MESSI is heading to Israel. But before football fans get too excited, this Messi is not the Barcelona legend, but the four-legged companion of Rabbi Dr Martin van den Bergh and his wife Anna.
The van den Berghs and Messi the dog are leaving for Israel at the end of February after three years in Liverpool.
And the couple are trying to pack all their belongings into three suitcases each.
They arrived from Beth Shemesh to take the helm at Childwall Synagogue in February, 2016, initially on a two year contract, which was extended for a further year.
The couple arrived in Liverpool with apprehension, but looked forward to the new challenges facing them and settled into Liverpool life quickly, always offering an open house to their congregants.
“Liverpool is a small Jewish community, but it is friendly, dynamic and vibrant and offers a full range of activities including spiritual, educational and cultural,” Rabbi van den Bergh said.
He added that the daily minyamin at Childwall have grown since he arrived and he was instrumental in starting the communal Mincha minyan at Stapely Care during the winter months.
Rabbi van den Bergh knew that he was appointed to ease the tensions that had built up.
“It was challenging dealing with the diminishing numbers of congregants and an ageing community, but Liverpool is a happy community and the tensions have eased off,” he said.
Another remit of his job was to offer guidance for the building of the new shul, which has been delayed.
But he is delighted that “plans for the building of a new Childwall Shul are now moving forward and we look forward to seeing the realisation”.
Other innovations that the van den Berghs brought to Childwall were the weekly SMILE (Senior Members Innovative Learning Experience) shiur, which, he proudly states, was attended by members of other shuls, and the ladies “out and about shiurim”, as well as honouring two women from the shul as Neshei Chayil on Simchat Torah.
Anna also taught at King David Primary School for a short time.
Rabbi van den Bergh has previously ministered at Manchester’s Withington Congregation of Spanish & Portuguese Jews (1983-1994), Wembley United Synagogue (1994-2006) and Ohel Leah Synagogue, Hong Kong (2006-2010).
He was also consultant rabbi at Bevis Marks (2010-2011).
They both said they are “sad to be leaving so many friends, but with family in Manchester (their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live in Manchester) there will be many visits, during which time we will travel down the M62 to revisit old haunts”.
They have enjoyed being close to their daughter and her family, but are happy to be returning to Israel, where they will be close to their son and his family.
The rabbi added that he greatly misses his friends Michael Ellenbogen and Abe Drayer, who have passed away, as well as other members of the congregation who have died, but he has been honoured to join in many simchas within the community.
Rabbi van den Bergh quickly became involved with the local police force and the wider community.
He accepted an invitation to address the full Liverpool City Council to help them accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
He received a standing ovation and the IHRA definition was adopted without debate.
Rabbi van den Bergh was also humbled to accept an invitation to deliver the keynote speech at this year’s Liverpool Holocaust Memorial Day service, to be held at the Liverpool Town Hall on Friday, January 25.
Rabbi van den Bergh is worried about the present political situation in England, specifically with the rise in antisemitism and the consequences of Brexit.
“The Jewish community has to be positive that we will all come through this,” he said. “If we are positive we have a greater chance of overcoming anything.”
The couple believe that as the Liverpool community continues to diminish in numbers, there needs to be more strategic thinking and working together as a whole community.
They both stated that they enjoyed working with Rabbi Dan Lieberman and his wife Liat before they moved to take up their post in Australia.
They have also built up a good relationship with Rabbi Natan Fagleman and his wife Avital, since they arrived at Allerton Synagogue.
The van den Berghs are excited to be returning to Israel in time for the General Election.
They are also looking forward to returning to warmer weather and seeing old friends.
Anna will leave Liverpool on February 25, with the rabbi and Messi leaving two days later.
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