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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

3rd July 2009 / 11th Tamuz 5769 

Dear Community

About two weeks ago a letter was posted by hand through my front door. It contained two pages of writing and a small photograph. The letters were from a couple about to be married; in them the bride and groom described the love and values which each of them had received from their parents and family. They also wrote about what they most cherished and adored in one another. Such letters are always wonderful.

I then turned my attention to the picture; it was a snapshot, not a professionally taken photograph, and it took me a moment to realise what it depicted. It showed a couple building a chuppah. The lady was weaving the fabric, the gentleman was carving special poles. They were the bride’s parents, creating their own special canopy for their beloved daughter and son-in-law to be. I subsequently learnt that the fabric was stitched in two distinct patterns, reflecting the sewing traditions of both grandmothers, and that this great work of devotion had taken over a year to complete. I was reminded of the description of Solomon’s royal palanquin in the Song of Songs: its virtues are summed up not by the gold, silver and royal purple, but by the love, of which it is made. I was led to think about those parents, their hearts torn in two, who wondered, as they packed the small bag their beloved child was allowed to take to far away England on the Kindertransport, what they should include which would most encapsulate their utter and unbounded love for the little girl or boy they might never see again,- a Siddur? A teddy bear? A doll?

But there is a further element which makes this chuppah even more remarkable: the bride’s parents are not themselves Jewish. Their daughter converted to the faith under the auspices of our community. Serious as the programme of conversion is, strong as are the requirements to learn and practise a knowledgeable traditional Judaism, it is deeply important that the process of absorption into the new faith and community does not rupture the flow of love between parent and child, between brother and sister. The ties of family are sacred everywhere. I have always worried that we strive to inflict no hurt as we welcome those who join the Jewish people. So I was doubly moved to see the picture of that chuppah, the canopy under which we will all stand for the wedding, symbolic of that invisible canopy underneath which all humanity strives for God’s blessing.

How deeply it therefore behoves us to honour, respect and cherish those who join us with a whole heart, to prevent them from experiencing discrimination, to avoid them suffering hurt, and to nurture the riches of commitment and love which they so often bring.

Shabbat Shalom

Jonathan Wittenberg