A small article opposite Aluf Benn’s column in yesterday’s Haaretz reminded the reader that it was Thanksgiving. All my American friends tell me it’s a wonderful festival, and we should only have the likes of it over here: ‘We all celebrate together, it’s for everybody; it’s not religious.’ On the latter point only, I disagree. It seems to be the entire prophetic message is based on a great thanksgiving in which all creatures will share on that great day when ‘they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain’.
There is certainly something to be grateful for now. ‘Thank God for the truce, please heaven it lasts’: that’s what I feel and what I’ve been hearing people say. Israel achieved its two main aims, wrote Aluf Benn in that column, stopping the rockets and destroying vast numbers in stockpiles, as well as stabilising its relationship with Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. The Iron Dome had a huge degree of success; 400 rockets aimed at Israel’s cities were intercepted. There’s been much courage; there’s been significant restraint.
But there’s been great suffering too. Forgive me for dwelling on it, before returning to thanksgiving. Our thoughts are with the victims of the outrageous bomb on the bus in Tel Aviv; and with all who are now trying to heal wounds to body and soul. Most especially, they are with the bereaved. The Israel Trauma Centre has responded to countless calls, ‘My children are afraid, what do I do?’ The Centre has worked before with Palestinian colleagues: don’t Palestinian families suffer the same fears? Our feelings are also with the father of the little boy killed inGaza when a missile hit the flat next door. Today’s Times carries his picture. ‘We thought this place was safe. But this is our destiny’, said his father, head of dermatology in Gaza Hospital. I wonder immediately if he’s a colleague of Dr Abuelaish, who lost three children in 2008, and who wrote the remarkable book I Shall Not Hate. Our thoughts are with all those, especially our family and friends, whose lives have been shaken, who’ve been called up into the reserves, who’ve taken refugee in shelters. And we shouldn’t fail to consider those who had no shelters. Ultimately the realities faced by parents who just want to raise their children safely in Israel, and the realities faced by parents who simply want to raise their children safely in Gaza, are inter-related and bound to one another.
There’s been much sorrow in our own community too. Over the last few days I’ve been hearing Paul Robeson’s voice in my head with that sad song, ‘There’s a man going round taking names’ and its chorus ‘and left my heart in pain’. Our hearts go out to parents who weep, to young people who weep for their friend, who reach for each other around an emptiness which can never be filled as it was before. May God bring comfort.
I may be thought a fool for this, but I also saw another kind of suffering when I watched the film A Sacred Duty. From Hasidic rabbis to outstanding Israeli academics, Jewish leaders voice their passion for healing God’s world and, in particular, stopping the suffering caused to billions of animals by parts of the food industry. I watched animals kicked, beaten, thrown, broken, trapped, treated with utter contempt and slaughtered. Pinned against iron railings, one calf simply wept.
‘A calf weeping? So what!’ But those tears give silent voice to the great unseeing cruelty of our civilisation. Sometimes it’s animals, sometimes it’s one another we hurt; sometimes it’s the destiny we are born to and no one could have done anything about it. But I want no part in wilful cruelty; I don’t want to be counted in.
That’s why in my imaginary Thanksgiving I’m seating at my top table all those whose lives are devoted to ending cruelty and healing its wounds. There’ll be people of all kinds there. There’ll be the politicians with the courage to cross boundaries and work to stop wars; there’ll be those who play music to frightened children; there’ll be those who aren’t afraid of listening to peoples’ sorrows; there’ll be those who know that you don’t judge tears by the colour of the cheeks down which they run; there’ll be those who, perceiving the beauty with which the world is imbued, create songs which people who thought they would never sing again, will one day sing. Perhaps it’s really a part of all of us who’s there.
Meanwhile, if there’s hope afoot in the world that there will be less hurt, that’s truly something to be thankful for. And if there’s something we can contribute to such healing, anything, anywhere, surely that’s not just our duty, but our life’s very purpose and our deepest desire.