­day-night din­ners for hand­picked sec­u­lar and tra­di­tional sin­gles held in the Solomons’ own home — which prom­ise to help them “ex­pe­ri­ence dat­ing like never be­fore”.

The cen­tre’s work ranges from be­spoke one-to-one learn­ing — you choose the sub­ject, Tikun will tai­lor­make it for you — to small groups: the day I vis­ited, a gath­er­ing of South African Jewish women had ar­ranged to learn about the books of the Bi­ble, and were fo­cus­ing on the Go­mor­rah.

While learn­ing is para­mount at Tikun, plea­sure plays an im­por­tant role too. The ever-pop­u­lar Jewish mu­sic nights, which this year fea­tured the Portnoy Broth­ers, among oth­ers, fill the cen­tre to its 110-per­son ca­pac­ity. And at Purim, the co­me­dian Ash­ley Blaker, who has writ­ten for Lit­tle Bri­tain, per­formed a stand-up set for a crowd who also en­joyed din­ner and a talk.

“We do events around the Jewish cal­en­dar,” says Rabbi Solomon, “to show peo­ple the depth and rich­ness and spir­i­tu­al­ity to be ex­pe­ri­enced, be it at Purim, Pe­sach or Yom Kip­pur.” Know­ing that peo­ple want to ex­plore with­out pres­sure, the High Holy-day prayer ex­pe­ri­ence is “not a ser­vice per se but it means peo­ple who would never have gone to shul are open to prayer and find they are moved”.

These shorter, more in­clu­sive spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ences, while con­nect­ing to what the hol­i­days mean, also “meet you at the level you need”, says Kaela.

Or­ganic Minyan takes the view­point that a lit­tle prayer with mean­ing is bet­ter than a lot with­out. Forth­com­ing events in­clude a chance to bake and braid your own chal­lah on Oc­to­ber 14; a Shab­bat UK week­end for cou­ples (Oc­to­ber 23 to 24), and Light Up a Life (De­cem­ber 23 to Jan­uary 1), an ini­tia­tive plac­ing Jewish vol­un­teers in hos­pi­tals, hos­pices and shel­ters.

Ed­u­ca­tion and To­rah wis­dom apart, Tikun’s other key strands are volunteering and health. “We have a be­spoke volunteering ser­vice; peo­ple come in and say I’ve got this free time and we find them op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Kaela.

A monthly volunteering email in­cludes a sec­tion on giv­ing by Rabbi Solomon or Rabbi Shaul Rosen­blatt, Tikun’s di­rec­tor, al­low­ing par­tic­i­pants to de­cide how much they want to get in­volved.

The grow­ing in­ter­est in health led to the cen­tre’s stand-alone depart­ment, The In­nate Health Cen­tre. It is aimed at a broad au­di­ence; of the 650 peo­ple who at­tended the In­nate Health an­nual con­fer­ence last year, be­tween 15 and 20 per cent were Jewish. In­nate Health runs reg­u­lar cour­ses in Three Prin­ci­ples, a sys­tem that aims to lead par­tic­i­pants to psy­cho­log­i­cal free­dom and a deep con­nec­tion to life — “to thrive rather than just sur­vive”.

“Good health raises your level of spir­i­tu­al­ity and your abil­ity to be more open and en­gaged,” says Rabbi Solomon. “So along with im­proved health, we’re of­fer­ing emo­tional peace of mind”. As of­fers go, that can’t be bad.

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