As the Shofar sounds throughout the days ahead it will signal not just the arrival of a new year, but also the end of one that many would like to forget.
Coronavirus, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, has hit Britain’s Jews particularly hard. And the disproportionate losses you have suffered have been compounded by the necessary privations of lockdown. Synagogues that have remained open for centuries, welcoming worshippers on Shabbat even as Nazi bombs rained from the sky, were forced to close their doors just when people needed spiritual comfort more than ever. It’s been a year of cancelled and postponed bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Of usually warm and welcoming Passover Seders being barred to outside guests. And I know that last week’s tightening up of restrictions on social gatherings has come as a real blow to those who hoped to mark the high holy days with some degree of normality. Being required to mark Rosh Hashanah without the close embrace of family will make this a difficult end to what has been a very difficult year. But, here in the UK and around the world, Jewish communities have never been ones to take adversity lying down. So I was not in the least surprised to see you responding to the challenges of Coronavirus with typical vim, vigour and ingenuity. Reaching out to support one another. Offering spiritual, practical and financial help to friends and neighbours of all faiths and none. And finding new ways to come together as a community for education, prayer and celebration. And that is why I believe we can look ahead to 5781 with great hope and with optimism. You have been doing your bit, you have been playing your part. And if you stick with it – meet in groups of no more than six, wash your hands, wear face coverings and keep your distance from anyone you do not live with – if you can do all that together we can, as Avinu Malkeinu puts it with prescient topicality, “remove the plague” from all our people. And when it comes to totting up good deeds from the year gone by, I can’t think of anything greater than doing what was needed, however tough, to save the lives of your fellow citizens. Shana Tova – and may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.