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You are here: about - Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message - 12 February 2010/28 Shevat 5770

Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat, 28 Shevat 5770
12 February, 2010
Dear Community,
I’m so excited to see the steel work of our new synagogue rising so swiftly from their foundations and I find myself imagining ‘Here’s where the House of Study will be, this’ll be the kitchen and here’s where we’ll plant the vines to produce our very own chateau New North London’. I’m full of gratitude. ‘When will the building be finished?’ people ask me. ‘Some time between next Chanukkah and the following Pesach’, is the cautious answer. But after the many years of planning, waiting and hoping it all seems so incredibly quick!
I don’t know why the sight of our new building makes me think of my father. In my twenties, one of my favourite activities was to walk down to the New London Synagogue towards the close of Shabbat. There I would meet my father and we would listen to Rabbi Dr Jacobs’s fabulous Talmud class between Minchah and Ma’ariv. I think of my father when my children learn a new melody for Shabbat, when I catch Mossy singing a section of the service to himself. My father would have loved to have heard. Such sharing was the core of the bond between us. We didn’t talk about it, we didn’t articulate what the prayers and music meant to us; we simply experienced them together, and that goes on, in my heart, with my children.
Why should these thoughts go through my mind when I consider our new synagogue and all the activities which I hope will take place there, - the singing, the children learning and playing, the study of Torah, the prayer, the silence, the weeping, anguish of heart held still in the solidarity of prayer, the great moments before the Kol Nidrei and as Ne’ilah ends, good coffee, conversations, meetings of every description, yoga, music, lots of food, the planning and giving of charity, the rows of buggies lined up in the courtyard in summer?
Who knows the secret which makes a place sacred? It’s not just the building, although over time the very walls absorb the spirit of what happens within them and breathe it back out, especially in solitude, alone with the flame of the Eternal Lamp. It’s not the words of prayer alone, or even their music, though every place retains an echo of what the heart has poured forth there. It’s not just the people irrespective of what they do; otherwise tube stations would be holy. There are many aspects to the holiness of a place, but most important is the cumulative effect of hearts being open, - in prayer, in stillness, in pain, in humility, in wonder, and most of all with love. This, more than anything, is what draws the presence of God to a place. 
Maybe this is why, seeing the steel frame of our new synagogue, I find myself unintentionally recalling those quiet bonds of companionship sitting next to my father.
Shabbat Shalom
Jonathan Wittenberg