Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: The Induction of Rabbi Epstein

February 13, 2015

The Induction of Rabbi Epstein

Rabbi Epstein (left) with Chief Rabbi Mirvis
Rabbi Epstein (left) with Chief Rabbi Mirvis

“Induction” is not a legal term nor a medical procedure. It is the term used by the United Synagogue in Great Britain when officially welcoming and accepting someone as the Rabbi of their synagogue. I had the great joy and privilege of participating in the induction of my brother-in-law, Rabbi Daniel Epstein and my sister, his wife Ilana, as Rabbi and Rebbetzin of Cockfosters and N Southgate Synagogue.

The main synagogue was filled with close to 500 attendees. The Rabbi/Chazan of the famed Marble Arch Synagogue, Rabbi Rosenfeld, stood on the high platform in the center of the chamber. In front of him, on the ground below was the men’s choir. With suitable introduction, the Chazan and choir start chanting the welcoming tune of “Baruch Haba” as the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Mirvis and Daniel proceed in. They are each adorned with a Talit, the classic prayer shawl.

They walk to the front of the chamber, climb the stage that leads to the Aron Kodesh (the place where the Torah scrolls are kept at the front of the synagogue) and they each sit down in the large wooden, velvet-covered seats on either side of the Aron Kodesh, facing the congregation.

The mayor of the town was present with a ceremonial gold chain with a golden lion on a red background, the centerpiece of this very cool jewelry. There was a member of parliament, a police chief and various other distinguished guests and Rabbis of Britain.

Technically, the service consisted of the Mincha (afternoon prayer) with the addition of the liturgy for opening and closing the Aron Kodesh, as well as additional prayers for the government and royal family, for the State of Israel and its army and for the community.

However, the performance of the Chazan and the choir was so masterful, so moving, that it gave the occasion tremendous significance. I was invited to recite the prayer for the State of Israel and the army. I was told afterwards that my Hebrew/Spanish accent was particularly amusing.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis gave an excellent and warm introduction to Daniel, calling him on more than one occasion an “outstanding Rabbi” and applauding his decision to join the Rabbinate after a twenty-year career in public relations.

Then Daniel spoke. I have not heard him speak very much in public, but this was a speech to remember. He was passionate. He was powerful. He spoke movingly and lovingly of his role, of Ilana’s role, of his children, of community and his hopes, dreams and visions for the community of Cockfosters and N Southgate.

It was a home run. He knocked the ball right out of the park. One could feel the electricity in the air and how the community loves and responds to Daniel. In that brief address, he created a positive energy that can carry his community for a long time to come.

However, that was not the end. To the surprise of the crowd and their parents, Ilana and Daniel’s children got on the stage. Saadia (Stephen), Yoel, Odelle and Jacob gave a tag team speech which was the highlight of the event. It was a moment of such honesty and purity that I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd. This is a loving family now embedded in a loving community.

To say that we were impressed by the induction ceremony of a United Synagogue Rabbi is an understatement. The British know how to put on pomp and ceremony. But despite what felt like a coronation ceremony, it did not feel superficial. It was heartfelt. It was run and organized by a group of hard-working, dedicated volunteers with real respect and admiration for their new Rabbinic couple. Great honor and respect was likewise given to the outgoing, retiring Rabbi Fine, Rabbi of the community for 27-years. I had the privilege of siting next to him. He was smiling and content throughout the event and very pleased with Daniel.

The cynic in me wondered what the value of such a ceremony might be. Neither in Israel nor in many other countries is their such a show for introducing a new Rabbi. In Israel, most Rabbis are civil servants and a dime a dozen. I don’t recall such ceremonies in other countries or communities in which I’ve lived. Part of it, I’m sure, is cultural. Many communities would not have the thought, interest or patience in welcoming their Rabbis in such a fashion. But I think something of the nature should be part of the introduction of a Rabbi and his family to a community. There should be an event that not only honors the Rabbi, but by default bestows great honor, energy and strength to the community.

I was very impressed by the community of Cockfosters and N Southgate. May they, together with the Epsteins, enjoy many years of activity, growth and success.

For a detailed article on the event, click here.

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