Proud London Jews join in fun

By Miriam Shaviv

FOR Leslie Lyndon and the London Jewish community, it was a minor miracle.

When Leslie carried the Olympic torch through a north London area last week, it was more than representative of how Jewish Londoners have embraced the Olympic spirit.

This was five years since Leslie, at the age of 63, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

No longer able to recall instructions, he needed his stepson Matthew to help him through the day.

But like most of the 8,000 torch bearers chosen to carry the Olympic flame in the run-up to the Games, he was being recognised for good works -in his case, as the former cantor of the Masorti New North London Synagogue.

And his community came out in the hundreds to support him.

"Never have I felt so confident of an early minyan," quipped Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg in an email to his members.

"To see you, Leslie, with your typical beaming smile, holding the torch high in both hands, running up the hill: I wonder how many of us cried for joy and love of you and all your family.

"Then you stopped, and lit the torch for the subsequent runner - I'm not sure what the blessing ought to be, 'lehadlik ner shel humanity?'(To light the candle of humanity)?"

Since the opening ceremony last Friday, Jews have shown enormous involvement, both personally and communally.

In the Olympic venues there are hundreds of Jewish volunteers, from Mancunian Phil Ravitz - a retired journalist who is responsible for getting archers from their competitions to the press zone - to Anne Iarchy - a personal trainer who marshalled the road cycling events.

The most visible Jewish presence is the dozen or so Jewish chaplains, part of a 190-strong team of religious leaders providing pastoral services to the athletes, media, volunteers and Olympic workers.

"I've been quite busy," said Alex Goldberg, one of the Orthodox chaplains.

"You see people who are away from home, others who are recovering from illnesses, who are quite happy to have made it here.

"Some people can get isolated in big buildings. Others just need to take a break."

He added: "I've probably met around 100 Jewish people, mostly from the media.

"Even when they are not religious, they are pleased to see a Jewish chaplain on the team; they come up and introduce themselves.

"I've been here for the past two Shabbatot and a lot of Jewish people came for some coffee and cake after the prayers."

Across the city, there seems to be a rise in the number of tourists visiting Jewish attractions.

"We certainly have had a more international audience coming through the doors, which is fantastic," said Janice Lopatkin, external relations executive at London's Jewish Museum.

"Many people are coming in with Olympic passes and we have had journalists from Singapore and Hong Kong doing a report about what else to do in London during the Olympics."

She believes some visitors may have been attracted to the museum's display about Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German Jewish refugee who inspired and founded the Paralympic Games.

In the last month, some 3,000 people have visited a website set up by the Jewish Committee for the London Games, which lists the Jewish community's main attractions and facilities, as well as a timetable of Olympic-related events of Jewish interest.

"We have been inundated with hundreds of inquiries through the website, mostly about kosher food in the Olympic Park", said Peter Mason, director of the London Jewish Forum.

Many congregations have had events to celebrate the opening of the Olympics.

Just a few miles from the Olympic Stadium, for example, the Woodford Liberal Synagogue held a special Olympics kiddush last Shabbat.

Others synagogues have had to contend with disruptions caused by the Olympics.

Westminster Synagogue, an independent Progressive congregation, found that access to its central London building became difficult when Olympic organisers started using Hyde Park to screen Olympic events on large screens and hold concerts.

As a result, since mid-July the community has been visiting various Reform and Liberal shuls across the city every Shabbat.

"We've been making friends as well as learning how others run their services," said Westminister Synagogue's rabbi, Thomas Salamon.

"We've picked up a few ideas along the way

"It's not unsettling at all; it's a really different experience. Everyone has been very welcoming."

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