Chief Rabbi leads shul’s celebrations

CHIEF Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis praised “70 glorious years” of the Higher Prestwich Hebrew Congregation at its anniversary dinner on Sunday.

Guest speaker Rabbi Mirvis told guests: “There are two types of prayers — prayers of supplication and prayers of thanksgiving.

“We ask that Hashem bless us all, especially because of all the tribulations we have been through during the pandemic and we say prayers of thanksgiving for the 70 glorious years of this wonderful community.”

He pointed to a story of a British Airways flight from Tel Aviv to Heathrow.

“The pilot informs the passengers that, because of a blanket of fog over London, the plane is going to have to divert to Manchester, where they will be provided with coaches to get to London.

“An air hostess notices a chassid praying, and swinging backwards and forwards.

“She thinks he is crazy, as if praying will somehow lift the fog.

“Twenty minutes later the pilot tells the passengers that the fog has lifted and that they are going to land in Heathrow as planned.

“She walks over to the chassid and told him she owed him an apology as she thought the prayers helped lift the fog.

“He replied, ‘lady, those prayers were not of supplication, but of thanksgiving because I live in Manchester’.”

He also urged guests to continue to keep authentic Torah and maintain true Orthodoxy, which would mean that the shul would move forward with strength.

Rabbi Mirvis paid tribute to shul minister Rabbi AZ Herman and his wife Zipporah.

He said: “Their passion and enthusiasm is the way it was on the day they arrived here 37 years ago. It is incredibly contagious and it inspires people.

“This is why you love them so much — and not just because they are lovely people.”

He also drew on the example of Aharon in emphasising the importance of always doing mitzvot with enthusiasm and also enumerated examples of the number 70 having significance in Judaism.

And he warned that “we are living in an age of apathy”.

Rabbi Mirvis explained: “We are competing with so many other interests people might have.

“You have something in the palm of your hand and, with the press of a button, you can speak to anyone and you can see anywhere.

“We have to match that and we have to beat it. We need passion for our mitzvot.”

Rabbi Herman told guests at the event — which was chaired by shul president Phil Reed — that he had many memories.

He added: “Nobody can work in a vacuum — a rabbi needs people around to help him. If that happens, it makes the job so much easier.

“A shul can have a rabbi, a chazan and an executive but without its members, there is no shul.

“Each and every one of you here tonight is very special — you are not just a number. We have reconnected here tonight.”

Among the guests were Rabbi and Mrs Herman’s daughters, Raizel, Sarah and Esther, as well as Rabbi Herman’s sister Rachel Stern and brother, Rabbi Malcolm Herman.

One of the highlights was the unexpected appearance of Gila, their 11-year-old granddaughter, who recited a poem about her grandparents and their commitment to Higher Prestwich.

Shul member Richard Blackston recalled how his father, Ellis, was one of the founding members.

“He got fed up with schlepping to other shuls and called a meeting in 1951 which resulted in the formation of the congregation and the subsequent building of the shul,” Mr Blackston said.

His mother, Sylvia, was the first chairman of the shul’s ladies guild.

Along with his talk, a video of a shul garden party in the mid-1950s was shown, as was a video of former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks’ visit to Higher Prestwich in 1997 for a celebratory dinner and the completion of a Sefer Torah.

A Powerpoint presentation showing photographs from various events over the 70 years, compiled by Ian Geller, was displayed during the evening.

“It has not been an easy task to keep the shul going, but those who have have done a fantastic job,” Mr Blackston added.

He also explained that the shul has had three permanent rabbis — Rabbi Ephraim Groundland, Rabbi Shmuel Goldberg (who was among the guests) and Rabbi Herman.

Life vice-president Malcolm Bower also paid tribute to Rabbi Herman.

And he joked: “Considering there is not actually a place called ‘Higher Prestwich’ in the area, we have not done badly!”

Mr Bower explained that he had davened and learned with all of the shul’s rabbis and had “learned so much from them”.

Praising Rabbi Herman, Mr Bower stated: “He is a walking miracle — he must have trudged more than 20,000 miles over his 37 years, waking to and from the shul to his home in Salford.

“Rabbi Herman is also a teacher at Manchester Jewish Grammar School and I know that all his current and ex-pupils hold him in the highest esteem.

“He has also perfected the art of giving a sermon as he never repeats himself.

“I am proud to call Rabbi Herman a friend and he is someone who is greatly respected in the Jewish community and in the wider community.”

He presented Rabbi Herman with a set of chumashim.

Former Bury South Labour MP Ivan Lewis — the shul’s vice-president — thanked the Hermans “for their kindness and for being able to learn with him”.

Mr Lewis said: “Rabbi Herman is an inspiration not just to me, but for many people in this room.”

He also presented a bouquet to Sue Reed, the honorary secretary and Ladies Guild chairman, in recognition of her huge contribution towards the evening and to the shul.

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