Northern Chagigah 2017

GRS members Eileen Carroll, Linda Wolfson, Elaine Dales, and Scott Chase spent the weekend of 3-5 November at a fantastic Northern Chagigah, organised by The Movement for Reform Judaism (RJ). The 120 attendees included members from 11 of the 13 northern RJ communities, RJ staff from London, rabbinic students from Leo Baeck College, and assorted others. The moniker ‘northern’ apparently includes virtually every Reform community north of the M25, as there were participating congregations from as far south as Milton Keynes!

Held at The Hawkhills, a country hotel and conference centre in North Yorkshire, the setting was lovely, but given the Limmud-like full schedule of activities, we had little free time to enjoy our surroundings (outwith an optional walk on Saturday afternoon).

The weekend had something for everyone, including youth programmes led by RSY-Netzer and a creche for younger children. Sessions included multiple worship services, text study, cultural activities, synagogue life and management, and some entertainment, of course! Some highlights for this reporter:

  • The sermon by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers on Saturday morning led from the parasha (in which the birth of Isaac has given Sarah laughter) with joke telling by the rabbi and a couple of on-the-spot volunteers, including Scott, who told his ‘three Reform shul presidents’ joke! As a consequence, there was much informal joke telling throughout the afternoon 🙂
  • Following Havdalah on Saturday evening there was a plenary session with the presentation and discussion ‘Balfour at 100: Us and Israel, vision and reality’, led by a rabbinic student Deborah Blausten and Andrew Keene (representative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, who had just flown in from Israel that day).
  • The ‘Murder Mystery’ on Saturday evening was a biblical whodunit, the setting being the household of the patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ extended family (all portrayed by RSY-Netzer youth and staff). Teams were sent off to separate rooms to determine who murdered Isaac. This involved live video feeds, Morse code, searching for map pieces, looking for clues in scripture, and interviews with family members. The adult puzzlers were aided by groups of young ‘field detectives’ who fetched puzzle pieces and hauled in suspects for interview. A raucous (and learning) experience!
  • A late Saturday night bouncy castle, with fresh candy floss and popcorn to order for kids of all ages!

The GRS contingent had an opportunity to study and hold a planning meeting with rabbinic student Elliott Karstadt, who will be visiting GRS as intern in 2018. This, combined with practical sessions such as community organising and the creation of new rituals, gave our group much knowledge to bring back to our community.

The weekend’s full programme can be viewed here.

Many thanks for a great weekend go to organiser Sarita Robinson and the RJ team, session leaders, and the fantastic Hawkhills staff!

GRS may be the only Reform congregation in Scotland, but the weekend showed us that we are far from being alone: the benefits, immeasurable, from meeting, networking, learning from and with others in Reform Judaism (congregations outwith the London bubble, of similar size and with similar issues ; RJ staff; rabbis; rabbinic students; and lay leaders). The weekend was, of course, also an opportunity to renew friendships and make new ones.

If any of this piques your interest, do consider attending the biennial Chagigah (for all UK RJ communities), scheduled for the weekend of 22-24 June 2018, at Eastwood Hall near Nottingham. Information for this weekend can be found here.

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