BROMLEY & DISTRICT REFORM SYNAGOGUE LIMITED – AGM – 23 March 2022
REPORT OF THE BOARD
The Board has 21 elected members and met ten times in the past year. The Executive also met via zoom on several occasions, as needed.
Kol Nidre Appeal
As always the Board selected three charities in addition to the shul for our Kol Nidre Appeal. These charities were Reform Judaism, RSY-Netzer (£4,203), DeafPLUS (£3,983), Friends of Leo Baeck Haifa (£4,087) and our Shul (£6,698). Our community can be congratulated for its generosity.
REPORTS FROM THE COMMITTEES AND GROUPS
Religion and Ritual (Stephanie Alberti)
This is my last report to the Board from the RRC, as I come to the end of my term as senior warden today. It hasn’t been without challenges but I look back on the work the committee has done with some pride and much thankfulness. The RRC had another busy year, maintaining religious services at BRS through the second year of the Covid pandemic. Guided by BRS’ risk assessment group (Michelle, Graham and Adrian), we have responded rapidly to changing government advice, keeping the safety and comfort of our congregation at the top of our agenda. For the first part of the year, we continued to celebrate our shabbatot and festivals remotely. A highlight was our second Covid-conscious High Holy Day celebrations – we hoped till quite late to be able to open the synagogue building and, with thanks to Michelle Brooks Evans and Rhona Green, we had a hugely supportive poll of members’ preferences. In the end, we could not do it, but we did accommodate the service leaders and all those performing mitzvot, in the
sanctuary, and the gorgeous, extended choir, thanks to great work from Vicki and Olly Ashmore, Joe Parks, Judy and David Taylor and the core BRS choir among others. Kieron Hyams masterminded the stream and Rabbi Mati led a team of lay readers, wardens and security people, to ensure we were all able to participate in a beautiful and meaningful experience. Having had to break with tradition, we look forward to this year’s ceremonies with us all in Highland Road. The cheder decorated a Succah and even though we couldn’t all visit it, Rabbi Mati braved the elements to Zoom services from it; we honoured Janet Posner and Jon Woolf at Simchat Torah. Gradually we have opened more, with participants in the sanctuary protecting each other by covid-testing, mask wearing and restricting numbers in a very well ventilated (AKA cold) shul and we now celebrate shabbat with a vibrant congregation both in the sanctuary and from home. We had a spectacular Erev Purim, led by John Posner, disguised for the latter as a cow (I think it was a cow, there was an element of Easter bunny about it); an unforgettable reading of the megillah and a spiel and concert from Pizmon, an acapella group from the US – if you weren’t there, catch it all on our You Tube channel!
There have been challenges. Running services on-line from the service leaders’ homes meant finding a Zoom host who could stream to You Tube and a singer as well as a service leader for each week. One of Janet and Dan Posner, Michelle Brooks Evans or Kieron Hyams was always available for streaming, with Sally Rosebery, Marilyn Freeman, Hadassah Britz and Judi Sheffrin rotating as the choir. Janet Burlem helped us support our mourners with weekly lists. Returning to the sanctuary hasn’t eliminated the need for extra people-power – we now regularly field a stream warden as well as a service warden. Janvier Palmer runs a rota for Kiddush preparation for attendees in person every week and John Posner and Graham Harris coordinate security. We could not run services without any of this. The creation of an on-line luach facilitates communication between the different roles. With all these roles to fill, there are opportunities for any member to get involved. The resignation of Rabbi Mati Kirschenbaum was an unexpected setback, but our lay leaders and readers rallied round and we have continued apace. Assisted by visiting rabbis, including the lovely Rabbi Godleman, we haven’t missed a single week – celebrating Shabbat even over the secular holidays of Christmas and New Year. Our search for a new rabbi gave us rabbinical candidates to help – members of the RRC supported the selection process. We are hugely excited at the thought of working with Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner – I almost stepped back up!
The work of the RRC has expanded. We are increasingly involved in supporting our B’nei mitzvah coordinator, Judy Taylor, who has re-energised the programme for our students. Seeing 12 students on the bimah with David Yehuda after a B’nei Mitzvah breakfast recently was a testament to the work they have been doing – and a great joy. We lost Tracy Frankel from the RRC when she took a leading role in the Caring Community, but Judy Taylor stays with us, Michael Abrahams has joined us as a stream warden, and Matthew de Lange as an occasional service warden. As we cautiously emerge from the pandemic restrictions, we look forward to our future with confidence. Some changes will stay with us. Our services are likely to remain hybrid, with people participating from choice in the sanctuary or in their homes. Our service leaders’ ability to make everyone feel truly participant is extraordinary. Attendance on-line is currently ranging from 10 – 20 devices each week and seems to be growing apace with the growth in the sanctuary. We expect to continue to run a stream downstairs, should anyone coming to the sanctuary feel the need to distance themselves for a while during a service, which we hope will be welcomed – and be good practice for a time when everyone can come to the building for this year’s High Holy Days. I want to thank everyone on the RRC for their hard work and support over my three-year term. I could not have achieved much without everyone’s input. Particular thanks to our synagogue chair for totally devoted support and to Judi for indefatigable minuting. For the future, we have recognised that the job of the senior warden has evolved and the job description needs refreshing. We have a plan for the immediate future that will divide the tasks among committee members. We are very aware that we depend very heavily on a small number of people – with the expanded remit I’ve described, there are roles for everyone who would like to get involved – from helping with the IT to leading an entire service, with a whole range of opportunities between, so please do come forward! We are a friendly lot, training and support will always be available and with our new Rabbi it promises to be exciting. Meanwhile, I am delighted to announce that Marilyn Freeman has accepted to take on the role of Acting Senior Warden – she looks forward to your support!
Caring Community (Tracy Frankel)
Firstly, I would like to thank everyone on the Committee for all their energy, caring and support in a very challenging year. The kindness that you have shared with our community has been so vitally important and appreciated with all the turmoil of the world due to Covid.
Tea parties – Thank goodness for Zoom! We were able to hold online tea parties monthly until August. Whilst this did not provide the same level of companionship, and was restrictive for some members due to technology, it was an opportunity to catch up and share virtual tea with one another. The committee have been waiting for the lifting of Covid restrictions to schedule an in- person tea party once again. We are so pleased to say that these will commence again on the 28th March, and will now be taking place in the Garden Room at the Shul.
Bereavement Support Group – This group started up in July, with meetings every second week with support from Rabbi Mati and member Sue Blackie. Three members really benefitted from these sessions and bonded to the extent that now the 6 month programme has come to an end, they are able to continue supporting each other outside of the official meetings. Huge thanks are due to Sue Blackie for her voluntary commitment to this group. Sue has also expressed that if there is a need for such a group in the future she would be interested in leading it again.
Pesach – The Zoom Seder Buddy Scheme was not taken up by any members, but we believe that the online communal Seder satisfied this need. Pesach goodie bags were put together by Shane and Michelle and delivery to members was handled by a fantastic team of willing helpers. The left over BRS bags have been available for sale in the shul lobby shop as well as at the Chanukah Fair. Pesach cards were sent to a selected group of the community.
Talking Highlight – We were successful in distributing one edition of Talking Highlight. This project is extremely time consuming and after a couple of attempts to get further editions out on time, we felt that the need was not as great anymore as only one member was still wanting a copy. Perhaps it is time to find another way to make Talking Highlight available if we receive any future requests?
Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah Cards – Rosh Hashanah Cards were designed by Rhona Green and distributed to selected members. Chanukah Cards were created by the Cheder and sent to selected members. These were so well received. Cards for the community
These have been sent to members as follows: Over 80’s birthdays, Milestone birthdays, Life events – births, deaths, get well soon, etc.
Social Centre (Barbara Kurtz)
The Social Centre continued to meet fortnightly on zoom while Covid restrictions continued. We enjoyed talks, shared stories as we went “Down Memory Lane”, concluding our meetings with exercises from Andreas. We were all looking forward to the day when we could get together in person to chat and catch up.
That occasion came in July when we started small with an afternoon tea back in the Garden Room at shul. Since then, duly Covid free and double (or treble) vaccinated we have continued to meet fortnightly and are back in the old routine. The rummikub group is still going strong and the chatting over coffee and lunch much enjoyed. We have had a talk from Amelia Kayazze telling us of her new book, and much enjoyed our Chanukah Party, along with quiz. Mandy Wax came and shared her life story in art with us and had us all busy with paper and glue making collages – a repeat visit was promised. I have to say there is always a buzz around during the meetings and everyone goes home smiling. Long may it continue.
Numbers are keeping up with new members joining us as well as new helpers in the kitchen and chatting with our regulars. We welcome newcomers but have to continue to ask for proof of vaccination.
A big thank you to all the helpers and to Tom who keeps us all safe, for all the effort put in to make the Social Centre such a success.
Knit, natter & Stitch (Barbara Kurtz)
During lockdown the group continued to meet and keep in touch on zoom while unable to meet in person and without many of our regular projects to knit for. After Covid restrictions eased Park Court remained unavailable for our meetings, so from July we have been meeting in Barbara’s home once a month. Sadly we lost our dear friend and founder, Pauline, in October and her death made us ever more determined to carry on with the group. We found a variety of charities to knit for, the main one being to contribute towards the “shoeboxes” donated by schools and other associations. We knitted or stitched hats, scarves, headbands and pencil cases which our friend Karen Powell collected. We were delighted to hear we had contributed to a record number of 2704 boxes sent to Eastern Europe and to receive photographs of some of the happy recipients of the festive boxes. Thanks to Shane Lask, we have finally found a home for the cannula mittens, which Pauline asked us to knit. They are now very welcome at the Special Baby Unit at the PRUH along with baby blankets. Through Jewish Care we currently have two new charities – the Separated Child for whom we are knitting hats and scarves for teenage boys, refugees who have arrived in this country unaccompanied and “Baby banks and Baby Basics” who need baby jackets and blankets to add to the moses baskets of necessities they give to needy new mothers. My thanks to all our group who have been busy knitting and stitching over the year. New knitters and stitchers are, of course, very welcome.
Macmillan coffee morning (Elka Carr)
We held our annual Macmillan coffee morning by zoom on Friday, 24 September 2021. The attendance was very good and the session lasted around an hour. The programme included moving testimonies by several members who shared their personal cancer stories with us. The programme also included clips from last year when Sue had her hair shaved to raise money for Macmillan. John talked about vaccines and variations and afterwards answered questions and Harriet updated us re Macmillan. We raised around £1,600 and look forward to being back in shul next year.
Kemnal Park (Janet Posner)
It’s just over 18 months since we signed an agreement with GreenAcres Kemnal Park to establish a burial ground containing 50 graves for the members of Bromley Reform Synagogue and other Jews within South London. With an interest free loan of £108,570 from the JJBS we acquired 30 of the 50 double depth graves. BRS members have now pre- purchased 14 of these graves, which means we have almost repaid half of the loan. We now have an attractive lawn area within the Kemnal Park Cemetery, surrounded by a hedge with cast iron gates decorated with 2 gold menorot. Sadly, we have now buried 5 of our members there and in the summer the first memorial stone will be placed on a grave.
Education (Vicki Ashmore)
This year has been quite the adventure, with our Shul still somewhat at sea thanks to Covid 19 and no Rabbi at the helm for much of it. But I’m sure you’ll be surprised at just how much we have been able to achieve despite the storms, both figurative and literal. The Education Committee has continued to meet regularly on Zoom, and with thanks to Hayley Preston acting as Deputy Head, all notes were taken, and all meetings recorded. We have offered plenty of Adult Education, though perhaps not Talmud classes – which are difficult to provide in the absence of a Rabbi! We must give thanks to Dr Margaret Brearley, who has been organising our most recent talks. We have already heard from the great lady herself twice, with talks on Philo-Semitism and the Jewish Situation in the Ukraine. She was instrumental in organising a wonderful talk with Carole Stone on “Nurturing Friendships after Lockdown” and she has many more wonderful ideas in store for the coming year, so please do join us either in person or on Zoom. Thanks are also owed to John Posner, who is teaching our conversion students along with Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild and student Rabbi David Yehuda Stern. All three have been taking turns looking after our conversion students until our new Rabbi takes up her post. The Education Committee also has several Adult Hebrew Classes running every week at both beginner and intermediate levels on Zoom. While we do not earn anything from providing these classes, they do not cost our synagogue anything and so we are offering more access to Hebrew across the UK. Many thanks to teachers Sarit Wilson Chen and Joe Parks for their continued support, and to education committee member Joanna Koenigsberg for working with them to make sure it all runs smoothly.
We are working with the Religion and Ritual committee to support Judy Taylor as she leads our B’nei Mitzvah programme. After the Covid pandemic subsided our shul had a backlog of b’nei mitzvah students who needed to celebrate their coming of age, so well done Judy for organising the B’nei mitzvah tutors and B’nei Mitzvah breakfasts along with Rabbi DY. And speaking of working with the RRC, we will soon be working together to organise even more music for the synagogue, so watch this space! And yet, your Education Committee does even more: We now have Roland Perrin running our Youth Klezmer Band, with hopes that a second Junior Klezmer Band may begin in the near future (thanks Roland!) We must also thank other committee members including Danielle Woodward for liaising with the RJ and ensuring that our children are included in the Jack Petchey award scheme, raising hundreds of pounds for children’s activities. We thank Rhona Green, who will soon pick up where she left off organising our older Youth Club called YABS, which stands for Young Adults of Bromley Synagogue (named just so we could call them “A bunch of YABS”). Thanks to Mariella Russell for liaising with Wimbledon Synagogue and of course, Sonia Hyams who is still hard at work as head of our Hooray Cheder, the Cheder parents’ association. Her Chanukah Fair has again been a wonderful success raising funds for the shul and giving our community a much-needed reason to celebrate. Now that I am taking over as SACRE rep for Bromley, I will be representing the Reform Jewish point of view when discussing Religious Education in Bromley Council School meetings. I cannot thank Caroline Jones enough for joining the Education Committee to help create resources for SACRE, ensuring that BRS and the Reform Jewish point of view are represented far beyond our walls. And last but most certainly not least, Head Teacher Frankie Gruzd has done a wonderful job making sure that the Cheder doors remained open despite high levels of staff sickness that came with Covid 19. She and her team have worked tirelessly to make sure our children made the transition from HomeShul back into the classrooms. I’m sure she will speak more lately about her innovative, inspiring Cheder, which, under her leadership has continued to grow in number. The Education Committee would like to thank her and her team for their commitment and her dedication to our children.
Cheder (Frankie Gruzd)
In September 2021 we reopened in-person cheder. Returning as Chai School with a morning of sukkah decorating activities, and the following week by pupils exploring an unscrolled Torah scroll. Since then we’ve seen our kittot pupils acting, singing and baking together; we’ve seen a wonderful re-start of our gemillut chassidim activities. Over 1027 items were collected as part of the RJ national food bank drive, placing BRS at the top of the donator’s poll. There’s no doubt our time as an on-line cheder, running as HomeShul, helped us build our curricula resources, technical know-how and resourcefulness which in any event, we can now carry forward and can re-implement if necessary. The decision to go back to building was not without its challenges due to on-going restrictions and staff However, we have seen numbers coming to Gan (our vibrant nursery level kitah-class) and registration for our entry level kitah recover to their pre-COVID levels; a significant number joined after attending our open Chanukah Party Morning. BRS Chai School now supports the Jewish learning journeys of over 60 pupils, delivered by a dedicated team of 8 Morim (teachers) and Ozrim (helpers) led by Leo Baeck MA graduate Frankie Gruzd. With nearly two years of Hebrew studies compromised during lockdown, Chai School is delivering a Hebrew Language recovery plan which involves smaller group activities, retention enhancing games and 1-1 catch-up sessions within cheder hours. Chai School has continued its investment in designing and delivering its own UK Progressive curriculum, which follows the annual Parashiyot cycle and explores Chagim. It’s design to address the changing lives of our pupils and the challenging future questions that face them. Yet, at the same time remaining true to our history and core values; a curriculum which is also inspired by a globally diverse Jewish peoplehood and the identities of our families. Lifting of the final COVID restrictions means that we’ll now be able once again to welcome our Parents in as part of our cheder morning; it also opens up again Hadracha/Madrichim options for those post b’nei mitzvah pupils, and the opportunity to revitalise our helper development. Our on-line resource drive provides our Morim (teachers) with games, songs, peulot ideas (activities) and lesson plans which to provide weekly lessons that are formative and fun, even if they are new to teaching. Increasingly those willing to teach or consider teaching in cheder may not have teaching experience; BRS has recognised that the changing profile of these individuals requires a new approach and a higher level of support if Chai School is to thrive, and we are to create a cheder, which answers the challenges of the 21st century. So, Morim Team training events and CPD support form a vital part of annual programme. Whether as Chai School or HomeShul we remain committed to providing a Jewish learning space and kehillah social experience for our pupils, most of whom are the only Jewish children in their mainstream day schools.
Comms Group (Judi Sheffrin)
The comms group has had a very busy year, with e-Light the go-to means of communicating links for everything from regular services to videos of talks and concerts. My thanks to Jo Biggin for her conscientiousness, quick mind and keen eyes.
HighLight in its new, full-colour quarterly incarnation is becoming more of a magazine than a newsletter, but still includes all the news that we can find of current members, cheder graduates and old friends who’ve kept in touch. Thanks to Bob Symonds, who takes so much trouble over every detail and is still first in the queue when it comes to packing and posting and Rhona Green, whose artistic touches make it so much easier on the eye than it would otherwise be.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has contributed articles and ideas for both HighLight and e-Light. If we haven’t taken them up yet, it’s only because there just aren’t enough hours in the day or pages in each issue.
Board of Deputies (Joe Millis)
We’re nearing the first anniversary of the synagogue’s decision to return to the Board of Deputies and my appointment as Bromley’s representative for the three-year term, which ends mid-2024. So, I wanted to update you on what the BoD has done and how I have been trying to get BRS’ voice heard.
We have had several successes: The BoD President, Marie van der Zyl has been keen to improve the interfaith cooperation of the organisation. Earlier this month, she met Kenneth Nowakowski, bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Britain, to express the Board’s support for Ukraine as it faces Russia’s devastating onslaught. Marie was also one of the British Jewish leaders who took the Jewish National Fund to task over its chairman Samuel Hayek’s suggestion in the U.K. Jews were under threat because of the number of Muslims immigrating to the country. The intervention led to the JNF being censured by the Board and its representative, Gary Mond — who was Senior Vice-President at the time — to leave in somewhat of a huff. The Board also took the unprecedented step of using a Tweet in Hebrew to tell Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Israel’s far right Religious Zionist Party, in no uncertain terms to leave the country because of his “abominable” anti-Arab, anti-LGBT and anti-Reform views. The tweet was uncompromising: “We call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door. Get back on the plane, Bezalel.” In this instance, the Board’s nuanced subtlety went out the window. But there is much to improve: The Board still seems to offer uncritical support for whatever Israeli policy is called into question by human rights groups or the UK government. There is also a democracy deficit at the Board, despite its slogan being “Advocacy, Democracy, Community”. For instance, Deputies are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to debate and vote on policy. This leads to situations that Deputies find out what they are supposed to be supporting only after they have seen Tweets. I hope to be able to update you further soon about these issues and more after a meeting with Marie and the chief executive, Michael Wegier. If you would like me to raise issues of concern to you at the Board, please do not hesitate to contact me via the office.
Council of Christians and Jews SE London (Stephen Weil)
CCJ SE London had one online meeting over the past year, due to the strange COVID situation. Avigail Simmonds – Rosten, Program Manager, CCJ; and Rev Bernhard Schunemann, Vicar ofSt Stephens, South East London, talked to us about the Book of Ruth. Our Speakers made us look at the Book of Ruth in a much wider and richer way by picking out particular turns of phrase, showing us references in Talmud, giving the context of Biblical references to Moabites, and by drawing on comparisons with other great Biblical figures. We are delighted that, at last, we are able to re-start our physical programme of meetings on 17 May 2022 with a talk by Rabbi Larry Becker on Isaiah – the historical personality.
Housing and Building (Graham Harris)
Work was carried out in 2021/22 as follows:
We have a completely new up to date intruder alarm and fire alarm, which covers all rooms (unlike our old one) which is now monitored by a monitoring station and Edwards security, who charge a lot less than the existing alarm people Chubb/Guardian, so this should save us £1000 a year.
We have added a new streaming Camera to the sanctuary so we now have 2 for streaming services.
We also will add a camera in the garden room for streaming other events (awaiting quote).
We will be replacing 7 windows in the garden room in the next few weeks, due to the old ones being rotten.
We have had to have a lot of damp work done in the garden room.
We have had some painting done inside the shul, all hallways and the garden room (to be completed as soon as the plaster dries).
We will be getting the front of the synagogue painted and gutters cleared during the Summer.
We have had a new toilet fitted in the gents to replace a broken one.
We had a new piece of fence fitted to shield the garden.
The boiler and heating system is serviced every year.
The lift is serviced every 3 months.
The fire extinguishers are serviced every year.
The fire alarm and intruder alarm are serviced every 6 months.
The emergency lights and pat testing are done annually.
Security and Safeguarding (Graham Harris)
I would first like to thank all the volunteers who give up their time to help protect our community, especially Tom who looks after our Social centre every Month, which I’m glad to see is now back up and running. I have been liaising with the CST regarding Security and training, and have managed to get a lot more training done since it’s been online. They are working very hard to improve the service we get in south London, and our regional Manager Harvey came and met me to discuss this a couple of weeks ago. We now have a CST phone so that we can call them in an emergency or they can call us if there are any issues in our area. Lizzy is doing a great job of security on Sundays with help from parents, and she also looked after the building during lockdown.
In conclusion (Michelle Brooks Evans)
I am very happy to report that on 1st April we will be having our new Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner join us. This is a very exciting time for us all. Finally I would like to extend to the Board, committees, sub committees and various groups and members, my heartfelt thanks for all their hard work. There are too many to mention. However I would like to mention our vice chair Kieron Hyams who is stepping down from the Board after 11 years, and our Senior Warden Stephanie Alberti who is stepping down from her role but remaining on the Board, as well at Matthew de Lange, Barbara Kurtz and Graham Harris who are also stepping down from the Board but not stepping back from the amount of work or what they contribute to our community. A lot of extra work is being put in so our community is cared for and continues to flourish. In particular I thank all the members who so generously give of their time to carry out acts of loving kindness to other people without seeking any recognition or thanks. This is what a Jewish community is all about, this is what BRS is about.