BROMLEY AND DISTRICT REFORM SYNAGOGUE LIMITED
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING – 23 March 2021 at 8pm
REPORT OF THE BOARD
The Board has 18 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 Leket Israel (£4,519), The Rainbow Trust (4,366), JAMI (£4,324) and our Shul (£7,526). Our community can be congratulated for its generosity.
REPORTS FROM THE COMMITTEES AND GROUPS
Religion and Ritual (Stephanie Alberti)
The present reporting year started with the first lock-down for COVID 19. The work of the RRC has therefore been focussed throughout the year on ensuring religious services have been appropriately delivered. Thanks to a vast amount of work by many people, we created a community in time, while we could not meet in space. We can proudly claim that we have delivered a full year of religious celebrations that have been well supported and received by our members and have also attracted appreciation from outside the community – including even a favourable comment from the JC!
For Shabbat services we have celebrated every single one in the year online. We started immediately with a memorable service lead by Judi Sheffrin and Matthew de Lange directly from the sanctuary but within two weeks had moved to a Zoom-and-stream model with lay leaders, readers and a single choir member delivering beautiful services from their homes direct to ours. It was this model, with its mixture of gravitas and intimacy, that has regularly attracted around 25 – 30 households weekly and, for special occasions, such as family-friendly services, up to 50. When we joyfully received our new rabbi, he was able seamlessly to take over and raise the weekly services to a new high. Huge thanks are owed to many but particularly our incredible Zoom hosts, Kieron Hyams, Michelle Brooks Evans, Dan and Janet Posner, who have the immensely stressful task of coordinating the Zoom onto a sometimes recalcitrant You-tube stream each week; the ladies of the choir, Judi Sheffrin, Marilyn Freeman, Sally Roseberry and Hadassah Britz, who log in once a month to sing and the Rabbi and lay reader panel.
Shortly thereafter, led by Michelle, Marilyn, Judi and Vicki, a Friday evening candle lighting was started and has continued as an intimate but beautiful start to Shabbat each week. Vicki also led a sweet service to commemorate the 2nd night of Passover. This year, so sadly still isolating during Pesach, the community is opening its family Zoomed first Seder to others and we are offering a 2nd Seder for the whole community on Zoom.
We marked Yom Ha shoah, had a Zoomed Tikkun Leyl on Shavuot and then came the High Holy Days. It is the hope of us all that we will be together in person this coming year, but the mixture of Zoom-and-Streamed main services and Zoomed study sessions gave us the space and time we needed to reflect, atone and be together as we did. The Home Shul under Vicki Ashmore provided a service for Rosh Hashanah for the younger members. RJ and Heidi Small with Sue Bowyer offered services for young children on Kol Nidre while the adults streamed. Faced with the need for our traditional, sometimes stately, music, and the impossibility of co-ordinating singing on Zoom, Vicki and Olly Ashmore undertook a massive project in which our choir, and many other members of the community and their families and friends, sang for us at home, using training tapes provided by Vicki which Olly magically transformed into beautiful choral singing. A highlight was the inclusion of the Cheder choir at the very end of Yom Kippur, affirming our belief in a better future. We even now have our very own BRS CD.
We Zoomed for Sukkot and Rabbi Mati had the scrolls in his home, which added ritual effect to the High Holy Day services and was particularly meaningful on Simchat Torah. Thanks to John Posner for the scroll schlepping. We zoomed every night of Chanukah. And Purim has just been celebrated in true style. The Rabbi, our Cheder Head and several families take credit for the Purim Spiel, but the RRC was joined by more people (in more peculiar costumes!) that might have been expected for the full reading of the Megillah on the day.
For our families we very sadly had to postpone the planned Bat Mitzvah of Amity Miller, which came at the height of the first lock down. All who attended will remember with affection the Frankel twins and Max Campling however, although we do hope Amity’s and all other up coming B’nei mitzvah will be in the sanctuary. On a sadder note, we lost several members and family members during the year – Zoom cannot make up for physical presence but the congregation’s support for funerals and Shiva prayers has been truly phenomenal and brought some comfort to mourners in their isolation and bereavement.
The Committee has worked incredibly hard to achieve all the above, and I am truly grateful. I am delighted that we have welcomed new members to the RRC – Tracy Frankel, Judy Taylor and recently Vicki Ashmore as the new chairman of the Education Committee, while we retain the services of Barbara Kurtz, as retiring chair of education as she remains a warden. We are also pleased to be working with the new Head of the Cheder, Frankie Gruzd.
The challenge for the coming year will be in re-instituting our in-person services and our return to Highland Road. We want to try and take some of the successes of the lockdown back into our resumed normal lives – particularly the fantastic engagement we have had from all across the community in all our religious activities. The Board has approved a plan to enhance our choir for High Holy Days and we are delighted to welcome Vicki Ashmore and Joe Parks to led us on that. And we are actively looking to improve the technology in the sanctuary so that we can maintain the close and intimate services to which we have become accustomed for those who may not make it physically to the shul every Shabbat. The RRC will need more ideas and more wardens, so please do think about joining us in the coming year. Meanwhile one final personal thank you to the Rabbi, to our techno-whiz Kieron Hyams, without whom we could not do what we do, to Judi Sheffrin for a year of note taking and sanity saving and to our incredible chair, Michelle, for the hundreds of hours she puts in for us, not excluding all those evening Zoom hostings to which she so cheerfully welcomes us.
Caring Community (Pauline Jeffree)
This Report will be my last as Chair of the Caring Community as I have to step down because of health reasons. I would take this opportunity to thank everyone serving on Committee for their commitment, hard work and kind support.
* Tea Parties:
We are planning for the future and when it is possible, and all being well, we will be holding Tea Parties at Park Court, Pauline’s home just as soon it is safe to do so. Meanwhile we have met via Zoom and it has been good to keep in touch by seeing each other and chatting together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
* Knitting, Nattering and Sewing:
We have continued with our usual projects supporting the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King’s College Hospital with knitted items and sewing specialised covers for incubators.
We have also supported the Special Care Baby Unit at Croydon University Hospital with Sally busily sewing and making incubator covers.
As a result of the COVID Pandemic we have had the pleasure of welcoming many new members to our group.
We are supporting a number of worldwide charities as we move into 2021, more of that next year, all being well.
* Talking Highlight:
Those of us who enjoy receiving Talking Highlight have missed receiving the CD to listen to. Talking Highlight will be back and currently talks are taking place to determine the way forward. Thank you to all who have been part of this amazing project.
* The MacMillan Coffee Morning:
You will all recall the wonderful contribution Sue made by having her head of hair shaved off. We had the most amazing Coffee Morning with us all meeting through Zoom.
This is what we received from MacMillan:
‘ Your Coffee Morning is making the world of difference. Your Coffee Morning helped us to keep doing whatever it takes to support people living with cancer’.
We have attended through zoom the South London Forum. I am a Committee member of Transport for London.
Social Centre (Barbara Kurtz)
Life has been very different for the Social Centre and its members this year as covid struck and everything stopped. However, thanks to Dianne and Michelle, we were soon meeting every fortnight on zoom. About 20 – 25 members embraced the new technology and logged on, delighted to see each other and chat once again. At least we don’t have to cancel when the weather is bad!
Meetings have been held fortnightly with talks from Rebekah Lucking on her work with refugee Yazidi people in Greece, Stephen Ison from Jewish Care, member Eileen Fry as well as a virtual tour of Sadeh Farm with Talia Chain. Clare Gilboa told us of the work of Leket the Israeli charity, while Bernie Victor introduced us to Women Impressionist Artists. We enjoyed music from old friend David Coronel and the BRS Klezmer Band. Rabbi Mati joined us at Chanukah for virtual latkes, and food, poetry and books made for lively discussion. With a quiz exercising our brains, we were delighted when Andreas was able to join us again to exercise our bodies.
Dianne took advantage of the change in circumstances to step down from her leadership of the group for a well-deserved rest, and we look forward to seeing her on the other side of the kitchen door on our return to shul. Thanks from all members to you, Dianne, for all your hard work in making the social centre meetings such a happy, welcoming place to be on alternate Wednesdays in the Garden Room.
Education (Barbara Kurtz/Vicki Ashmore)
Barbara – The committee started the year with no Rabbi, and then rapidly became homeless as covid closed everything down. However, along came zoom to the rescue and we have been able to have regular meetings (thank you Michelle for organising the links).
The adult education side of the committee proved comparatively easy to organise once Rabbi Mati joined us. We have enjoyed regular study sessions on the parashot, ongoing Pirkei Avot sessions, and we have looked at current events through texts. We had a special study session on Three Faiths Weekend and on Human Rights Shabbat we were very fortunate to welcome two speakers who told us about the plight of the Uighurs in China – something which coincidentally has come more and more of an important international topic of concern since.
Martin Wolf spoke abut Covid-19 and the Economy and Prof Bernie Cohen was finally able to join us with his talk on the “Rabbis in the garden and post-structural philosophers such as Sartre and Foucault”.
John Posner was able to resume his Basic Judaism classes fortnightly on zoom. Donna Gold, BRS representative on SACRE, brought a request from Bromley Education for short videos on Jewish belief and life as they look for an alternative to school visits to places of worship. Thanks to John and Donna.
Co-Chair Vicki bore the brunt of covid’s effect on cheder and congratulations are due to her and cheder teachers for setting up HomeShul on zoom – more from her to come, but my thanks to them all.
Thanks too to all the members of the committee past and present as I stepped down from it this year. The members are too numerous to list but their help and support have been invaluable over the years. I am sure the current members will be as supportive to Vicki as she takes over leading the committee. Thank you so much Vicki and best wishes for the future of the committee.
As I took over as Chair of the Education Committee at the beginning of this year, I was quickly reminded of the sheer volume of work Barbara has been doing for our synagogue for decades. I’m sure that the members of our community would like to join the education committee in thanking her profusely for her long-standing dedication.
HomeShul gained a new Head Teacher last autumn, and we are fortunate to have Frankie Gruzd here to ensure that we continue to deliver a high standard of Jewish education to our children. She has been working tirelessly with her team of wonderful teachers to make sure we can keep our children engaged in Jewish life, no matter what Covid 19 may throw at us! Indeed, HomeShul has been such as success that we now have several children attending from all around England and as far away as Ireland. Those whose families are not members of our synagogue are making donations in lieu of membership fees, thereby creating an unexpected small but steady income stream. I’m sure that Frankie will go into more detail in her report.
The education committee has also begun to provide Hebrew tuition at both beginner and intermediate level to members and non-members of the synagogue alike, via Zoom. The classes are taught by Sarit Chen, an Israeli born Hebrew tutor by profession, and though the committee manages these classes the students pay them for. However, the shul does derive a secondary benefit in that these classes were also made available to our Cheder teachers. Thanks to a donation from the Donors Trust, we have been able to up skill our teachers at no cost to themselves, with the Cheder children the eventual beneficiaries of that tuition. For that, we thank the Donor Trust for their investment in our community.
Finally, the education Committee continues to create opportunities for engagement online for members of all ages, for example, talks given by authors, open to the whole community, and a new Young Adult members group, which will soon be offering talks specifically aimed at our members ages 16-25. The hope is, that as we re-open our building (and the whole of the UK!) we will be in a better position than ever to carry on our work, ensuring that our Jewish community south of the river will not only survive, but also continue to thrive.
Cheder (Frankie Gruzd)
In March 2020, HomeShul, our adapted and shorter length on-line cheder went live; HomeShul has ensured that our approximately 65 pupils can continue their weekly Hebrew and Jewish learning journeys.
Over the last 12 months, the Education Committee has led us through a period of intense change and challenge; it has guided cheder in its journey from being an advanced Zoom pioneer to an exemplar of on-line cheder provision.
Our talented and dedicated team of 9 teachers have responded to the distinctive challenges of on-line classrooms; welcoming parents alongside pupils in classrooms on a weekly basis; stepping up visual and auditory presentation of weekly learning materials; becoming tech tolerant or savvy; and above all, finding effective ways of engaging ‘remote’ pupils separated by distance.
It is testament to the creativity and dedication of our teachers, that a year on, attendance and pupil engagement levels remain very high. HomeShul’s reputation and welcome has attracted pupils from further afield and opened its virtual doors to include those who otherwise might have no access at this time.
This year, we have bid farewell to some long-term Cheder staff: Vicki Ashmore (Head) Rhona Green (Dalet) and Judy Sheffrin and Marilyn McKeever, and welcomed Frankie Gruzd (Head) and Robert Cohen (Dalet). Pupil’s graduating HomeShul have been engaged as on-line teaching assistants within our virtual classrooms.
Our teachers have worked hard to get to know the unique personalities and learning preferences of pupils who started with them new on-line in their classes in September. The shorter running time of HomeShul has meant that the learning targets for Hebrew have had to be recalibrated; and with the help of volunteer tutors, 1 to 1 sessions offered for our oldest two classes to keep them on-track for their B’nei Mitzvah.
The weekly thematic curriculum adopted across HomeShul has required a step-change in the way teachers themselves are supported and access lesson resources. A bank of age differentiated materials, on-line friendly resources and lesson ready stories, games, songs and tools is produced each week to support the theme and the learning objective set by the Education Committee.
Production of these materials has been a resource intensive activity, but one which lays down a valuable and strong foundation of UK Progressive Jewish teaching materials which can be developed in and for subsequent years.
HomeShul has continued programme of active investment in the continuing professional development of its Cheder teachers. The specific focus this year and next has been on raising the competency and confidence of Hebrew levels amongst our teachers. (Supported by the Donor Trust).
A key aim this year has been to offer a source of continuity in the lives of our pupils; and, to ensure the weekly themes chime with the challenges they have faced in their lives during Covid times. Thanks to the continuing support from parents we have been able to keep the HomeShul spirits high with fun challenges, music and song. There are many positives we can bring out of these difficult times, which will continue to inspire us when we return to face to face Cheder.
Comms Group (Judi Sheffrin)
Last year I reported that it had been a quiet year for Comms. This year has been anything but. As all BRS activities have migrated online, the team has been on high alert all year to ensure that everyone has information and links. We have sent out regular e-Lights every week plus updates at busy times such as the High Holydays, Chanukah and Pesach.
I also mentioned last year that we regularly review HighLight. Bob’s departure as editor coincided with lockdown and the need to distribute all but a handful of Highlights electronically. Even with a few teething problems, the change to a new layout and a new way of doing things was accomplished remarkably smoothly. I must thank Rhona Green for her dedication in creating templates and adjusting and enhancing the work of the rest of the team every month. The review has been ongoing, and you will see further changes in the coming months. At its February meeting the Board approved our plan to return to printed copies for those who want them from May onwards, but only six times a year. In between those issues there will be online-only updates if necessary. We are working to further improve the design and content and to link HighLight more closely to the website.
Work is under way to make the website a more useful and relevant tool for everyone, so that it will be able to supplement the information found in HighLight and e-Light, as well as providing a shop window for those seeking a shul, a function it has performed admirably for many years, thanks to Kieron’s dedicated stewardship. We have people lined up to refresh the website pages to align them with the relevant parts of HighLight and e-Light.
My thanks to all the Comms team, particularly Jo Biggin, who has taken much of the burden of e-Light from me. She’s also responsible for its slicker feel and enticing headlines. Jo is due to give birth this week, so I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing her and her family well. Thanks are also due to Matthew de Lange for his ideas and drive and to Michelle and Kieron for their moral and practical support. And my final thank you STILL has to go to Bob Symonds, even in his so-called retirement, for his regular nudges, suggestions and encouragement.
Council of Christians and Jews SE London (Stephen Weil)
CCJ SE London had two meetings over the past year, both meetings online due to the strange COVID situation.
In May 2020, we had a discussion on “Protest and Direct Action” with Joanna Blackman, activist in the swords to ploughshares movement, and Daniel Sonnabend, author of ‘We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post War Britain’
“Swords into Ploughshares” / “Why civil disobedience is essential to confront injustice” In 1996, Jo Blackman was a member of a women’s group who disarmed a Hawk jet which was due to be sold to Indonesia and would likely have been used in the regime’s occupation of East Timor. After completing their mission, the group informed the manufacturer of their action and were subsequently charged with £1.5million of “criminal damage” and remanded for six months before becoming the first ploughshares action to result in an acquittal at trial.Jo shared with us some of her ploughshares experience and why she believes that civil disobedience may be essential to confront government inaction. ‘We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post War Britain’ In 1946 many Jewish soldiers returned to their homes in England imagining that they had fought and defeated the forces of fascism in Europe. Yet in London they found a revived fascist movement stirring up agitation against Jews and communists. Many felt that the government, the police and even the Jewish establishment were ignoring the threat; and that they had to take matters into their own hands. Forty-three Jewish servicemen met together and set up a group that organised, infiltrated meetings, and broke up street demonstrations to stop the rebirth of the far right. From 1947, the 43 Group grew into a powerful troop that could muster hundreds of activists at short notice. The history of the 43 Group was not just a gripping story of a forgotten moment in Britain’s postwar history; it was also a timely lesson in one way of confronting extremism.
In November 2020, we discussed “Joseph in the Bible”. Our Speakers Panel, gave us two fascinating talks: Rev John Barton, Author “A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book” and Rabbi Mati Kirschenbaum of our Bromley Reform Synagogue. Rabbi Mati described Joseph as a pivotal character in the Biblical narrative in the transition of the Children of Israel from being a family with followers and servants, into becoming a nation; and as a prototype for the story of the Diaspora experience, of a people who leave home come to a new land, achieve success beyond their expectations, but whose descendants eventually face oppression on account of their success. For Rev John Barton, Joseph is a complex figure, a mixture of vice and virtue. Rev Barton referred to a cunning streak in Joseph, even as a mature man, and to signs of arrogance in his character. The amount of circumstantial detail around the Joseph story, and its location in Egypt, gives the story of Joseph credibility, although it cannot be proved.
Thanks to St Stephens Dulwich for online hosting our meetings, and especially to our Branch Chair, Rev Bernhard Schunemann.
Housing and Building (Graham Harris)
Work that was carried out in 2020/21 as follows:
- Matthew with some help from Tom has been looking after the Garden, and doing a great job.
- We have had the alarm /boiler serviced.
- The drain cover in the moat had to be replaced as it was rotten.
- We had 6 windows replaced with UPVC at the back of the shul.
- We have some damp in the garden room by the fire exit that needs attention (awaiting Quote)
- We are getting a quote to replace our fire alarm system, from Edwards security, with a more up to date unit and more smoke detection around the building. We are currently paying Chubb too much money to maintain the current system, and this should save us money in the long term.
Security and Safeguarding (Graham Harris)
Work that was carried out in 2020/21 as follows:
- We have only opened up the synagogue twice in the last year. Once for a bar mitzvah recording and once for a b’nei mitzvah.
- We have introduced PPE Including hand sanitiser, masks, visors and a screen to separate the reading desks on the Bimah.
- We also have a risk assessment in place that will have to be updated when we reopen.
- Lizzy our security lady has been going into the synagogue once a week to check all is ok and to run the taps etc.
- I have attended on line security training on many topics, and I believe Michelle has also.
SE10 and Beyond (Michelle Brooks Evans)
Before the covid the group continued to meet every 4 to 6 weeks with evenings usually attended by between 8 and 12 members and always with some sort of Jewish theme. During covid restrictions the group has met via zoom a few times. The group stays active and has had new members from outside the shul. On behalf of the group, Michelle invites all shul members to join the group, which has fostered personal friendships resulting in trips to the theatre, dinners, quick coffees, chats and more recently walks.
I would like to thank Rabbi Mati for all of his hard work, and for his contribution to our online shabbat service, study sessions and life of the Shul. 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. A special thanks to our Shul Tubers who have allowed our Shabbat services to be streamed every week, and to all those at HomeShul who have enabled cheder to run online too. I have purposely not included any names, as there are too many to mention. 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 chesed (loving kindness) to other people without seeking any recognition or thanks. This is what a Jewish community is all about.