Showing posts from 2015

Family Matters

Parashat Vayechi Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz Family Matters Death and life are closer than you think. In our human experience, they are so close that many cultures have created rituals to stave off our fear of death in the darkest of Winter’s days, when the veil between life and death seems thin. Now that I’ve moved to the north of England, I appreciate that impulse all the more so. Every culture has its own way of doing so. The Pagans of yore burnt Yule logs and the Romans enjoyed a week of revelry during Saturnalia. The Midrash and Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8b) state that there’s a link between Chanukkah, the Solstice and a story of Adam, the first Man, who created fire on the darkest day. And then, of course, there is Christmas, a holiday superimposed on older, primordial pagan practices, in which we welcome light and cheer. Christmas and Chanukkah, however, don’t only allow us to light a candle against the dark but also bring us together to enjoy family time. Y

Excavating and Elevating

Parashat Vayigash  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz  Excavating and Elevating  Being a rabbi is a funny job. Like Joseph, a rabbi is expected to replenish the storehouses of the community. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Like Joseph, a rabbi is expected to facilitate relationships. Like Joseph, a rabbi is expected to develop a sustainable vision for the future as well as being a ‘ dugma ishit ’, a personal example. We rabbis answer to a Higher Authority, after all, and despite our personal preferences, foibles and failings, are bearers of the crucible of tradition. I love being a rabbi and only two years in, I feel like I could already write a book about my myriad of moving, challenging and sometimes outright bemusing experiences.  Yet there’s one aspect of a rabbi’s life which is most visible: the rabbi as shaliach tzibbur , prayer leader. This is what stereotypically people imagine a rabbi to be: standing here, in the prerequisite ritual garb, leading the congregatio

From Comfort Zone to Home

Parashat Lech Lecha Reform Judaism Shabbat Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz From Comfort Zone to Home ‘ Vayomer Adonai el Avram lech lecha me’artzecha u’mimoladecha u’mibeit avicha el ha’aretz asher ar’echa ’ (Gen. 12:1) – ‘And the Eternal said to Avram, go for yourself, from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house to the land I will show you.’ If we would have to compile a Top Ten of meaningful lines from the Torah that are just begging to be ‘d’rashed’, then this line would make the cut. One of the things that makes me passionate about the Torah is the sweep of its narrative arc, the ‘God’s eye view’ of the story, from Creation to the death of Moses. Even more powerful, perhaps, is not the ability to zoom out to the expanse of the universe but rather to focus on molecules of meaning that, like subatomic particles, can hold enough energy and wisdom to fuel the world entire. This first line of Lech Lecha has such density. ‘Go for yourself, from your land a

To Love, Honour and Obey?

Parashat Bereishit 2015 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz To Love, Honour and Obey? The leaves are turning, the evenings are lengthening and the chagim have drawn to a close: time for a weekly ritual of watching ‘Downton Abbey’ on iPlayer. Apart from the completely ahistorical and socially inaccurate way class relationships are depicted, the series usually showcases a wedding or two. Last week’s episode saw the wedding of Mr Carson, the Abbey’s loyal butler and Mrs Hughes, the House’s devoted housekeeper. After much back-and-forth about the appropriate venue, they finally settled on getting married in the Schoolhouse with a spread laden on trestle tables with ‘honest rustic fare’ that would be the envy of Jamie Oliver. So we caught a snippet of the vows in which Mrs Hughes promised to ‘love, honour and obey’ her husband. An observant watcher may have been alerted to the retrograde nature of those vows. Do Christian brides these days promise to unilaterally obey their husbands? In

What's Your Story?

Sukkot Sermon 2015                          Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz What’s Your Story? One of the most important lessons I learnt in my rabbinical school Homiletics Class was “don’t talk too much about your children from the pulpit.” A wise lesson indeed because who wants to hear rabbinic parents kvell over their kids all the time? But if you will indulge me for a moment, I do want to share how very cute it is that Jonathan is really getting into his books (and his little sister happily follows along). See, we don’t have a television at home—I got rid of my TV set back in my university days and haven’t looked back since (if you’re inclined to think this is particularly spiritual or virtuous—don’t: I still whittle away far too much time on the internet!) This means that Jonathan’s primary entertainment is books (augmented with the odd Toddler Learning Channel on YouTube) and it’s been wonderful to see him take to his books. He will come up to us and say ‘book, book!’ and w

The Religion Business

Yom Kippur Sermon 2015 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz The Religion Business “So what do you do for a living?” We’ve all been there: waiting at the bus stop, train station, airport, in the checkout line of the supermarket or the doctor’s surgery and a well-meaning stranger strikes up a pleasant conversation with you and then they ask that question. I’ve come to dread answering it. People’s reactions can range from the stereotypical to the inane: ‘are there women rabbis?’ (clearly you’re looking at one!), ‘you don’t look like a rabbi?’ and my all-time favourite (not): ‘where’s your beard! Ha ha ha’. So I resort to an arsenal of conversational tricks varying from deflection (‘tell me, what do you do for a living?’) to outright deception—yes, on rare occasions, I’ve lied! Still, I love what I do and there’s no denying that I’m in the Religion Business. Rabbi Morris and I aren’t the only ones in the Religion Business here at Sinai. Everyone here is involved in the Relig