The new rabbi of Athens, Gabriel Negrin, spent several days with us and also took part in Erev Shabbat services at our Synagogue. He is an exciting presence for us, especially for me, as I have known him for many years and have been witness to his growth and maturity through his studies in Crete at the University of Rethymnon, his work at the Yeshiva in Jerusalem and now his being appointed chief rabbi in Athens.
From a Romaniote family rooted in Ioanina he will now be faced with the challenge of the Athens Jewish Community which is made up of both Romaniote and Sepharadic Jews – each of which have their own adjacent synagogues on Melidoni Street in Athens.
Not long after the fires of early January 2010 a large number of the Athens Community (some 90 or so) came as a sign of support with the president of the Community, Mr Ben. Albala. It was at that time that we were embraced as a ‘sister synagogue’ which we value. Thus in a sense Rabbi Negrin’s stay with us re-affirmed this tie.
On Erev Shabbat we both led the service with the ‘havurah’ in attendance and after Kiddush there was an opportunity for us to meet and socialize.
Mr Stavroulakis gave a short homily on the Parashah of this Shabbat ‘Be Har’ (Vaykra –(Leviticus) 25-26) in honour of Rabbi Negrin and we hope that this event will be the beginning of weekly such homilies to be included on our site….the following is an overview of what was presented.
Especially at this time, of concern for warming of the planet and general and widespread natural disasters that we have recently seen and experienced, this Parashah is most apt and worth pondering. Brief as it is, this Parashah comes after a series of Laws enacted on Mount Sinai that are concerned with Justice and awareness of the Land and our indebtedness to it and our responsibilities to it as well. I think that a key phrase to understanding a facet of its message is when the Lord speaks and says ki-li HaAretz with certainly a stress placed on ‘li’ as opposed to a quite different reading that might be gained from ki haAretz li…this is my Land as opposed to this is my land. It follows on the institution of the Jubilee Year or Sabbath of the Earth that dictated that every seven years the earth was to lay fallow and neither plowed nor planted. Central to this key phrase is the stress on the fact that …you are ‘residents with me’ followed by ‘you must provide for the redemption of the land.’ Of course one can say that these Laws were intended only for Eretz Israel and not for lands outside of what had been Canaan before the Israelites settled there. I think that this is a very narrow view of what was certainly understood by the later Prophetic writings – especially of Isaiah. We are but strangers in a strange land ultimately and our obligations to the land and its produce are to render justice to our environment.