With an open mind

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


Sermons and Thoughts

Sh’mah Koleinu – Listen to our voice

27 September 2020
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein and Rabbi Lea Mühlstein
Sermon Kol Nidrei

On this most solemn of days, we become before God that we may, each of us as individuals examine our place in this world. Yom Kippur is a day that implores us to question –
who am I?


In her most famous poem, the Israeli poet Zelda Shneurson Mishkowsky, widely known as Zelda, reminds us: “L’chol ish yeish sheim – each of us has a name.”

Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by our death.
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Her words beautifully describe how much of ourselves is captured by our names and encourages us to reflect on the name given to us by the experiences of the past. But Zelda also highlights how much of our name is encapsulated in our relationships. Especially at a time when opportunities to see each other face to face have become rare, the most powerful way in which we can establish connection within our community is to share who we are and get to know who you are through names – they might only be a few letters in the comments on YouTube or Facebook yet in these letters we glimpse at the depth of meaning contained in each of our names. As a community we believe that the power to deepen our Jewish experience lies in knowing each other not just superficially but with the depth suggested by Zelda. By coming together and through personalised Jewish exploration, each of us can add further depth to the name given by God.


Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you! For where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Whatever God may do to me – nothing but death shall part me from you! (Ruth 1:16-17).

A sense of belonging is such a vital human need. Whilst Liberal Judaism is universal in its outlook, our particularity enables confidence in one’s self and place in the world. Belonging provides comfort in life and the story of Ruth concludes with a sense of a shared historical narrative and the continuity of one’s legacy: the genealogy connects back to Perez, son of Tamar, through Oved, Ruth’s son and through to David.

Periods of isolation this past year, have highlighted our need to be in relationship with others. Our physical and mental wellbeing depends both on receiving from others; and our capacity to give enhances the meaning of our lives, others depend upon us, as Einstein wrote, “…we are here for the sake of others.”

Rabbi Lea and I know just how blessed we are not to be sole practitioners; and we truly appreciate our fortune in your belonging to this congregation. Dad often says, the congregation gets the rabbi it deserves and the rabbi, the congregation they deserve. In belonging together at NPLS we feel the powerful sense of togetherness. For those able, we cannot wait to be physically present as a congregation and your messages expressing connection through Rosh Hashanah illustrate affirm our ability to be spiritually together wherever we are.


I am fascinated by etymology the study of the origin and evolution of words. In looking for Biblical stories relating to caring, I found that the etymology of the word became the story.

The root used in Ivrit for caregiving – tet-fey-lamed – only appear in the TaNaKH to mean plastering or smearing over one’s character or misdoings. Insolent men do this (Psalms 119:69 & Job 13:4), insolent as in the ancient Near East, evidence was bound up and stored for use at trials. If God put away hypothetical evidence against, in this case Job, Job would emerge innocent and free from punishment (Job 14:17). Biblically, God was the caregiver.

In rabbinic literature, the sense of plastering is extended to gluing, binding or being attached. So, the application to attending, nursing or tending to someone. tet-fey-lamed seems refers most regularly to close family, honouring one’s parents by caring for them.

Today in Ivrit, it means to look after, take care of, physically and psychologically.

The etymology of tet-fey-lamed reflects contemporary reality and understanding. Our ancient ancestors believed that they were dependent on the benevolence of God; our Sages, that the family were the primary caregiver and today, well that it is more complex. The ability of society as a whole to provide longevity is far greater, yet are we faithful to the origins of care?

As a religious organisation, we recognise the gift of wellbeing. Individually, we can do much to maintain our health and we recognise our fragility and our mortality. Whilst, as I said on Rosh Hashanah, we do not believe in a fatalist God, we still say ‘shehecheyanu – thanking God for our life’ on special life occasions.

The Sages wrote the importance of family into the fabric of Judaism and NPLS has woven care into the tapestry of what it means for us to be a sacred community – kehillah kedoshah. In March, over a hundred NPLS members immediately responded to augment the offering from our Care Team. May God smile on our efforts, through tet-fey-lamed, our working in partnership with families and households, and grant us many more shehecheyanu-moments.


Care and paying attention to the needs of the individuals has always been at the heart of Liberal Judaism. Lily Montagu deserves to be credited with possibly the most profound realisations, which led to the success of the Jewish Religious Union, which you know better today simply as Liberal Judaism: Judaism is a lived religion that must be experienced. She realised that if individuals were denied access to experiencing Judaism, they would eventually lose their faith. Rather than ignoring the realities faced by so many, Lily cared to notice. She observed that many young women were denied the opportunity to attend Shabbat morning services as they would be at work. The simple response was to schedule the morning service of the West Central region of the JRU to begin at 3pm in the afternoon – certainly not an orthodox choice yet a powerful way of enabling all to experience Judaism. But Lily’s emphasis on Judaism as experience did not end with services, her social work and devotion to helping others were all expressions of her Judaism. Inspired by Lily and generations of Liberal Jews after her, we too place value-rich Jewish experience at the heart of what we do; because we believe that this is the only way to create commitment, relevance and emotional engagement, whether we share these experiences in person or online, within the walls of our beautiful synagogue or unrestricted by geography.

Importantly, Jewish experiences are not just created by us rabbis – from Limmud to the Whatsapp group of our Exploring Judaism course, every individual in this community can create profound and mundane Jewish experiences and through this deepen the sense of community felt by all.


Whilst we long for the physical company of each other, our Synagogue, the Rabbis and the Board, made the bold decision that what we would experience through this period of pandemic is not a second best. It would be at time of experimentation, learning, and growth so that we would emerge even stronger.

So many of you told us of your fears for Rosh Hashanah; yet then wrote and called us to say what an incredible communal, spiritual uplift was experienced; they were looking forward to Yom Kippur.

Whilst we hope that this will be a one-off High Holy Days, throughout it, may we feel each other’s presence and in future reflect on how we were personally emboldened by it. For we have all been forced to make Jewish choices. We had the choice not to engage at all, just to let the Jewish annual cycle slide for a year. But you have made a positive decision to be in this Congregation as we have decided to be bold and envision how Judaism will look not just now but into the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloyheinu Melech ha’olam, ozeir Yisrael bigvurah.

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, for the strength that comes to us through our community.