Chigwell & Hainault youth enjoying some well earned food

By David Saffer

Rabbi Davis
Rabbi Goodwin

Australia’s Iconic bush ballad “Waltzing Matilda” and Leeds United Football Club’s anthem “Marching on Together” might not appear to be linked. But they are when it comes to Chigwell & Hainault synagogue’s rabbinic team of Rabbi Boruch Davis and Rabbi Rafi Goodwin. Their individual pastoral journeys began continents apart as senior minister Rabbi Davis’ first post was in Adelaide while his assistant’s fledgling rabbinic roots were honed in the West Yorkshire city of Leeds. They have been truly united since June 2016 when Rabbi Rafi, as he is affectionately known, joined the Essex based shul. Chigwell & Hainault, which is close to Epping Forest, is a modern-day orthodox synagogue boasting some 850 families, having tripled its size since the appointment of senior minister Rabbi Davis 20 years ago. In 12 months’ time, the shul reaches the major milestone of its 50th anniversary. The Chigwell congregation had been in existence for only five years when it merged with the Hainault community, which had been established in 1950. Rabbi Davis hails from Kingsbury in north west London. Kingsbury was a very special community as Rabbi Maurice Hool was at its helm for 45 years, he said. “He started in 1959, when I was just a year old. Where some shuls changed rabbis frequently, we knew the same rabbi for a long period of time and there is no doubt Rabbi Hool had a profound impact on many people’s lives.” “I was among a number of young men at the time who went on to become rabbis. In London alone there is Rabbi Dr Julian Schindler (executive director of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue), Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum (Hadley Wood Jewish Community) and Rabbi Naftali Shiff (Aish UK). “Rabbi Hool stood for absolute truth and integrity, which people respected. Beyond that it was a nurturing community, where the youth were encouraged to daven, layn and take part in the community, which was something very special.” Rabbi Davis interspersed studies at yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, Kollel Meretz, Ohr Torah and Midrash Sefaradi while graduating in economics at City of London Polytechnic, prior to a working at the ministry of finance in Jerusalem before receiving semichah from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in 1987. During nine years in Israel, Rabbi Davis married his wife, Nechama. They have six boys, three of whom are married. From Israel, Rabbi Davis accepted a post at Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, where his official title was chief minister of South Australia. The only orthodox congregation in the State served 1,500 Jewish people and has left Rabbi Davis with a fund of happy memories. He recalled he became the “go-to” man for many people and consequently was called on to appear on radio programmes, spoke to government ministers and helped many members of his diverse community, which included Jews who had migrated from many parts of the world. “Adelaide was wonderful in many ways,” Rabbi Davis recalled. “It was a very cosmopolitan community. I was also able to establish very good contacts in Melbourne and Sydney, so did not feel alone in some of the bigger issues that I had to deal with.” After almost a decade “down under”, a new challenge dawned in the United Kingdom. Evaluating his opportunities at a number of United Synagogue shuls, he chose Chigwell & Hainault, which has encompassed a nursery since 1980 and is registered for pre-school children aged two to four. Within two years, he had overseen the appointment of the shul’s first part-time youth director. “They were used to having a rabbi as the main religious leader, but the community has long got used to the idea that you need someone to work with youth and younger members,” Rabbi Davis said. “You have to diversify what you do. “In terms of demographics, we were a young community, but there were plenty of older members. That’s the case now. In fact, we have more young families now. This winter, 20 babies have been born in the community, which is tremendous for the future.” Rabbi Davis believes that having an eruv enhances the community. “It took nearly nine years from the first discussion and came into force November, 2016,” he said. A number of religious families have had babies and within a couple of weeks the babies and their mums were in shul, which is very nice. Apart from initiating the shul’s youth leaders’ programme, Rabbi Davis instigated explanatory services and an extensive adult education programme, known as L’Chaim. He has also led several community trips to Israel. Rabbi Davis noted how technology has taken hold over the years. “When I arrived, I didn’t have an internet connection or email address and I never had a mobile phone,” he recalled. “Within a week, it became clear that I needed a mobile. It was a clumpy thing; how times have changed. Now I feel I carry the community in the palm of my hand. How we do things has changed, such as how we package things. You can’t just type a newsletter, it has to be set out and be pleasant on the eyes and we have the tools to do that.” As for educational programmes, they adapt to reach new families. On a Shabbat, aside from a main service, there are numerous youth services while Rebbetzen Davis runs an explanatory service every few weeks. “What is particularly encouraging is a lot of younger children are coming with parents,” he said. “It seems clear from many parents that the Jewish identity of their children is important to them so they are taking steps, whether it’s going to shul or going to school. Of course, it’s not essential to everyone and you lose some. However, we have a buoyant membership.” Rabbi Davis noted that locally, the United Synagogue, Federation, Chabad, and Aish rabbonim meet regularly. A co-ordinated event last year saw 700 people attend a Lag B’Omer event on the site of King Solomon and Wohl Ilford Primary Schools as they share a campus. The initiative is to be repeated. Chigwell & Hainault is also part of Chanucah lightings arranged by Chabad in the area. However, the shul hosts its own Chanucah and Purim events, which is where Rabbi Rafi, 27, comes to the fore. “We discussed both, but he did the lion’s share of work which is appreciated,” said Rabbi Davis. “Many young families attended, Rabbi Rafi worked hard and they were a tremendous turn out.” He added: “Rabbi Rafi has been amazing at times. When I’ve needed him, he’s been there. There are times when I cannot be in two places at once and I know that I can rely on him to do what he needs to do. And because he’s younger, he can carry off certain things that for an older rabbi are not so easy.” In addition to rabbinic duties, Rabbi Davis is chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, editor in chief of Daf Hashavua and a governor of Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School. So where did Rabbi Rafi begin his journey to the area? He was head Jewish boy at The Grammar School of Leeds and then read law and German at Birmingham University prior to studying at yeshivat in Mayanot, Jerusalem, Morristown, New Jersey and Manchester. His semichah followed from former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau in 2014. He married his wife, Chaya Bracha (the couple have two children), in June, 2014, before joining Chigwell & Hainault. He was also director of services and young couples, at Barkingside Chabad. “At yeshiva, I enjoyed learning practically what to do but also the international feel of things,” he recalled. “In New Jersey, I spent a lot of time in Manhattan every Shabbat where I’d hang out with students at Columbia University. When we came to Chigwell there were a lot of young families and things have worked out for us working with the children, teens or parents. We are in touch with around 30 to 40 young families but there are a lot more to link up with in the area.” Among popular initiatives, Rabbi Rafi has started a Tuesday night shiur (for men under 50) and dads ‘n’ lads football club. Most projects, though, are run jointly by the Goodwins. Apart from Chanukah and Purim, which attracted 300 people in total, their motzei Shabbat programme for 11-15-years-old includes melava malkas, bowling and cinema trips, laser tag, mini golf and meals out. Rabbi Rafi, who teaches barmitzvah boys, runs a youth service “discussion group” on a Shabbat and each month a “dads ‘n’ lads” youth minyan. Rebbetzen Goodwin takes batmitzvah girls and is starting a mums and tots group after Pesach. Rabbi Rafi’s weekly shiur has built a solid following. “We always have tasty food and there is a lot of banter,” he quipped. I was not into American sports while in Morristown, but did check on how Leeds United and Leeds Rhinos were getting along. I’ve always followed both teams and there is plenty of banter with other football fans in shul, which builds rapport. I enjoy the shiurs and ask participants what they want to learn. But it is social as well, you have to relax and the men are really up for it. He added: “It’s been a privilege to work with Rabbi Davis and learn from his experience, how he works as a community rabbi and how tactful he is at sensitive times.” Last year, this vibrant shul was the fasting growing in the United Kingdom. That trend is set to continue with the varying initiatives on offer for members.