New chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis speaks of hope for ‘bright future’ of Jewish community

Chief Rabbi Mirvis with outgoing Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and HRH Prince Charles. Picture: Yakir Zur

Chief Rabbi Mirvis with outgoing Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and HRH Prince Charles. Picture: Yakir Zur - Credit: Archant

New chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has spoken of his hope for a “bright future” of the Jewish community as he takes up his new role.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who was previously senior rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, succeeded Lord Jonathan Sacks, following his decision in 2010 to retire when he turned 65.

Rabbi Mirvis was ushered in as the new chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth in a ceremony held at St John’s Wood Synagogue, Grove End Road, St John’s Wood on Sunday.

It is the first appointment of a new chief rabbi in more than 20 years.

The ceremony was attended by Prince Charles as well as Jewish and other faith leaders. Labour leader Ed Miliband was also among the 1,400 guests present.

Lord Sacks, who stepped down after 22 years as chief rabbi, formally inducted his successor into the post.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis said at the ceremony: “I think we have a fantastic community in terms of its quality, not only in terms of its quantity.

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“The Jewish community has a very bright future in this country. Britain has been good to the Jews and the Jews have been good for Britain.

“I feel very privileged indeed to be appointed to be the next chief rabbi.”

Lord Sacks thanked Prince Charles for attending and praised his “generosity of spirit and the greatness of heart he has shown to all the faiths”.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis added: “Your presence today is a great honour, not just an honour for me personally, but an honour for our entire community.

“It is a reflection of the passion you have to work with the faith communities in this country.”

In his sermon, Chief Rabbi Mirvis repeated concerns about the rise of anti-Semitism and spoke of his hope of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours.

He said: “As I stand before you today hostility is rife in Syria and we are witnessing some terrible atrocities and also at this time Israel and the Palestinians are set on holding negotiations with an eye towards establishing a true and lasting peace.

“In years to come I would love people to look back on this day and associate it with the time when finally we were on the path to beating swords into ploughshares in Israel and throughout the Middle East.

“May Almighty God bless our leaders with the wisdom to make wise and responsible decisions through these days, weeks and months of challenge.”

Dr Michael Harris, rabbi of Hampstead Synagogue, Dennington Park Road, West Hampstead, has welcomed Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ installation.

He said: “I thought he set out a very clear vision and I think the fact he is focusing on local community building is a very good thing.

“Making synagogues not just a place for prayer but for cultural activity is certainly what we try and do in Hampstead Synagogue and it’s something he did very successfully in Finchley. It’s a very good approach.”

Born and raised in South Africa, Ephraim Mirvis was ordained as a rabbi in 1980 after studying in Israel.

Now 33 years later, he has been appointed chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, a role which installs him as the head of the orthodox Jewish community and as a figurehead for the UK Jewish population.

Rabbi Mirvis was made chief rabbi of Ireland in 1984 when he was just 28-years-old, a role previously held by Lord Jakobovits, the UK’s chief rabbi from 1966 to 1991.

He then went on to become rabbi of the Western Marble Arch synagogue from 1992 until 1996, a position which was also been held by Lord Sacks.