26 May 2023

A new Torah scroll honours scholar
who saved the synagogue in Crete

Etz Hayyim Synagogue stands in a small alley off Kondhilaki Streer in Evraiki or the former Jewish quarter in the old town of Chania (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot or Shavuos (שָׁבוּעוֹת‎, ‘Weeks’) began this year at sunset yesterday (Thursday 25 May 2023), and ends at sundown tomorrow (Saturday 27 May 2023).

The Feast of Weeks is sometimes referred to as Pentecost (Πεντηκοστή) because of its timing 50 days after the first day of Passover.

This Jewish holiday occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. In the Bible, Shavuot marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel (see Exodus 34: 22) and, according to the Jewish Sages, it also commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Torah by God at Mount Sinai.

The word Shavuot means ‘weeks’ and it marks the conclusion of the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and followed immediately by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah.

Thursday evening (25 May 2021) was the beginning of Shavuot, when the memorial prayer ‘Father of compassion’ (אב הרחמים‎, Av Harachamim) is said in many synagogues and congregations.

A new Sefer Torah or Torah scroll in memory of Nikos Stavroulakis is being inaugurated at a number events in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania over these few days.

Nicholas Peter Stavroulakis, or Peter Stavis (1932-2017), was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to immigrant parents: his Jewish mother Annie was from Turkey and his Greek Orthodox father Petros was from Crete. Nikos moved to Chania in 1994, and was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim, which had been in ruins since World War II.

The Erev Shavuot Evening Service yesterday (Thursday 25 May 2023) was followed by a Leil Limud evening discussion on the topic ‘Elonei Mamre. The Encounter of Judaism and Orthodox Christianity.’ This involved a conversation between Etz Hayyim’s visiting rabbi, Rabbi Nicholas de Lange, and Father John Raffan of the Archdiocese of Athens.

Professor Nicholas de Lange is a Reform rabbi and historian, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Cambridge, and an emeritus fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has lectured on Modern Judaism and the Reading of Jewish texts at the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge. His research programmes have included Mapping the Jewish Communities of the Byzantine Empire.

He has written and edited several books about Judaism and translated numerous works of fiction by Amos Oz, S Yizhar and AB Yehoshua into English. He received the Risa Domb/Porjes Prize for Translation from the Hebrew in 2007 for his translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz.

To mark the first day of Shavout today, Rabbi Nicholas de Lange officiated at the Morning Service Etz Hayyim Synagogue, and is officiating at the Erev Shabbat service this evening. Later this evening, the Leil Limud is with Professor Geoffrey Khan, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge since 2012.

The new Sefer Torah is being inaugurated tomorrow morning (Saturday, 27 May 2023). The programme includes a welcome from Vassiliki Yiakoumaki, President of the Board of Trustees of oration Etz Hayyim, the Shabbat and Second Day of Shavuot Morning Service, officiated at by Etz Hayyim’s Visiting Rabbi Nicholas de Lange, and the Sefer ceremony and reading, officiated at by Rabbi Nicholas de Lange.

Other speakers tomorrow include David Saltiel, President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, Victor Eliezer, Secretary General of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, and Lior Asher and Ahouva Amar, the main organisers of fundraising for the new Sefer.

Later in the day, a reception in synagogue courtyard and guided tours in the afternoon of Etz Hayyim Synagogue and the historic Jewish Quarter in Chania. A reading of the Book of Ruth in the evening is followed by Havdalah and a musical performance by Marty Eisenstein.

The annual memorial service for the victims of the Tanais sinking takes place at the Tanais Memorial in Koum Kapi at noon on Sunday (28 May 2023). This is followed by a memorial service for the Cretan Jewish Community at Etz Hayyim Synagogue, with Rabbi Gabriel Negrin officiating.

The Aron haKodesh or Ark in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania … a new Sefer Torah is being inaugurated this weekend in memory of Nikos Stavroulakis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Father of compassion’ (אב הרחמים‎, Av Harachamim):

Father of compassion, who dwells on high:
may he remember in his compassion
the pious, the upright and the blameless –
holy communities who sacrificed their lives
for the sanctification of God’s name.

Lovely and pleasant in their lives,
in death they were not parted.

They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions
to do the will of their Maker,
and the desire of their Creator.

O our God, remember them for good
with the other righteous of the world,
and may he exact retribution for the shed blood of his servants,
as it is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of God:

‘O nations, acclaim his people,
wreak vengeance on his foes,
and make clean his people’s land.’

And by your servants, the prophets, it is written:
‘I shall cleanse their which I have not yet cleansed,
says the Lord who dwells in Zion.’

And in the Holy Writings it says:
‘Why should the nations say: Where is their God?
Before our eyes, may those nations know
that you avenge the shed blood of your servants.’

And it also says:
‘For the Avenger of blood remembers them
and does not forget the cry of the afflicted.’

And it further says:
‘He will execute judgment among the nations,
heaping up the dead,
crushing the rulers far and wide.
From the brook by the wayside he will drink,
then he will hold his head high.’

Chag Shavuot Sameach

Shabbat Shalom

Nikos Stavroulakis was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim in Chania

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (48) 26 May 2023

The Ascension depicted in a window in Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Eastertide and Ascensiontide continue throughout this week, until the Day of Pentecost next Sunday (28 May 2023).

Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, John Calvin, Reformer, and Saint Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians and spiritual guide.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

I am reflecting each morning during Ascensiontide in these ways:

1, Looking at a depiction of the Ascension in images or stained glass windows in a church or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A four-light window by Florence Camm is one of four four-light windows on the north wall of Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Edtha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint George’s Chapel, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth;

I have known Saint Editha’s Church in Tamworth since my teens, first visiting it to see the Comberford Chapel and the Comberford family memorials and monuments.

Saint George’s Chapel is beside the Comberford Chapel and there are four four-light windows on the north wall that are the work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and the Camm family, including a four-light window in this chapel by Florence Camm (1874-1960) that includes a depiction of the Resurrection.

Thomas William Camm (1839-1912) was born in West Bromwich and founded the TW Camm stained studio in Smethwick. After he died, the studio and its work were continued by his sons, Walter Camm (died 1967) and Robert Camm (died 1954), and his daughter Florence (died 1960).

Florence Camm spent all her life in Smethwick, running the Camm stained glass company with her brothers at a time when women artists and designers were struggling to be taken seriously.

She was a stained glass designer, painter and decorative metalworker, and was taught stained glass design by the arts and crafts designer Henry Payne (1868-1940). She exhibited 43 times at the Royal Academy in London and also showed at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Royal Scottish Academy. The Camm studio in the High Street, Smethwick, was demolished in the 1980s.

The inscription in this window reads: ‘To the Glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of Esther Dean, who died the 11th day of October 1939, this memorial was placed here by her husband, Herbert Dean.’

The four lights depict the four key events in the life of Christ, with pithy Biblical or credal commentaries:

1, The Incarnation: ‘For unto you is born this day, a saviour which is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2: 11).

2, The Crucifixion: ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by’ (Lamentations 1: 12).

3, The Resurrection: ‘The third day he rose again from the dead.’ This is not a direct scriptural quotation, but a clause taken directly from the Apostles’ Creed.

4, The Ascension: ‘He blessed them. He was parted from them and carried up into heaven’ (Luke 24: 51).

Esther and Herbert Dean lived at Riftswood, Comberford Road, Tamworth, and Herbert Dean donated part of the site for Saint Chad’s Church, Hopwas. He also presented the organ in Saint Chad’s in memory of his first wife Esther in 1940.

The window in memory of Esther Dean depicts the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 21: 15-19 (NRSVA):

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

The Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Accountability and Care.’ USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, Jo Sadgrove, introduced this theme on Sunday, when she reflected on accountability on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death yesterday (25 May 2023).

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Friday 26 May 2023):

Let us pray for all who have lost loved ones through acts of racial violence. May they know comfort and support and may their stories challenge us to fight prejudice and discrimination.


Almighty God,
whose servant Augustine was sent as the apostle
of the English people:
grant that as he laboured in the Spirit
to preach Christ’s gospel in this land,
so all who hear the good news
may strive to make your truth known in all the world;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Augustine revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

The north side of Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Inside Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)