When the com­fort blan­ket needs to be changed

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT -

MY FAM­ILY home wasn’t the only home I said good­bye to last year. A few months af­ter my mother’s death, an evening was held in her hon­our in Hen­don Re­form Syn­a­gogue. It was a mem­o­rable night for all sorts of rea­sons. Many of our close fam­ily friends were there, many lovely things were said about Mum, and Ge­orge Os­borne, who had much ad­mired Mum and who she ad­mired in re­turn, spent the evening with us dis­cussing pol­i­tics and an­swer­ing ques­tions.

And one other mem­o­rable as­pect. It was the last time I would be on the Bimah in Dane­scroft. Hen­don Re­form was about to merge with Edg­ware Re­form.

In 2000, I moved to Pin­ner and we started hav­ing chil­dren. We needed a syn­a­gogue close to home, where our new fam­ily could be part of the com­mu­nity. So we joined North­wood and Pin­ner Lib­eral. It is one of the best de­ci­sions I’ve ever made, or at least it would be if I’d ac­tu­ally made it. But it was ac­tu­ally my wife who picked it. I was too busy dither­ing about leav­ing HRS, even though the fam­ily logic was ob­vi­ous.

I’d been a mem­ber of Dane­scroft all my life. I’d been to cheder there, had my bar­mitz­vah there, and we were mar­ried there. I re­mem­ber go­ing there when I was tiny and when they an­nounced that Kid­dush would be in “the ad­join­ing Kings­ley Fisher Hall”, I knew Kings­ley and Fisher but puz­zled over who “Ad­join­ing” might be.

It was — as peo­ple of­ten say when talk­ing about their syn­a­gogue choice — what I was used to. The songs on Kol Nidre, putting the fruit up in the Suc­cah and pulling it down, the half-choco­late- half-not bis­cuits in the Kid­dush, know­ing ex­actly when to stand and when to sit down again. It was nice to see peo­ple whom I had known when I was a child and grown up with. I knew the war­dens, I knew the chair­man. I knew ex­actly which things in the ser­vice I could use to make my sis­ter laugh. It seemed like too much of a wrench to leave. I also as­so­ci­ated it strongly with my par­ents, par­tic­u­larly my dad. The first im­age HRS brings to my mind is sit­ting next to my fa­ther twirling the tz­itzit on his tal­lit un­til he got fed up with it and gently told me to stop. One of the first times that I prop­erly ap­pre­ci­ated that he was age­ing was watch­ing him come down the bimah steps af­ter read­ing the Haf­tarah. He was de­voted to Hen­don Re­form.

Its ser­vices were com­fort­ing, too, stately and tra­di­tional, tune­ful and deco­rous, en­hanced by Rabbi Steven Katz, who, with his rhyth­mic tones, Home ground un­der­ground We left with a heavy heart and it turned out to be the cor­rect de­ci­sion could de­liver a mes­meris­ing ser­mon laced with jokes so dry you didn’t see them com­ing.

Ide­o­log­i­cally —al­though that might be a slightly heavy word to use — it was prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit too con­ser­va­tive for me (I mean in re­li­gious terms), at least by the time I be­came an adult, but this was trumped by the fact that it was fa­mil­iar and it was, for want of a bet­ter word, mine.

So I was re­sis­tant to change. I hovered over it, in fact for more than a year and ended up be­ing a mem­ber of two com­mu­ni­ties for a while. But, in the end, it was ob­vi­ous that change was es­sen­tial. We now live 40 min­utes away from Dane­scroft. If we wanted the chil­dren not merely to go to cheder but make syn­a­gogue friends, it wasn’t re­al­is­tic to stay part of a com­mu­nity in Hen­don. It might be mine but it wouldn’t be theirs.

So, with a heavy heart, we left. And it turned out to be the cor­rect de­ci­sion. We were re­warded for do­ing the tough but right thing by be­com­ing a strong part of a vi­brant, lo­cal com­mu­nity in a way that wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble if we’d stayed.

Which is a par­al­lel to the de­ci­sion that Hen­don Re­form it­self has had to make. The chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of the Jewish com­mu­nity and the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of that change made stay­ing in Dane­scroft im­pos­si­ble. Or at least only pos­si­ble if de­cline and de­cay were ac­cepted. So the com­mu­nity has taken the de­ci­sion to join with Edg­ware.

It must have been a wrench. All that change. All those mem­o­ries. But if our own ex­pe­ri­ence is any­thing to go by, some­times sen­ti­ment has to give way. And you don’t re­gret it.

Daniel Finkel­stein is as­so­ciate edi­tor of The Times

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