With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

Alan Lewis

12 January 2023
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Hesbed from Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Funeral – Alan Hilbert Lewis
Died Friday 6 January 2023 – Funeral 12 January 2023

“To begin at the beginning…”

I could have started this eulogy with any one of a number of memorable lines from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, one of Alan’s favourite plays, which he almost knew by heart. Now he joins Captain Cat, Ocky the Milkman and Polly Garter in the dark bible black afterworld of our imagination. I recall listening, with Alan, to the original broadcast with Richard Burton’s deep rich Welsh voice bringing the play to life. There was something as multifarious and varied in Alans’s life as the themes and characters in the play.

My wife Sharon and I first met Alan and Joan nearly 60 years ago when I arrived as a student rabbi for the congregation Alan had just founded; and he and Joan attended our wedding in Birmingham soon after. Since then, Alan has been my key supporter, a friend, my dentist, and our clockmaker and our aging clock will miss his attention the most. I will talk more tonight about his many roles in our synagogue, but for those not there, just record that after founding the congregation, he never left. After being Chairman, he carried on the Council and giving counsel in so many ways. After founding the choir all those years ago, he continued as choirmaster for decades and after standing down in that role he continued to turn up week after week, to sing, and occasionally step up to lead when his successors were away. And he was there singing just three weeks ago.

But you here at his funeral will have known Alan in so many ways. Yes, as a dentist, but also from the golf club, from the tennis club, from the bridge table, from the dining room table, for he and Joan have been superb and welcoming hosts often for meals in which Alan had shared in making. He was a great cook – and great at everything he got involved in. Everything he tried to do to his greatest ability. Learn the piano, so he put in the regular practice needed. Retire and turn from mending teeth to mending clocks. Maybe 50 years ago, wanting to improve his Hebrew, he joined my “O” level class, alongside a few teenagers, and of course, he passed. Improve his French. Learn the Alexander Technique and his teacher Nelly said he was a superb pupil retaining his posture to the end.

He had to do the best possible: you will know that from the tennis court; yes, a winner, but always a fair player. And, as Martin told me, anybody unfairly claiming it was in when it was out would face Alan’s wrath. I’m sure many of you can now imagine Alan’s face when he encountered something his felt was unfair or with which he deeply disagreed. He could be adamant in his views but, in time, often moderated his feelings and would be open in saying he had changed his mind. Adamant about not wearing a kippah, of late occasionally seen wearing one.

Alan had great compassion, highlighted by his devotion to helping the disabled go skiing (and of course skiing was one of his other passions). Within the synagogue and elsewhere, he was a visitor to the lonely and the older members, often to people much younger than himself, but there was something about Alan that was in the words of another Dylan – Bob, “forever young”.

And so, the other poem, printed in your leaflet. Could be a poem dedicated by Dylan Thomas to the life and death of Alan Hilbert Lewis…..yes Hilbert, a family name, properly pronounced “Hilbert” that Alan was fond of, for he loved all things French, food and holidays.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightening they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle in that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A comment on the life and character of Alan Hilbert Lewis, well yes and no. True he did all he could to remain fit and extremely active until his last day, but he was always looking for the next day and the next experience. If he had faced increasing infirmity and helplessness, he would have ended by raging against the dying of the light. But he was spared this curse, and you who were closest to him have been spared the sadness of his, let’s call it frustrations, not rage. For Alan was gifted the ending that best served his character, poetic indeed, dying suddenly on the 14th green having played an ace shot.

There was no time to contemplate his dying years, but Alan knew all too well and expressed his satisfaction that he had a great life, enjoying so many things in so many areas. Contributing so much to so many in so many ventures. Caring for so many individuals and causes. Alan admired by so many, especially his wide circle of friends from way back and from yesterday, from his wide family, including his sister Sue who has travelled far to be here. And Alan knew all too well his immense good fortune in having children, Ros and Martin who followed, in their way, his path, his values, his interests and passing these on to the next generation. And above all, the blessing of Joan, a wife of so many years, who supported him, who sometimes challenged him – had to, who shared with him so much, who loved him dearly. Alan and Joan we have said it together for so long – a true lifelong partnership, devoted husband and wife.

Alan was a wise man. Alan was a good man. Alan, go now gentle into that good night.


Hesbed from Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Shiva – 12 January 2023 at The Ark Synagogue

This morning I framed my eulogy around Alan’s love of poems by Dylan Thomas and especially Under Milk Wood, which he dearly loved. Tonight, in the synagogue he was greatly involved in building, in a congregation in which Sharon said he was the Founding Father, let me take as a theme a quote from another of his life-time interests, a favourite – Psalm 23.

Ach tov va-chessed yirdefuni kol yemay chai-yai, V’shavti b’vait Adonai, l’orech yamim.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in your house, Eternal God, for ever. Or maybe “House of the Lord” he would have preferred.

How true were and are the words, because Alan was raised by his parents as a Jew and followed that path until his last day. Let’s be clear, Alan had an intensely busy life in so many directions. His studying, his dental practice, his playing sport – cricket, tennis & golf, skiing and anything that challenged him. And when not in team sport, he was at the gym or running or walking fast. Always fast and played to their and his limit. Add in his sedentary pursuits, his bridge and piano playing, his theatre visits and dinner parties arranged by Joan, his vast circle of friends. Time with his family. Holidays, of which Joan and Alan had many, especially in France, the last but weeks ago.

But always his Jewish interests coloured his life. Youth clubs at Wembley & District Liberal Synagogue in a building erected by his father-in-law Max Salter. Regular and varied activities that, in those long lost days when youth clubs attracted members until their mid-twenties. And what a unique phenomenon it became with the old Wembley crew continuing to meet until this day, Jewish youth getting older by the year, but sticking together. Some staying in Wembley others joining Alan in the venture of founding a new community in Pinner, then Northwood. Alan, the Founding Father, and Alan in the centre of it all, but the family all involved. His father Sidney playing the organ, mother Bessie catering immense meals, wife Joan a teacher in the Religion School, a role taken over by daughter Ros. His sister Suzanne secretary, his brother-in-law ‘s brother (if I have right) David becoming treasurer. And son Martin, if I may say so, never the pious one, but giving his talents to redesign and project manage the new Osorio Hall next door. Other family members involved, Salters and Lewises.

And all along, Alan never gave up. Chairman then handing over but staying on Council. Founding the choir but even when passing on the baton to others, continuing to sing on a regular basis. In fact, the last time I spoke to him was three weeks ago when he sang in the choir and got much pleasure from meeting again a Ukrainian student, now Rabbi Misha Kapustin; just like old times he said. And talking of choir I will always remember the early days with his father scowling as he played the harmonium, Alan scowling back as his father played a rare bum note. And at that first service, Aaron brought out the silver candlesticks that Alan’s parents had donated to the fledgling synagogue over half a century before, candlesticks now used for the Friday morning Tots Shabbat…the new generation connecting with the first.

Alan often initially not liking change, in the subsequent styles of music or liturgy, but, in time relenting and approving. Whenever we read Psalm 118 in the old version “who lifts the poor from the mire” changed to “from the gutter”, Alan and I always exchanged a smile, but one example of his objections to several changes in the wording. And many of you will know that when Alan objected to something he was not afraid to make his views known. Alan might have been a regular attender at synagogue, but was he a true worshipper? Rather than belief in God, it was I feel, a belief in community and the Jewish community and Jewish knowledge and values. And Jewish values; the Psalm said “ach tov va-chessed yirdefuni – may goodness and mercy follow me…” well chessed means more than mercy, rather it is compassion….and this value may have followed Alan, but he certainly followed this mitzvah all his life. Actively taking care for so many in need: the bereaved (he regularly attended funerals of members), those in need of companionship or care – right up to his last days. His next ski trip with the disabled already planned for the coming days, his clothes already laid out on the spare bed; so many will miss him there and in so many other areas.

He certainly dwelt in the house of the Lord all of his days. He blessed many lives and I know he felt most blessed by his family. He was so thrilled by Tom & Laura’s wedding, telling me all about it and showing photos: amazing as Alan had never been one for emotional outpourings.

But he was so proud of his grandchildren’s progress in education and life. He would have been be chuffed that Matt asked for the retrieved golf ball that marked Alan’s last touch and triumph. He loved the Friday night gatherings of the family, discussing medical topics with Ros, retirement prospects with Martin and Hilary. And Joan, his youth club sweetheart, his life’s companion at home and on journeys. You are the one who blessed his life and kept his life on track. He is surely your blessing throughout the downs and ups of a loving marriage.

He leaves you with so many stories to tell, so many memories to ponder and share. And with your family and friends you will keep alive his memory and his presence in your life.