Rabbinic Reflection: Rabbi Jordan Helfman
Though my feet are still here in Canada, I had two moments abroad this week which I want to mention, both centred around sacred memory.
Honouring Memory through Learning
Those that were in Shabbat Torah Study this past week will remember learning a bit about Rabbi Abraham Geiger. I didn’t know at the time – but his Yartzeit was this week. Through the magic of Zoom, I was able to attend a lecture in Germany by Rabbi Dr Professor Walter Homolka, Rector of the Abraham Geiger College, who pointed out the many anniversaries that we are celebrating the year:
Some are calling it the 250th years of Liberal Judaism, dated from when Moses Mendelssohn broke with the rabbinate around burial practices. This Shavuot will be the 200th year since the first Confirmation ceremony. It is the 150th year since the opening of the first Reform Rabbinical school in Berlin (and 80 years since the Nazis closed it), 120 years since the birth of Rabbi Regina Jonas, and 50 years since the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand.
This coming Tuesday, Holy Blossom Temple is hosting Rabbis Michael Marmur and David Ellenson. I don’t have space here to list their titles – but Rabbi Ellenson ordained me as a rabbi, and Rabbi Marmur (the younger) taught me that the rabbinate can be both serious and engaging. They are without compare, and this lecture in memory of Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro z”l will leave you wanting more.
Honouring the Memory of the Righteous
I was also surprised to hear “Essex” in the news in Canada this past week and was saddened that it was for a moment of tragedy – the murder of MP Sir David Amess.
Since I have learned that Sir Amess was a friend to the Jewish community in Southend-on-Sea. Rabbi David Mitchell of the West London Synagogue introduced me to the history of Raoul Wallenberg’s memorial near his community – a memorial that Sir Amess campaigned for as a symbol of Wallenberg’s heroism which saved tens of thousands of our people.
One of the themes of this week’s parasha – Vayera וַיֵּרָא is the importance of never standing by before an injustice. Abraham, of course, debates with God about the preservation of Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167) even goes far as to claim that it was because the innocent remained silent and never protested the ill-deeds of others that they didn’t qualify as righteous enough to save the city.
A few weeks ago, we were able to honour the descendants of the Righteous amongst the Nations at Holy Blossom thanks to the connections of Dmitri Kanovich. I am sure it was as moving for those in person as it was for those participating online.
Though I never had the opportunity to meet him, I am thankful for the work of Sir Amess, who raised the consciousness of Raoul Wallenberg and his righteous deeds.
May the memories of the righteous be, for us, a blessing.
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