Showing posts from 2013

Induction Address

Induction Sermon
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 

There’s Power in Numbers 

There’s power in numbers. Numbers determine our lot. They shape our perception of the world. They guide our thinking about important issues. Numbers range from the abstractions of philosophy to the gritty reality of lives lived in their myriad ways. 
There’s magic in numbers. Numbers are wrapped in symbol and metaphor, point to archetype and myth. Sometimes they occupy a space between the literal and figurative, between the creative and exact. Numbers cement our rationality or whip up our superstition. Numbers are the bearers of values and the makers of meaning. We Jews know that all too well. 

The first prime number is also our most cardinal one: One. One for the One God our religious civilization bequeathed to humanity. One for the fundamental moral recognition that, as in the words of the prophet Malachi , ‘halo Av echad lechulanu, halo El echad baranu’ - ‘Have we not one Father? Has not one God created us?’ S…

Circumcision of the Heart

Sinai Chronicle October 2013  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
Circumcision of the Heart 
Coming out of the High Holy Day season and back into ‘normal life as we know it’ seems like a tall order for my young family. Within the space of four months, my husband and I have gone through the last stages of my pregnancy, an Ordination, a rabbinic appointment, childbirth, young parenthood and an international move from Holland to Leeds. Any of these individually already marks an existential and potentially transformative experience and we feel blessed to have gone through all of them (although the ‘international move’ is less memorable and enjoyable than the others!) 
Any of these experiences is worthy of its own commentary and reflection. Yet out of all these experiences, one of the most complex, challenging and beautiful things to reflect upon was our son’s Jonathan’s Brit Milah (circumcision). Few rituals in our tradition are as ancient, powerful and unsettling. Circumcision, as it were, cuts to…

Parents and Children

(This article was written for and published in the High Holy Day edition of the 'Sinai Chronicle', quarterly magazine of Sinai Synagogue, Leeds).
Parents and Children
At currently 36 weeks pregnant, parenting is ‘on the brain’. A kind member of Sinai Synagogue gave this inexperienced, first-time mother-to-be a wonderful book called ‘Raising Boys’ by Steve Biddulph. My husband Dave and I both very much enjoyed reading it as we anticipate the birth of our son in August, God willing. These are certainly interesting and wonderful times for our budding family.  I was honoured to celebrate my Ordination in early July and Dave and I are preparing to move to Leeds as I will take up my post as Assistant Rabbi in late Autumn or early Winter. It’s a period of profound personal transition. But the transition isn’t only personal – it also matches the Jewish calendar. 
Today (at the time of writing) was Tisha b’Av, the 9th of the month of Av, in which we commemorate the many tragedies that have…

In or out of the box: begrenzingen en vrijheid

D’rasja LJG Amsterdam: Begrenzing, bemoediging en vrijheid 
Ik heb erg veel respect gekregen voor mijn man. Niet alleen heeft hij mij de afgelopen vijf jaar door dik en dun gesteund toen ik op de rabbijnenopleiding zat, maar hij heeft nu ook een begin gemaakt aan ‘de babykamer’. ‘De babykamer’ is een klus waar wij al enige tijd tegenop zagen. Naar de Prenatal – het glazuur springt van je tanden, zo zoet met al die hartjes en roze – om inkopen te doen, keurig met de lijst van kraamzorg in de hand (heb nooit geweten wat ‘hydrofiele luiers’ zijn. Het zijn dus geen luiers – zo leer je ook weer eens wat). En nu is mijn heldhaftige echtgenoot begonnen met het in elkaar zetten van de box voor ons kleine mannetje. 
In de opvoedkundige wereld zijn er natuurlijk hele discussies over de zin of onzin van een box. Is het goed voor een baby om zo begrensd of beperkt te worden? Of biedt dat juist veiligheid en structuur aan een onoverzichtelijke en chaotische wereld waardoor een klein kindje met meer…


(Dit is de Nederlandse vertaling van de 'Ordination Address' die ik ten gelegenheid van mijn rabbinale wijding op 7 juli 2013 heb gegeven).
Wijdingspreek 7 juli 2013  Rabbijn Esther Hugenholtz 
Hoe pas je een reis van twintig jaren dromen, tien jaren voorbereiding en vijf jaar studeren aan een rabbinale opleiding in een preek van 600 woorden? Op een talmoedische manier, natuurlijk, door het vertellen van een verhaal – of door het voorlezen van een stukje uit een hele oude brief. 
“Utrecht, 26 Juny 1823 Lieve!  Beste Schat! Ik hebbe op den biddag met veel hulpe mogen prediken over Hozea 11:9 ik ben God en geen mensch: Daar Coll. Smith, Profr. Heringa en Merens over mij predikten, had ik in vergelijking een klein gehoor, gel. ik ook in de collecte de minste aller broederen was… mogt het mij maar ootmoedig voor God en menschen maken!” 
Dit was een brief van mijn betovergrootvader Petrus Hugenholtz aan zijn geliefde vrouw, Christina. Hij is een van mijn directe voorouders in de …


After five years of study at both the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles and Leo Baeck College in London, I am proud to report that I have been ordained as a Rabbi by Leo Baeck College.
The ceremony took place on Sunday the 7th of July 2013 at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue in Northwood, London. My ordaining rabbi was Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, Director of Jewish Studies at the College. My husband, Dave Middleton, and Rabbi Professor Dr Marc Saperstein (my dissertation advisor) guided me to the bimah.
Each of the three ordinands, Leah Jordan, Benji Stanley and myself, were ordained by rabbis with whom we feel a strong personal connection, which made for a lovely and intimate ceremony. Dr Laliv Clenman, teacher of Talmud and Rabbinic Texts at the College, gave us a stellar Ordination Address which was thoughtful, wise but also incredibly funny.

{Rabbis Mark Levin, Leah Jordan, Laura Janner-Klausner, Benji Stanley, Esther Hugenholtz & Charles Middleburgh}

Ordination Address

Ordination Address  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz, 7th of July 2013
How does one fit a journey of twenty years of dreaming, ten years of preparing and five years of studying at rabbinical school into a 600-word Ordination Address? Through the Talmudic way, of course, by telling a story. Or reading out a snippet of a very old letter. 
“26th of June, 1823, Sweetheart! Dearest darling! …With great help [from God], I was able to preach this past Sunday on Hosea 11:9, ‘for I am God, and not a man.’ Because my colleagues... preached before me, I had a small audience by comparison and when it came to collecting the offertory, I was the least among my brethren… May it make me humble before God and man!” 
This was a letter from my great-great-grandfather, Petrus Hugenholtz, to his beloved wife, Christina. Born in 1766, he is one of my paternal ancestors and a link in a long chain of Protestant ministers from my family, a theological dynasty. This family tradition was started when the first Hugenhol…

Playing with Fire

Sermon Sinai Synagogue, Parashat Beha’a lot’cha 
Playing with Fire 
When I was reading my Facebook newsfeed three days ago, someone shared the lovely and heartwarming story from the Bradford Jewish community. The local Muslim community generously stepped up to raise funds for the synagogue’s leaky roof in a fantastic gesture of interfaith friendship. I immediately shared the story. I have a lot of Muslim friends on Facebook and I wanted to spread the goodwill. When I refreshed my newsfeed afterwards, still aglow with having my faith in humanity restored, I read about the gruesome Woolwich murder… 
I wondered for a long time whether this should be addressed in a sermon and if so, how. The media has covered the story in gruesome detail and pundits and ordinary people alike have descended to give their opinions. How do we see this – as a murder or as a terrorist attack? Were the two men ‘lone wolves’ or part of a wave of organised radicalisation? How does this gruesome act cast a shadow o…