Rosh Hashanah Greeting from Professor Merle Williams, our chairperson
As chair of the Management Committee at Beit Emanuel, I welcome the opportunity of wishing all our members and associates Shanah tovah u’metukah. Rabbi Sa’ar, the shul staff, our committee members, volunteers and the Board of Guardians join me in hoping that you will enjoy robust health, fulfilment and a strong sense of community during the coming year, 5776. May you all be sealed in the Book of ‘Good Life’, Chayim Tovim.
As it happens, I have returned from an overseas research trip just in time for the High Holy Days. While I was away our vice-chair, Russell Cohen, led our congregational activities with his characteristic thoughtfulness and dedication. I would like to thank both Russell and our treasurer, Ian West, for taking care of community affairs so effectively in my absence.
When I left Britain, the news and social media were filled with the vivid stories of refugees who were picking their way from the dangers of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, not to mention North Africa, to the promised lands of Germany and Sweden. The minds of Europeans have been seared by stark images: a child’s body washed up on a Turkish beach, a tough man clutching his little daughter while weeping with relief on arriving safely at a squalid transit camp. Nor do we need to look to Europe for powerful impressions of displacement and suffering, anger and xenophobia. Southern Africa is all too familiar with such circumstances, just as we and our European counterparts have often been moved by generous individual actions or moments of extraordinary hospitality and love. These narratives are our narrative too: every Pesach we remember that once we were slaves in Egypt.
At a time of global upheaval, we have a demanding role to fill as Progressive Jews. Our philosophy is deeply rooted in a prophetic vision of social harmony and restorative justice. As Amos reminds us, the dispossessed are our responsibility; they challenge our covert complacency and material excess. At Beit Emanuel we have strongly emphasized this perspective. We constitute an important voice in contemporary Judaism, as we argue consistently for the rights of all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion or gender orientation. Our educational, internal and outreach initiatives endorse these principles through practice. In the new year, I hope that we will commit ourselves afresh to sustaining and growing the kehilah of Beit Emanuel, so that we can vigorously carry forward the vital task of tikkun olam. For this reason – and, of course, for many others – we should support and sustain our energetic, creative community.
‘It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it’ (Pirkei Avot: 2: 21).
(Professor) Merle Williams