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Canterbury Tales

Monday, 11 June, 2012 - 12:33 pm

We’ve done it before, and each time, the routine gets that much easier. Cook up a Shabbos storm, load the kitchen sink and everything else into the car, and head off someplace beyond the comforts of our Brighton base.

Our destination: Southampton or Canterbury.

Captive audience: Jewish students and a sprinkle of local Jews.

Weekly Lunch and Learns and regular social events are fantastic opportunities to build friendships and inspire, but a Shabbos experience is a whole lot more.

With 20 students in attendance, the cosy atmosphere at Friday night dinner lasted until close to 2 o’clock in the morning. Song, food, L’chaim and a wonderful atmosphere prevailed.

The setting for our most recent Canterbury Tale was an 18th Century cottage in the heart of the old town, a stone’s throw from the Old Synagogue, now a music hall for the Kings School. Walking to Shul on Shabbos morning, I could not help but wonder about the lives of the various Jewish characters who have lived in Canterbury during the past eight hundred and fifty years. Under the spell of the fairytale character of the city, I let my imagination picture Jews of all sorts hurrying along the very same cobbled streets, each on their way to the Synagogue of their era.

Whether the Jews of the past enjoyed a Kiddush like ours, with delicious hot cholent, kugel, and the equivalent of Shterna’s homemade cakes, would be wishful imagination. One thing of which I am certain, they’d be shocked to find vibrant Jewish life, after the last Synagogue ceased services in 1911!

Allow me to share a thought I shared with the students:

Rabbi Yosi ben Kismah, a second century sage of the Mishna, relates that he once encountered a ‘macher’, who enquired about his hometown. “I am from a great town of sages and scribes”, responded R’ Yosi. “Rabbi”, countered the ‘macher’, “if you come and reside among us, in our town, I’d be happy to offer you an impressive, executive salary” (Silver, gold, precious stones and diamonds would all be included in the contract...). “To which I responded”, continues R’ Yosi, “If you were to offer me all the treasures of the world, I would only live in a place of Torah!”

Here’s what I pointed out to the students. Look at the conversation carefully, and you will observe that R’ Yosi never actually declined the tempting offer. What he objected to was being perceived as the ‘rabbi’ in town, while everyone else gets on with their mundane, meaningless lives. Says R’ Yosi, ‘if you’d like me to consider the position, you must be open to being influenced by Judaism’s teachings, so that I can in turn inspire you to make your town ‘a place of Torah’ and of vibrant Jewish life; a place which I’d be more than happy to call my own’.

It is thanks to the many students in Brighton, Southampton and Canterbury, who have shown an impressive enthusiasm towards Jewish teaching and living, that our partnership in Jewish revival has been possible.

Shabbos, 23rd June, 3rd of Tammuz, marks the 18th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose teachings have inspired Shterna and myself, and thousands of other Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis and rebbitzens, to reach beyond our own comfort-zone, often schlepping the kitchen sink with us, to awaken another Jewish spark.

As Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reflects, “the Rebbe did something absolutely extraordinary; he said to himself: if the Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, we will search out every Jew in love.”

Comments on: Canterbury Tales
6/11/2012

Gina wrote...

I did not like Chaucers Canterburys tales at A level - your's much more meaningful and real - thanks ! :-)
1/16/2013

jof wrote...

Beautiful interpretation on rav yosi ben kisma