As part of our Tercentenary Celebrations, a Masonic Service was held at Singers Hill Synagogue, Birmingham on Sunday 29 October. This was the fifth such service held at the Synagogue and the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David F Macey and his wife Sandra led the Province at this special event.
The service was graced by the presence of the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Anne Underwood and well attended by Provincial Officers and Brethren with their families and friends. Those not of the Jewish faith were treated to an unforgettable experience, amply illustrated by the choral element of the service led by Cantor Albert Chait and the Leeds Synagogue Choir. A very moving address was given by W Bro The Rev Elkan Levy which can be read below.
Following the service, refreshments were provided and grateful thanks go to Rabbi Yossi Jacobs, W Bro Sir Bernard Zissman and the rest of the Synagogue organising committee for their work in organising this very successful event.
Address given at the Warickshire Masonic Service
Birmingham Hebrew Congregation, Singers Hill on Sunday 29th October 2017
W Bro The Rev Elkan D Levy, PJGD, PProvGChap (Middx) Hon Gr Almoner (Israel)
Lord Mayor, RW Provincial Grand Master, Distinguished Brethren and Brethren, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends All
To be invited to give the address at this service is a very great honour for me, and one of which I am particularly conscious. This synagogue has for me many happy associations, both with its four previous ministers and with the present incumbent. Many senior brethren in the Province of Warwickshire have been members of Singers Hill, and two of its clergy have been active in the craft. The late Rev Dr Abraham Cohen was the second Master of the Lodge of Loyalty, and the Rev Stanley Brickman is a close personal friend with whom I attend Lodge meetings in Israel.
The three great pillars upon which Freemasonry rests are BROTHERLY LOVE, RELIEF, and TRUTH. They form the reference points, and the principles, of an Order that enriches the lives of all of us who are fortunate to have been initiated into its mysteries.
The first core principle of Freemasonry is BROTHERLY LOVE. Much time and effort has been devoted to discovering the secrets of Freemasonry, which are in fact merely our ancient brethren's proofs of professional competence. What is never discussed is the biggest Masonic secret of all, the sense of brotherhood that pervades the whole of Freemasonry, in every country in the world.
One of the Ancient Charges of a Freemason describes Freemasonry as being “the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance." In the words of Psalm 133 " Hiney mah tov umah naim shevet achim gam-yachad - behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity " [i]
It is this sense of being a member of a vast international brotherhood, of feeling entirely at home, immediately, with any freemason anywhere, which makes the Masonic order unique.
In the land of Israel where I live our Lodges work in any one of nine languages, Hebrew English Arabic French Spanish Turkish Rumanian German and Russian. The brethren include Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We retain clandestine contact with Freemasons in several Arab countries. Despite the obvious tensions, our Masonic brotherhood, rising above political and religious differences, enables us all to sit comfortably with each other. To use Brother Kipling’s wonderful phrase, “we meet upon the Level and we part upon the Square” and for that reason alone among many others Freemasonry is important in society.
The second core principle of Freemasonry is RELIEF. In a Masonic context this means the practice of charity, and indeed its practice on a scale greater than in any other secular movement. If we but think about it, the amount and destination of the donations is staggering.
Within Freemasonry, we have charities that offer relief and support to the children of Freemasons, to brethren and their families who are sick or who fall upon hard times, and to brethren and their families in the autumn of their lives.
But Masonic charity extends far beyond the domestic preoccupations of the order. Of the literally millions of pounds raised annually by Freemasonry, less than 40 percent remains with the Masonic charities. The balance goes to general charities within the United Kingdom and abroad.
Moreover, the Masonic charities differ from all other charities in the United Kingdom. We do not canvass the general public. The monies that we give are our monies, from our pockets, raised from Freemasons and by Freemasons. The whole marvellous structure and achievement of Masonic charity is something about which we tend to be reticent, but about which we should be very proud.
The third core principle of Freemasonry is TRUTH, truth in all our actions, integrity in all our dealings. The Rabbis describe truth as being one of the Divine attributes - "Chotamo Shel HaKadosh Baruch Hu Emet - The seal of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is Truth." [ii]
This is the same standard to which we instruct a candidate - "To steer the barque of life over the rough sea of passion without quitting the helm of rectitude is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain."
And yet there are matters today that should disturb us. Western European society has recently seen an upsurge in anti-Semitism, largely fuelled by a reluctance in the media to tell the truth and to face facts about what is really going on in the Middle East. This kind of poisoned press reporting is something with which Freemasonry has also been very familiar.
But if for many of us here today 2017 is beginning to have an uncomfortable similarity to 1933, then this is a major Masonic problem as well. A regime which becomes overtly anti-Semitic will also become anti-Masonic. We saw this in Nazi Germany, we saw this in Communist Russia, we saw this in Iran after the fall of the Shah, we have seen this in so many countries where Freemasonry once flourished and is now banned, or where Freemasonry was banned and is now flourishing with the restoration of freedom.
Freemasonry arose in the 18th century as a reaction to religious intolerance. It has flourished because of its atmosphere of toleration. As the Charges of a Freemason state “Let a man's religion, or mode of worship, be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the Architect of heaven and earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality”.
We seem at the moment to be entering an era of religious intolerance of a depth and a geographical width unseen since the Middle Ages. All over the world men are fighting each other purely in an attempt to prove the supposed superiority of one definition of God over another.
We are witnessing the largest civil war in history between different interpretations of Islam. We have witnessed religious martyrdom on a scale unknown for centuries – Muslims and Christians of all denominations, Zoroastrians, Yazidis, Jews - the list is horrifyingly endless.
In one of his most beautiful prophecies, Isaiah quotes God as saying to mankind “Lechu na venivachacha – Come now and let us reason together” [iii] but too often these days toleration is replaced by confrontation and the warmth of humanity displaced by vicious inhumanity.
The Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks recently encapsulated our current situation in the words
Men hate in the name of the God of Love
Kill in the name of the God of Life
Wage war in the name of the God of Peace
Practise cruelty in the name of the God of Compassion
If religious intolerance is allowed to flourish unchecked, then Freemasonry will be the loser, and if Freemasonry suffers, then I believe humanity will suffer. As Edmund Burke said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Freemasonry as we know it today became formalised with the creation in England of the first Grand Lodge in the world in 1717. Today's service therefore is a Service of Thanksgiving for 300 years of Freemasonry in this green and pleasant land, and it is fitting that we should consider what it is for which we are giving thanks.
Firstly we give thanks for the very existence of Freemasonry, that great Order that enriches all our lives, expands the horizons of our experience, and raises the moral level and tenor of our conduct and actions. It enhances our consciousness of that individual religious heritage to which we are each heir, while at the same time encouraging the respect and tolerance for others that is essential for the peace and good order of society.
We give thanks for the friendships that we enjoy, for the fellowship and the companionship of belonging to such a unique institution, for the joy and relaxation of sitting with our brethren in Lodge assembled.
We give thanks for the opportunity to practice charity, that virtue which blesses him who gives as much as him who receives.
And above all, and perhaps most importantly, we each give thanks that we are Freemasons.
In a world of strife and tension, the peace and harmony of Freemasonry gives us all strength and serenity.
And perhaps therefore the greatest thanksgiving that we give at this service, is to the Great Architect of the Universe, for having kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to enrich our existence through the Craft and Brotherhood of Freemasonry, and in so doing to raise the standards of humanity and society.
Thus may it continue for all of us, in our respective Lodges, until time with us shall be no more.
[i] Psalm 133:1
[ii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 55a
[iii] Isaiah Ch 1:18