by Rabbi Dr Jeffrey M Cohen
Shabbat Bereshit - 29 October 2005

My dear Joseph,

Congratulations on the superb way you read your parashiot, maftir and haftarah. You zipped through it like a veteran Ba’al Keriah!

It is with mixed emotions that I address you on your barmitzvah. The first emotion is pleasure because of the esteem and affection that I have for your entire family, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, all of whom have given so much to our community, in a variety of ways. Stanmore, perhaps more than any other community, has made its young people a priority; and the Sevitt-Gaus contribution in that field has been long and illustrious. I could speak for half an hour about that alone. I think I did just that, not long ago, on Sam’s Barmitzvah, so I shall content myself with just a few passing references.

Grandma Carol Ann has run our Stanmore Brownies for over 33 years. An unbelievable record of public service. Your dear mum, Alison, has run the cub pack for a mere 18 years, and was the recipient of a long service award after 16 years as a most popular Arkeila. Your dad, Bernie, is also to be commended for all his patience, support and encouragement, and for sharing his wife and life with hordes of youngsters and their parents. We should also mention your dad’s sister, Claire, who also helps to run the JLGB in Bromley. Now if I’m extending my regards to aunts, then I have to mention the contribution of your Israeli uncles, Daniel and Benjamin, to the life of our youth service and community, which has not been forgotten.

As far as G’pa Harvey is concerned: the less said the better. Because nothing I say can do justice to his contribution as Director of Stanmore Shul’s Back Room DIY Department. For decades he has organised the erection of our gigantic succah, the Freeman Susman ceiling decorations for Yom HaAtzmaut and other events, as well as occupying the prestigious position of Shlepper-in -Chief at the Brownies and Scouts camps. Your paternal grandparents, Ann and Arnold, can also boast a long tradition of active family involvement in the running of the former Woolwich Federation Shul. And I know how proud you are to have your youthful greatgrandma Kit with you today.

Now I said that it was with mixed emotions that I was addressing you. That is because your Barmitvah, in a sense, is the first of the final wrappings to be placed around my ministry in Stanmore. At your uncle Benjamin’s barmitzvah I was, so to speak, uwrapped, as he was the first barmitzvah boy I addressed as the rabbi of Stanmore. And now yours is one of the last. I suppose I also play another major part in your barmitzvah, since I had the privilege of conducting the wedding of your dear parents, Alison and Bernie, thereby facilitating your eventual arrival on the Stanmore scene.

And now to you, Joe. Your parents gave you the Hebrew name Yosef Matan. Yoseph means, ‘he will add’ and matan means ‘a gift, a contribution.’ I am sure that this will prove to be a prophet name, and that you will indeed add to the unique contribution that your family has already made to our community.

You have already demonstrated that intention. You have been through all our services, and were honoured as Best Boy long back in your Children’s Service days. You have also been in all the Stanmore, Broadway shows of Haim Potter and Back to Shushan. Not surprisingly you have distinguished yourself in the Beavers, Cubs and particularly in the Scouts where you are a patrol leader, and have attended scores of camps. You were personally singled out by the National Commissioner at this year’s European Jamboree for your effort in winning both the district and county camping activity competition covering the whole of Greater London and Middlesex West.

You have also inherited the Sevitt DIY skills and over the last year you have spent many many hours renovating an old Alfa Romeo Spider which your dad bought as a birthday present for your mum. You are doing well at Habs; you are an accomplished Rugby and water polo player, and you have also given about eight guest appearances of Anim Zemirot on the Stanmore Bimah. All in all, life is quite full and constructive for you. Well done for all those many achievements.

We’ve just finished a joyous time in shul, the culmination of three weeks of feverish spiritual activity. So, still in the spirit of Simchat Torah, let me give you a more light-hearted, albeit important message to take into your adult life.

The story is told of a bank manager who phoned the mobile at the house of a client one day. The phone was answered by a child.

‘Can I speak to your dad?’

‘Can’t,’ whispered the child.

Why not?

‘He’s talking to a policeman,’ whispers the child.

‘Is mum there?’

‘Yes’ whispers the child.

‘Can I speak to her?’

‘Sorry’ whispers the child.

‘Why not?’

‘She’s talking to the fireman.’

‘What exactly is going on in your house? demanded the Bank manager,

What’s everyone doing?’

‘They’re looking for me!’

The truth is, Joe, we, the Jewish community, are forever doing the same thing, looking for our youth, saying, as God said to Adam, in your sidrah, ayekah, ‘Where are you? We’re looking for you? We need your help and partnership, your dreams, your idealism, your strength, your courage and your optimism.

It is on the younger generation that we rely for the continuation of our faith, for the defence of our beloved State of Israel, for the creative energy that has always driven our people and enabled us to contribute more, proportionally, than any other people or religion, to the cause of human progress.

It’s a tall order, Joseph, but you can do it. And you can also be a worthy role model to inspire your friends and acquaintances to partner you in this great and historic enterprise. I have no doubt that you will continue to be a source of great pride to your dear parents, grandparents, great grandma, uncles, aunts and family, to your community and your people.