Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet arrived in the UK in 1991. Having previously served as assistant principle of Oholei Torah Boys School in New York, he assumed the position as Minister of the Richmond Synagogue in Southwest London for two years, while also teaching Advanced Jewish Studies at the Jews Free School. In 1993, at the age of 28, he was offered the position as rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue. His vibrancy and dynamism has resulted in a continuous growth of membership, now in excess of 3000 members.
He has a Masters Degree in Jewish Studies from University College London. He authors numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and journals. He served as Diary Rabbi to the Guardian Newspaper and also writes for the Jewish Chronicle as well as a very popular weekly column in the Jewish News. He has featured in The London Times as well as Time Magazine International. Rabbi Schochet can often be seen on television including BBC as a regular panelist for The Big Questions as well as CNN.
Rabbi Schochet is a sought after international speaker on a vast range of topics. He has lectured across the world including Russia, Australia, Israel and all parts of the USA and Europe and has been rated top speaker at the National Jewish Retreat in The USA for several years running.
Rabbi Schochet served on the Chief Rabbis Cabinet with the portfolio of the family and as chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue. He was named by the Jewish Telegraph as one of the ten most influential Rabbis in the United Kingdom. The Jewish Chronicle recently described him as "one of the most outspoken Rabbis in the world."
One of Anglo-Jewrys most dynamic orthodox rabbis, who has turned his synagogue into a vibrant source of religious and social activities.
The Jewish Chronicle
He's extremely entertaining..
The London Times
...the rebel rabbi doubled his synagogue attendance in four years
The Daily Mail
with Rabbi Schochet
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As a Hebrew name is intrinsically linked with the essence of one’s soul, it is of course especially meaningful to have one. I am deeply sorry as to the circumstances that prevented you getting one at birth and I am thinking that you should go with Shoshana which means Rose. Besides its common correlation with Suzie, it also reflects your circumstances, having been born during such a tragic time in history, bringing light into the prevailing darkness, like a rose amongst thorns. Perhaps you could get someone to make a special prayer for you by the Torah reading on Shabbat to formerly assume the name. But even if not, you could adopt it and make it yours. Wishing you only goodness in your future, Shoshana.
First you wait till you’re addicted, then you ask? I changed your name but your real one came through on the email. I should call your Mom and rat you out, but I was a teen once too, so I know the thrills and kicks involved. Does the Torah say, “Thou shalt not smoke, lest a lightning bolt will emerge the sky and smoke you?” No. But insofar that smoking damages your health and can kill you it is against the most basic fundamentals of Torah and all of Judaism which cannot overemphasize the importance of good health and the sanctity of human life. Your young, so quit while you’re ahead and while you can still use your head.
“ dust you come and to dust you shall return.” The ideal is in fact to be buried directly in the earth in keeping with that verse. There are laws against that though in most countries who insist on a coffin instead. Coffin or earth – wishing you a long life before you get there.
That is something of a generalisation. There are certain Yeshivot the boys learn part time and do their military duties part time. Interestingly enough, in Biblical times, every male over the age of 20 had compulsory military duty. Of course there were exceptions but that was the standard rule. There are two things to take into account: the first is how the Israeli army today is mixed and that presents a problem for many young Orthodox men. However the army got around this problem by allowing for the separate troops when so required. The other point is that inasmuch as the military serves to protect us physically, the Torah serves to protect us spiritually. Even as we may have foot soldiers we also need soul soldiers. While the rest of us are caught up in the daily grind, the world is being infused with spiritual oxygen through the power of those who study.
Many Yeshiva boys are raised in a certain mould and a whole new-fangled experience as that which the military provides can be very counter-intuitive to their whole stability. In short, they simply wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’ll throw their religious stability off kilter.
Having said that, again, the Israeli military today provides for Rabbis to be with their troops and offers more by way of dealing with this problem as well. Therefore, inasmuch as you and I cannot see that sweet Charedi boy Bnei Brak in military fatigue running through the trenches, there are many others who can, and dare I suggest, should get more involved. The army is there to protect the people and everyone, to one degree or another, shares in that mutual responsibility.
My younger brother and I fell out several years ago. I was really bothered by the way I felt he acted badly toward our parents and I decided to stop talking to him. I heard through the grapevine that he got ill a few weeks ago. I was thinking of calling but before I had a chance, he passed away. The family told me not to bother coming to the funeral. I am now really confused. Did I do the right thing by ignoring him? I feel nothing for him inside but should I have been there in his hour of need? Can you help me with my conscience?
You say you feel nothing for him inside and yet you speak of a conscience and are dealing with confused emotions about not being there for your brother. Obviously you do feel for him more than you care to admit – even to yourself.
There are always issues in life that cause tension between people. It then becomes a question of you we choose to deal with it. You can ignore the problem by ignoring the person and like a critical disease that you choose to ignore, that’s a recipe for disaster. Or you can bring the issue to the fore, tear it open, cut it out, and like any ailment, when operated on, however painful and sometimes long the recovery – ultimately you get better.
Many people don’t know this, but there were two brothers, Adi and Rudolf Dassler who started making sports shoes together in their mothers bathroom in the 1920s. During World War II they fell out, it is presumed on account of political differences and in 1948 they set up rival companies. One became known as Adidas (Adi Dassler) and the other Puma – two of the leading sportswear companies in the world today. Such was the level of acrimony that the whole Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach both companies are based was split between those who were employed and therefore loyal to one brother or the other. Only last year they made their peace for the first time, on that ultimate of all sacred peace-making grounds – a football pitch, directors of both companies shook hands and then played. Sixty years as a split community – and because of what - political differences?
Your brother was/is your flesh and blood. Bonds between loved ones have to transcend the stuff that gets in the way trying to pull us apart. And in regard to the rest of the world we have to live by the notion of Two Jews, Three Opinions, One Heart.
I am not going to make your conscience any easier. When you have a moment, go to your brother’s gravesite, pray there, connect to him on some level, ask him to forgive and tell him that you do too. I don’t know if it is too late to make peace with the rest of his family but you could certainly still make your peace with him in your own special way.
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The following is the talk Rabbi Schochet delivered at Yizkor on Yom Kippur 5774
You know its amazing. You can speak for twenty Yom Kippurs at Yizkor - you could mean every heartfelt word you say - you could feel the passion of the message you look to convey - and still it feels altogether different when youre suddenly sitting on the other side of that mortal fence. So I suppose for those of you already there - you can welcome me to your club. Some people have a Kiddush club others have a Kaddish club and its a lousy club to be in! With that in mind; with Yizkor now taking on a whole new dimension in my life, I’d like to share with you some personal thoughts of what Yizkor means to me:
I remember some years ago I would often recommend at Yizkor that people take a moment during my speech to close their eyes and just think about their loved one. There was one member who took exception. He told me then how he had lost his father twenty years prior and how not a day goes by that he doesnt think of his father. my current vantage point I get that. I really do. And Im barely two months in.
Some people have said to me, “time is a healer.” I suggest whoever coined that phrase probably had too much time on his or her hands. Im sure time takes the sting out of the initial pain - but there is something so overwhelmingly final when losing a loved one - something that leaves an indelible wound - a gaping hole which, even if with time, the hole gets filled - the scar remains - an eternal reminder of what you lost and cant get back. Or as someone put it to me: At the outset it feels like gaping into a hole, right in the middle of your living room. You never get over it. With time you simply learn to walk around it.
When you consider how loved ones are essentially pieces of a puzzle - all different parts of one big inter-connected soul - well we all know the feeling when theres a piece of the puzzle missing. Every morning you wake up and you look at it. Every night you go to sleep and you look at it. And that gaping bit that missing piece is staring you in the face. I imagine over time you get used to it - you accept it - but you never get over it.
One thought that has consumed my mind over these past weeks is that my siblings and I – we effectively shared our father with many people around the world. Of course that makes me proud but it also fills me with a sense of regret, wondering whether I appreciated him enough in my life – whether I took enough advantage to drink the well which many were nourished though was always there, readily available at my own feet.
Yizkor is there to remind us that our parents, our spouses, our children - our loved ones are there for us as reservoirs of love to drink and with which to nourish our souls. We’re not supposed to fall out with them – we’re not supposed to become estranged them. We’re supposed to drink their tenderness and lap up their sweet caresses on our hearts.
I don’t know – maybe it’s a man thing that fathers and sons don’t typically say “I love you” in the same way that mothers might do. Or maybe it’s just me. I can honestly say, I probably told my father “I love you” in the last week I was with him more times than in the past forty-eight years. It’s true – it doesn’t always have to be said – it can be expressed in numerous other ways – but if there is one thing that Yizkor focuses our minds on it is the value of our relationships and the need to say or show that love to our nearest and dearest at every given opportunity. Because alas there comes a point, sometimes when we least expect it – when the opportunity is no longer there – when we are no longer able to whisper sweet nothings, share an embrace, say ‘I love you.’
Each year since the day I was born, at the onset of Yom Kippur my father would put his warm hand on my head and bless me with the special priestly benediction – what we call birchas habonim – the children’s blessing. And when there was a geographical divide, still there would be that moment, just prior to leaving to Shul for Kol Nidrei when I would call him, and he would recite the blessing over the phone. And this year – this year – for the first time in my 48 years – I didn’t have that experience – and I missed it – and it hurt – and my heart ached.
But fundamental to Jewish belief is that bichayehem ubimoisom loi nifradu – in their passing, just as in their life, they do not become separated. So sometimes I will take a little walk at night, and I will look up to the heavens, and I will have a conversation as no doubt many of you might do. I couldnt do that previously. Before it would involve picking up a phone at the right time. Now – it’s any time - any place, because even as we may not see our loved ones, they are certainly watching over us. Even as we may not hear them, they are undoubtedly attuned to our words, our tears, whether of sadness or joy. Even as we may no longer be able to hold them, they certainly reach out and hold us in their ethereal embrace. And I know in my heart of hearts that this year, like every year before, just prior to Kol Nidrei, my father OBM will have blessed me.
That’s what this moment of Yizkor is all about. It is a unique moment of transcendence in time when we bridge the gap between heaven and earth – when that sense of closeness is that much more compelling – when if only we want to we can truly feel the warmth of our loved ones lovingly embracing our souls. And they are certainly blessing us – each of us just as they will have done all that time before.
A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in Asda. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. Everyone just stood there, under the awning, just inside the door of the store. They waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day. Rainfall has this mesmerizing effect. You can get lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world. Memories of running, splashing so carefree as a child come pouring in as a welcome reprieve the worries of the day.
One woman standing there overheard the sweet voice of the young girl as it broke the hypnotic trance everyone was caught in: “Mom lets run through the rain,” she said. “What?” Mom asked. “Lets run through the rain!” she repeated. “No honey. Well wait until it slows down a bit,” Mom replied. This young child waited a minute and repeated: “Mom, lets run through the rain…” “Well get soaked if we do,” Mom said. “No, we wont, Mom. Thats not what you said this morning,” the young girl said as she tugged at her Moms arm. “This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?” “Dont you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, If G-d can get us through this, He can get us through anything!”
The entire crowd stopped dead silent. You couldnt hear anything but the rain. Everyone stood silently. No one left. Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say. Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young childs life; a time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.
“Honey, you are absolutely right. Lets run through the rain. If G-d lets us get wet, well maybe we just need washing,” Mom said. Then off they ran. The woman recalled: “We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles. They got soaked. They were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I did. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.”
Have you ever wondered why our bodies shed water – tears – when we are sad? Tears are our earliest forms of communication. Before babies can speak, they can cry. The only way for infants to express frustration, pain, fear, or need is to cry. Different languages can provide barriers to spoken communication, but emotions and the tears that accompany them are universal. The rain falls because the cloud can no longer handle the weight. The tears fall because the heart can no longer handle the pain. Scientifically it is proven that the tears shed when crying are distinctly different to those shed when say slicing an onion. There are higher levels of stress hormones being released when crying which is why one tends to feel a little better after a good cry. Those tears provide the washing of our soul.
Jews around the world assemble for Yizkor today. It is a universal language expressed the depths of our hearts. It is a moment of rain – of tears – of relieving the pain in our hearts and washing the anguish and sorrow our souls in the realization that we can always connect to our loved ones whose bodies may sleep but whose souls remain eternally aware and bound with us as one.
I found myself wondering more than ever as to the significance of the Kaddish prayer. Yisgadal V’yiskadash Shimay Raba – “Exalted and sanctified be His great Name.” It’s a powerful prayer – its words are rich with meaning, depth and spiritual significance. But what has it to do with a loved one? If I’m taking out several moments throughout each day to connect with my beloved father through prayer, why do I make no reference to him – maybe something like a mini-Yizkor prayer instead? Why the Kaddish in which I exalt G-d but make no reference to man?
The point however is that man is an extension of the Divine. There is a part of G-d indelibly imprinted at the core of each of us. Just as G-d is past, present and future rolled into one, everything we do is linked to our past, impacts our present and has consequences for the future. What affects us invariably affects G-d as well. When man expires this world, there is a part of G-d, as it were, that leaves this world with him. It’s not just us mere mortals who feel the pain. He feels it too. When reciting the Kaddish we are, as it were, comforting that Divine element and by extension the individual who bore that sacred hallmark.
Kaddish emphasizes the enormity of the loss – Yizkor accentuates the greatness of the connection. Kaddish is the rain, the tears that fall. Yizkor is the washing – the cleansing of the heart and soul. “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven,” said the wisest of men. We must always ensure to take time to run through the rain because even as circumstances can take away your material possessions, your money, your health G-d forbid, no one and nothing can ever take away your precious memories...Dont forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories every day.
When I stood there watching my father’s coffin being lowered into the ground – and that chilling sound of the earth hitting against wood, I thought and I felt as though a part of me had passed on with him. But by the time the grave was filled an altogether different realization dawned on me. A part of me doesn’t lie buried with my father. A part of him continues to live on in me.
Yizkor is all about realizing that the cessation of life is only as we perceive it on this earth. But we can continue to give nachas to our loved ones even as they may no longer be in our physical midst. It really never is too late. We can always reciprocate the love through the mitzvois that we undertake – the extra good that we commit to right here, right now, in their merit. Sometimes maybe we feel guilty about missed opportunities – chances gone. Yizkor drives home the fact that there are no lost moments. We can still do something – we can still give nachas - the relationship endures.
The very last words I said to my father before I had left back to the UK, not realizing they would be my final words, was that my oldest son got his smicha – that there was another Rabbi Schochet in the family. I said it once and I said it twice and it didn’t seem to register. Then I said it a third time just before leaving to the airport and my father gave me this smile that will remain with me forever and in barely audible words he said,
Boruch Hashem “With thanks to G-d.”
Yizkor is also about passing the baton to the next generation. We speak of family heirlooms. Sometimes it’s a piece of jewelry we wear or something else we carry around. It comes a grandparent or a great grandparent and sometimes it gets passed through many generations. It makes us feel closer to the loved one and keeps their memory alive. Before the onset of Yom Kippur I put on a pair of tzitzis – they were the tzitzis my father was wearing when he took his last breath – and in which the Chevra Kadddisha carried him the home.
Never mind the house, the car, the money, maybe the business; the single most important question we need to be asking ourselves at this moment in time is, “what spiritual heirlooms are we leaving for the next generation?” We remember those who walked before us in order to pass on the legacy to those who come after us. That’s the ultimate nachas. At the gravesite of loved ones we place a tombstone and we put an inscription. But the real tombstone is the loved ones who live on and the inscription changes all the time. It is up to us, the changes we make in our lives and the impression we leave on the next generation as to what that inscription will say.
Let me leave you with this final story and thought: There was a great Rabbi of the last century - Yisroel Zev Gustman. He was a prodigy who served as a young man in the Rabbinical Court of Vilna. Alas this was short lived with the devastation of the Holocaust he found himself fleeing for his life. Somehow he managed to survive.
First in America then later settling in Israel he founded a small Yeshiva. One of the regular participants at his Talmudic lectures was a professor at the Hebrew University, Robert J. Aumann. The year was 1982. Israel was at war. Soldiers were mobilized, reserve units activated. Among those called to duty was a reserves officer, a university student who made his living as a high school teacher: Shlomo Aumann, the son of Prof. Robert Aumann. On the eve of the 19th of Sivan in particularly fierce combat, Shlomo fell in battle.
Shlomo was married and had one child. His widow, Shlomit, gave birth to their second daughter shortly after her father was killed. She would grow up never knowing her father but no doubt being inspired by stories of his bravery. The family had just returned the cemetery and would now begin the week of shiva - mourning for their son, brother, husband and father. Rabbi Gustman went to the funeral, then to the cemetery, and there went straight to the home of the broken family for a shiva visit. He entered and asked to sit next to the father, Professor Aumann. The father said, “Rabbi, I so appreciate your coming to visit but you have spent all day with our family, feel free to go back to the Yeshiva. I am sure the students are waiting for you.”
Rav Gustman spoke, first in Yiddish and then in Hebrew, so that all those assembled would understand: “I am sure that you dont know this, but I also once had a son. His name was Meir. He was a beautiful child. He was taken my arms by the Germans and murdered. I escaped. I later bartered my childs shoes so that we would have food, but I was never able to eat the food; I gave it away to others… My Meir is a kadosh, he is holy; he and all the six million who perished are holy.”
Rav Gustman then added: “I will tell you what is transpiring now in the World of Truth in Heaven. My Meir is welcoming your Shlomo into the minyan and is saying to him I died because I am a Jew; but I was a mere child. I couldn’t do anything for anyone else. But you Shlomo, you died defending the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. My Meir,” said Rabbi Gustman, “is a kadosh, he is holy - but your Shlomo is a Shaliach Zibbur - a Cantor in that holy, heavenly minyan.” Rabbi Gustman continued: “I never had the opportunity to sit shiva for my Meir; let me sit here with you just a little longer…” Professor Aumann listened to the story. And then he said silently: “I thought I could never be comforted, but Rebbi, you have comforted me.” (Professor Aumann later went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his gaming theory).
Rav Gustman & his wife would attend the annual Jerusalem Day parade children would march in song & dance. A Rabbi who happened upon them one year asked the Rabbi why he spent his valuable time in such a frivolity. Rav Gustman explained, “We who saw a generation of children die, take special pleasure in a generation of children who sing and dance in these streets.”
A student once implored Rav Gustman to share his memories of the ghetto & the war more publicly. “Tell people about your son, about your sons shoes,” to which the Rav replied, “I cant talk about it - even all these years on the pain is still raw, but those shoes – I can tell you I think about those shoes every day of my life. I see them before my eyes every night before I go to sleep.”
On the 28th of Sivan 5751 (1991), Rabbi Gustman passed away. Thousands marched through the streets of Jerusalem accompanying Rav Gustman on his final journey. As night fell on the 29th of Sivan, nine years the moment that Shlomo Aumann fell in battle, Rabbu Gustman was buried on the Mount of Olives. No doubt Moshe will have been there to greet him along with his own son Meir and all the other “Kedoshim.”
This story demonstrates the compelling connections between past and present; the connections which transpire up above and those which take place down below – and perhaps most of all the connections between the above & below – between this world & the next. The relationship between loved ones is chiefly of a spiritual nature, much more so than that of a physical one. It is something deep and intrinsic, a bonding of souls. As such, even as the physical may be removed our midst that spiritual bond remains intact for all eternity and that’s what this moment of Yizkor is all about.
On a lighter note, a bereaved husband feeling his loss keenly thought distraction would be good by travelling abroad. Before his departure, however he left orders for a tombstone with the inscription: “The light of my life has gone out.” During his lengthy time abroad he found love again & before his return he had taken another wife. Before returning he suddenly remembered the tombstone and the inscription. His new wife might be offended. He quickly contacted the stonemason. I am returning home but my circumstances have changed. I need you to use your years of experience & ingenuity to come up with a better inscription. Upon his return he took his new wife to see the tombstone & found that the inscription had been made to read: The light of my life has gone out; but I have struck another match.
This is the essence of Yizkor. With the departure of our dearly departed a light in our lives has gone out. But today – we strike another match as we kindle a new spark within our soul, in anticipation of giving nachas to our loved ones that were; in awareness of the deeper connections that are; and – for all of us - in the hope of being a light, an inspiration by passing the baton of Jewish life and tradition unto the next generation that will be. May the souls of our dearly departed be bound in the bond of eternal life – and may we live on in good health to inspire those who came before us and those who will walk after us, v’hokitzu v’ranenu shoichnai afar – until that day when those who sleep with rise up and dance once more, and let us say Amen.
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