How to adjust the ‘sails’ of your 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.