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Why I am a member of Emanuel Synagogue

by Ilona Lee

After my husband died, I had to choose my synagogue for the first time, and I thought I would try the Emanuel Masorti service. Right from the beginning, it was different to what I had experienced before. Firstly, I found that the majority of my friends from my original synagogue had moved to Emanuel some years prior. The next thing I found was that men and women sat together, no one worried about what you wore and that people – men and women - were encouraged and helped to follow the service. I started attending Breakfast with the Rabbi on Sunday mornings and the group was friendly and welcoming and then I was given a call-up on a shabbat. I was surprised at how nervous I was but, having done it, I felt empowered and, when the Rabbi blessed me, for the first time I felt valued as a member of a synagogue congregation. This was my community.

I was starting to marshal my thoughts for my friend when I attended the 80th anniversary of the synagogue and 20th anniversary of Rabbi Jacki Ninio on Sunday. What a special occasion. They showed part of an old documentary about Jackie training to become a Rabbi, and tributes flowed. The President, Alex Lehrer, played a guitar and sang a song he had written for her to the tune of Let it Be, the people named and honoured were the staff and Jacki received a standing ovation. Over 200 people ate and drank, smiled and talked to each other, and revelled in being part of this amazing synagogue.

This morning I went again to Rabbi Kamins’ Conversation About Israel class where Dave Sharma was the guest. He was not invited as an aspiring politician but as the former Ambassador to Israel and he talked about the time he had spent there. He arrived in Israel with his wife and three children, the youngest being six weeks’ old. In the first week, he and his wife were invited to go to a restaurant with the Ambassador for the UK. In trepidation they took their baby with them, hoping she wouldn’t cry but determined that one of them would walk around with her in a pram if she did. To their amazement, the restaurant that appeared to be so fancy from the outside, was full of children running around, the waitstaff took the baby and looked after her and they were able to enjoy a warm and wonderful welcome to Israel. Dave said that, at all times in Israel, he and his family felt that extremely warm welcome.

This Wednesday I will be there again because Plus61J is running the fourth in a film series Israel, Jews and the Middle East. We will show a film, have a discussion and some supper and get together with like-minded people.

What Dave Sharma said about Israel is how I feel about Emanuel. I like the inclusiveness of all, the diversity of activities, I like the values, I like the warmth and I like the friendship. It’s my community and it is where I am comfortable. That’s what I will tell my friend.

Sat, 8 August 2020 18 Av 5780