As you know, Renee and I are currently in Barbados until mid-February. We've settled in very well and are enjoying the beautiful surroundings and weather on the Island. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue community is warm, kind and hospitable and in many ways no different from our own Westminster Synagogue. They laboured hard and long to renovate their historic 17th century building ten years ago, one of the oldest Synagogues in the Western Hemisphere, and which had already once been rebuilt in the 1800s following a major hurricane in the area.
The Jewish Community of Nidhe Israel was established back in 1564 by Sephardi Jews and the historic site on which it stands includes a 17th century cemetery and Mikveh (ritual bath) and a jewel of a Museum, The Museum is probably one of the main tourist attractions in Bridgetown. Sadly there are no descendants of those Jews from almost 400 years ago, and the community now consists of the descendants of Ashkenazi Jews who came here in the early 1930s from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Germany and elsewhere - escaping the dangers of Nazism, poverty and persecution.
Although the community is very small - some sixty to eighty souls - at this time of the year its numbers are swollen by the many visitors and tourists. Some weeks ago when the Bajan Jews and tourists were enjoying the Festive seasons here with family and friends, the Friday evening service was standing room only.
Only one week after we arrived, the B'nei Mitzvah of twins (brother and sister) was celebrated - the first, I understand, for many years. The family had visited from New York a few years before and fallen in love with the Synagogue. I was delighted to co-officiate with Hazzan Avery Tracht of Curacao, and I believe it was the first time in some twenty years that the community had experienced a reading from the Czech Scroll which is on loan from MST. This gave me an opportunity to speak about its history and provenance and to present the twins with Philippa Bernard's book on the History of the Scrolls. Indeed on the 27th of this month I shall be giving a talk about the Czech Scrolls at a public celebration of Holocaust Memorial Day, when we will also light the six candles and recite the Memorial Prayers remembering the victims of the Holocaust.
Renee and I are accommodated in a most beautiful cottage, with a view of the calm waters of the Caribbean. Most mornings, I sit and work on the patio - I write a weekly D'var Torah for the community, and of course a sermon for Friday night service. On the patio there is also a delightful fish pond (Renee feeds the fish every day and they have become friends!). We also have the occasional visit from a local Green Monkey family. We have a beautiful pool on the property and the beach is just a ten- minute drive away, with a fabulous one-mile Boardwalk to keep us fit.
There is a Chabad Rabbi on the Island. He's been here with his wife and two children for the past year. He doesn't have too many takers as there are no Orthodox Jews here per se, only a few visiting tourists. He has asked me to come to his services on Shabbat morning, and I am encouraging him to do the same with some of the events we are hosting. He's already attended my 'lecture' on Anglo-Jewish history (thank you Philippa for your wonderful help in putting this together), and has promised to come with his family for a Tu B'Shevat Seder this Sunday.
There's plenty of social life here for us and lots of tourist attractions. This week we've been lucky in being able to attend two films at the Annual Barbados Film Festival, when we were honoured to hear the most inspiring and welcoming speech by the PM of Barbados. The actor Sigourney Weaver was honoured with an Achievement Award, and it was lovely meeting her in person, as well as Howard Shore, music composer of Lord of Rings and Hobbit fame and we (and everyone else) learned that he composed the music to those films here over a number of years. We look forward to the West Indies vs England cricket next week and of course I am trying to keep up with the Premier League matches.
We of course think and talk a lot about our community - how could we not? - and we were very sad to hear of the deaths of members Bernard Shire and Geoffrey Helman. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends. I am keeping in touch with Rabbi Benji, with Gary, with our Chairman, Jeffrey, and others by email, and would welcome your news if you'd like to be in touch