Mazal Tov. We're preparing for our Bar Mitzvah

Thursday, 17 December, 2015 - 8:33 pm

Today, 5th Tevet, marks a special milestone for Shterna and myself.  On this day 12 years ago, we boarded a BA flight at New York's JFK, on our way to our new position as Chabad Shluchim to Brighton.

The English date was New Year's Eve 2004. We remember it well, as Heathrow had a skeleton staff for New Year's Day, so we waited an hour for our luggage to arrive.

I don't know where to start!  We honestly had very little clue of what to expect, other than that Rabbi Pesach & Mrs Penina Efune and their (then) younger children were waiting enthusiastically to welcome us to the city and introduce us to Brighton & Hove's Jewish community.

Our job description was varied.  Inspire seniors. Teach young children. Run youth programmes and work with young adults and young couples.  And assist with congregational responsibilities at the BHHC’s West Hove Synagogue.  Oh, and get involved with the student community too.

Funny how things go.  At the time, I was slightly relieved that the student stuff would be pretty low down on the list, almost like an after-thought.  We were fairly young, close in age to the students and all that, but I felt safer on the Bimah in the Synagogue, or at the front of the classroom, than at informal conversation with students.  On a regular Friday night nowadays, I get challenged with an average of 10 hard-hitting questions, relating to all areas of Jewish life, Halacha and philosophy.  Change and growth is exciting, rewarding and so much more.

We’d bought a few too many books and some furniture as newlyweds in the USA.  Noah would have been impressed by our 20ft container, packed to the door, with everything but the kitchen sink.  The incredulous look on the lorry driver’s face, when he discovered that we’d given up the good life in the United States, choosing instead ‘backwater’ Brighton, England, will probably make me smile for many years to come.

Raizel was born in March of that year, just 2 ½ months after our arrival, followed by Mushka in the summer of 2005.  ‘A Mentch Tracht un G-t Lacht – We plan and the Almighty has a good chuckle’ is a wonderful expression.  We thought we’d settle down for a while.  During our first 10 years, we lived in Braemore Court, Pembroke Gardens and Medina Villas, all in Hove.  Then Golden Lane (Norfolk Sq), Vere Road and Elm Grove in Brighton.  Along that journey, Mendel, Shmulik, Yankel and Chana made their safe arrivals into our lives.

By this point, our job description had well and truly been transformed; our lives had become intertwined with that of the Jewish students and the universities.  We continue to be part of the local Jewish community in so many ways, cherish the many relationships formed, and feel blessed to include so many of its members as our friends.   But our passion and commitment is to the students, here in Brighton and beyond, as far as Canterbury in the east and Southampton to the west.   

As directors of Chabad at SE Coast Universities, we think we’re doing some pretty important stuff.  And to get this stuff done, we needed some space.  Mind you, our growing family needed a bit of space too.  So in the summer of 2013, we moved into our Chabad House, overlooking The Level, in Brighton’s densely student-populated area.   We’re technically in Hanover, which the locals consider more Bohemian than Bohemia, and being part of the local facebook community group provides daily entertaining reminders of the colourful community we live in.  University of Brighton’s Phoenix Halls are virtually in our back garden and the noise of rowdy, intoxicated students throughout the night, reminds us that we’ve chosen our location well.  Levi, now almost 2, was born soon after we had settled into the Chabad House.

How does one reflect on 12 years without boring reader or writer?!

Students face all sorts of pressures.  Sadly, over the years, we’ve had the difficult task of counselling students through very challenging circumstances, including suicide attempts.  When mentioning this recently to someone, the apt response was “wow, what you and Shterna do is really important.”  We couldn’t agree more!

Rosh Hashanah dinners.  Kol Nidrei and Neilah Services.  Sukkot events, Chanukah parties and Giant Menorah Lightings.  Lunch n Learns at 3 different universities weekly and Pizza n Parsha.  Shabbat dinners and women’s issues.   And dozens of one-to-one sessions, for learning, counselling or just caring.

During the academic term, breathing is a luxury.

So on this 12th anniversary, the first thing I’m thankful for is that it’s not term-time, so I can actually reflect.

Tomorrow begins our 13th year in Brighton.  We’re determined, more than ever, to grow during our Bar Mitzvah year and the years to follow.

We thank our partners who’ve made our success thus far a reality.  Our friends for their encouragement and support and our students for making it all worthwhile.  And our kids for all being such wonderful members of our team.

L’chaim to the next 12 years. 

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