Reverend Brodie’s Address to the Congregation on his Retirement - Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5770
Last Shabbat morning, the President, from the pulpit, announced my impending retirement. On Motzei Shabbat I was busy with arrangements for the funeral of Zalman Stemmer O”H. On Sunday morning I sat in as Junior Dayan at the Beth Din for a Get, in the afternoon, I delivered eulogies at two funerals; in the evening as well as on Tuesday and Thursday evening I said a few words at the Shiva and on Monday afternoon I took part in a Chupah at Stenecourt and acted as Civil Registrar. On Monday evening, in my official position, I attended a charity function, on Tuesday I visited Rose Taylor who is very ill in hospital and said Vidui and Shema for her.
Had not everyone been in London for Daniel Gillis’s wedding on Monday evening, I would have prepared and given my Shiur. This morning, as you have heard, it was my pleasure to talk to Amalya Kemp, our Bat Mitzvah girl, and tomorrow I have three Matzeva congregations.
Thus my retirement – I just thought you may like to know.
Ladies and Gentlemen, radical changes in many spheres have taken place since 1944. On Shabbat morning at 10.30, I stood outside our old building looking for a 10th and possibly a 9th and 10th man to make up the Minyan, much to the disapproval of the warden who thought it undignified. The world has changed, the Jewish world has changed, the Manchester community has changed and Stenecourt has changed.
The world has changed. Then, despite the black-out, a woman could walk on her own in Cheetham Hill without fear of being molested. Today, violence wreaks havoc and victims beware because you are to blame. Then, immorality was kept hush-hush, integrity was the norm; now, explicit sex is flaunted on stage and in public, corruption is rampant in high places and the perpetrators are heroes and role models for our youth. I have said so often, and sadly there is ample proof, we and our children in particular are not immune, and so, as your spiritual guide, I had to cope with the ever-more serious inroads of the destructive environmental steamroller.
The Jewish world has changed. In 1945 we learnt of the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust, with the loss of a third of our nation, and the strongholds of Torah in Europe. Only a few days ago a stranger, an elderly Jew, stopped me in Prestwich Village “Could he ask me something which troubles him; and there was the 6 million-fold question, why did G-D not put a stop to it?” And as one whose attitude to life in all its aspects is powerfully influenced by the subconscious awareness on the Shoa, all I could say to him and all I have preached over the past 65 years is that there is an answer, but only Hashem knows it, and who would dare fathom his inscrutable justice.
Three years later we experienced the miracle of the rebirth of the Homeland, and my challenge was to preach the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, the fact that more than three quarters of Taryag Mitzvot are teluyot Booretz, only apply in Israel, that Israel has a purpose only if Torat Yisrael predominates, and that we can rely only on Hashem when friends are fickle, enemies are everywhere and the future is most precarious.
The Community has changed. Whilst in the immediate post-war years prophets of doom of the imminent demise of Anglo-Jewry abounded, there has been a remarkable renaissance of all aspects of Jewish life, with Chinuch on a golden plate for all ages and every level. And speaking for Reverend Brodie, my sermons from 1957 for many years were directed to congregations whose Judaism essentially was an hour or two for a little Divine worship and a good Shabbos to one’s friends, but very sparse Shemirat Shabbat and Kashrut and Taharat Hamishpachah and Limud Torah, with the question “shall we have Jewish grandchildren” largely ignored. In recent years intermarriage and assimilation has risen to a high percentage. In an advertisement by Reform and Liberal Synagogues of High Holyday Services, I counted some 85 venues in this country. We know that a large proportion of these congregations are made up of mixed marriages. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Stenecourt has not lost any members to these misguided movements. The good news is that the Baal Teshuvah movement is flourishing. As time progressed, so did the burden of my teaching on and off the pulpit change, not only from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, but I was encouraged by a largely observant and more learned membership to upgrade my message, and note with satisfaction that almost all our youngsters as a matter of course spend time in Yeshivot and Seminaries and adults take advantage of Chinuch facilities in my beautiful Bet Hamidrash and elsewhere, as well as of the ubiquitous Artscroll, Lilmod velasos – to learn and practice. I am also proud that I have helped educate people on the concept of chessed, as evident by the thousands of pounds made by daily box collections and special weekly ones, as well as the outstanding success of the Purim and Simchat Torah effort.
My policy throughout my Ministry has been best expressed when I said in a sermon many years ago that the bosses of Stenecourt were not the gentlemen in the box, nor even I. The Shulchan Aruch ruled, whose decisions I have propagated without imposing any Chumros and stringencies. And so Atem nitzovim hayom kulchem, you stand before me this day, lay leaders and members, women and children, all of whom have been of equal importance to me. To paraphrase the words of Moshe Rabeinu, Lo chamor echod mehem nososi, I have never accepted any gratuities and hence I was able to speak without fear and favour when the occasion demanded it. I cannot help describing you all as my Stenecourt family; you have been and are dear to me, I have watched some of you from childhood and youth, to families, and your development in Yiddishkeit. I have grown old with the old ones, and now the time has come to Vayelech, for me to give up the reins, to go. I have full confidence in handing over to my colleagues, both of whom are doing excellent work and many welcome innovations for the enhancement of Stenecourt’s activities, and will surely maintain the ethos which I have endeavoured to foster.
Geographically, the area is saturated with Shools and Stieblach, all dependent for future growth on the same limited catchment. Our problems are not helped by private Minyonim, and our success in having a multiplicity of services contributes to the weakness of the main Shool, but we have to accept the prevalent DIY culture of the Shool too. What troubles me is that for a small Shool, which is praised far and wide for its excellence, there is such diversity of direction; is that how families should be? If we are to flourish, market research indicates that middle-of-the-road is on the losing end. Our youngsters, the potential future Stenecourt generation, demand higher standards, and hence, whilst very happy to daven and learn in our Bet Hamedrash on weekdays, but on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Yomim Noroim, daven where Kavonoh is universal and decorum does not have to be enforced.
People ask me what I am going to do in my retirement. At my age I may be permitted to rest on my laurels. My assessment of the future may be entirely wrong, but as things are, we need a think-tank to decide which direction we are to follow and for the minority opinion to co-operate in foregoing diversity for unity, Hine Ma Tov… Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. I believe Stenecourt is a good Shool, and if all put loyalty foremost and make Stenecourt the pride of their religious and social life, we shall go forward. Ki shom Zivo Hashem es Haberocho, for in the pleasantness of brethren dwelling together in unity, with a unity of purpose, Hashem has commanded his blessing. Chayim ad Haolom, everlasting Life.