90 Years Since the Birth of Anne Frank

Last Wednesday was the 90th anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank, 75 years since the last birthday she reached before she and her family were betrayed.

I have in front of me a small book, really a pamphlet, called Kinder der Naechte, Children of the Nights. I’m sure I’ve written about it before. On the front is a picture of letters, maybe a name, carved into what looks like a cellar wall, with the date, 1940. The booklet was published in the 1960’s, in Frankfurt, Anne’s place of birth, ‘for pupils of 13 and above’.

I almost threw this meagre item away when clearing their bookshelf after my grandparents died. Fortunately, I chanced to open it and saw that a note had been pasted in: Otto und Fritzi Frank, mit sehr herzlichen Gruessen.

Anne’s father must have given it to my grandparents after the war. The families knew each other from Frankfurt, where both Anne and my mother were born. Only, Anne’s family fled to Holland. Who ever imagined it would be overrun in mere days? My family reached England. Who knew then that it would survive, at first little aided, but uninvaded, and win the war?

I’m ashamed to say that I never read the book – until now. On page 32 there’s a letter from 12-year-old Bernard, dated Paris 18.7.1942

They’re looking for me. Yesterday morning they took Papa and Mama away. I’d gone to get milk; when I came back a neighbour quickly pushed me into his cellar. He told me that every evening he’ll bring me food for the whole day. He’s going to try to get me to his brother in the country. Jojo, if something like this happens to you, don’t lose courage. I promise you I’m not sitting here with my head hanging low…

Jojo is Bernard’s 16-year-old cousin in Toulouse.

At a gathering hosted in Parliament, Tim Robertson, chief executive of the Anne Frank Trust, reminded us that it was not the words of a politician, religious leader, general, financier or celebrity which had most deeply touched the heart of the world, but that of an ordinary, gifted, articulate teenage girl:

I will make my voice heard, I will go out into the world and work for mankind. (April 11, 1944)

Anne could not have known the sad manner in which her voice would reach the lives of hundreds of millions. But reach us it has; and it’s up to each of us to hear.

Our community should be proud of the work of The NNLS Destitute Asylum Seekers Drop In, (and other ways such as Refugees At Home or OSH, Our Second Home) in which we listen and offer support to those whose experiences of persecution are beyond our knowledge and imagination. Still, we need more financial support and fresh volunteers.

Most of all, we need more compassion. Of course, every country has limited capacities for absorption and a primary duty of care to its own citizens. But that does not mean that unaccompanied children should be left destitute, desperate and in danger; or that thousands with well-founded fears of persecution and death in their countries of origin should find no resting place, no heart open to their suffering and no chance to build a future.

The coming days, 17 -23 June are Refugee Week, with its theme of You, Me and Those who Came Before.

A Christian couple helped my mother’s family when they fled to Britain from Nazi Germany. We now, the great majority of us, have safe homes. We have the capacity to assist.

Generation after generation, refugees have sought the hands of others – and not always found them outstretched. Who knows what the future will bring, whose great-grandchildren may need help from whom? Perhaps the ancestors of those whose hands our descendants may need are right now stretched out in hope towards us?

In words given prime-time in the Jewish year, the morning of the Day of Atonement, Isaiah stated simply: ‘Lo tuchal lehit’alem – You are not at liberty to hide yourself away’.

 

D-Day and a Torah of Life

Torat Chaim, – a Torah of life’: these words keep going through my mind as I think of yesterday’s commemorations of D-Day, and of the world and its needs today.

BBC Radio 4 news was absolutely right to conclude its broadcast with the words of veterans: ‘My friends who were hit lay in the water, face down. We could do nothing to help them. I’ll never forget them’.

It’s simply true: they died so that we could live. They risked their lives, poured out the irreplaceable ‘sweet red wine of youth’ and lost their lives in the cause of life itself, fighting a culture at the core of the ideology of which was death: the mass murder of millions deemed ‘unworthy of existence’. One thinks of how Ann Frank marked the advance of the western allies, for so many critical weeks so painfully slow, on the family’s map in the secret annexe. Would life or death reach them first?

Last Sunday was Yom Yerushalayim. I remember as a boy of nine my father phoning his sisters in Jerusalem, overhearing him repeat ‘They’ve sent the children home from school’. I’m still in touch with the two boys of my age whose parents sent them to stay in London, because they feared the worst. Many, only a few years older, gave their lives in that city, may the day come soon when it is surrounded by true, enduring peace.

For years, I took groups from Noam camp in France to see the Normandy beaches. We would go to a small cemetery, hard to find in the narrow lanes connecting the villages and farms behind Sword beach. I’ve always been moved by the words on the graves of soldiers whose names could no longer be identified: ‘Known unto God’. This simple phrase expresses the refusal to consider any life ever as without value.

On one grave in the British military cemetery at Bayeux, where yesterday’s main commemorations were held, I saw just the one word ‘Mitzpah’. Considering the Biblical context, I think it meant ‘I, your wife, will treasure your memory forever; and you, look after me from heaven’. Our dog of that name was in the car. ‘Maybe that soldier loved dogs’, Nicky said, and we stood there thinking not just of the violent death that young man had encountered but of the life, the fun and joy of life, which had been stolen from him.

So today, we who have inherited life, freedom and the trusteeship of a world for which so many died: what do we owe? How can we duly, truly honour life?

The close of Shabbat will usher in Shavuot, celebrating the giving of the Torah of life. This Torah opens with a poem, a paean, a celebration of creation, from the first unfolding of light, to the trees, birds, animals and human. Each and every element, from land and water upwards, has its natural integrity; each and every human being carries the innate dignity of bearing the image of God, creator and lover of life.

Our generation too must fight for life, in every sphere of existence. We need to challenge hatred, racism, anti-Semitism and the denigration of others wherever and in whatever sphere we encounter them. We need to value and care about one another’s lives, from refugees from terror to whoever lives in our street. We need to care for the homeless and destitute and those who feel no hope. We must cherish and rewild our landscapes and our world, so that we stop killing off the millions of plants and animals with whose future’s our own continued existence is inextricably intertwined. We need to consider and change our habits of unreflective consumption which are poisoning the very elements, of creation, water, air and earth.

It is such a beautiful world. So many who died so young would have given so much just to stare at a hillside, to see their children bathe their feet in a stream. All the Torah of life asks us to do is to love life and respect it, in faithfulness and service.

 

75 Years Since D-Day

Like all of us, I am mindful today of the great courage of so many hundreds of thousands who fought on D-Day and across Europe for our freedom.

I’ve been many times to the Normandy beaches and visited the military cemeteries. I’ve stood by the graves marked with a Magen David and looked up in the carefully kept record books the short entries about the lives of those soldiers. Many were refugees from Nazi Germany, advised to change their names before going on active service so that, if captured, they would be treated as British prisoners of war, not as Jews.

I’ve thought often about the inscription ‘Know unto God’ and of the families who never received the small comfort of knowing at least when and where their sons died.

The American memorial on Omaha beach, where the bitterest battles were fought, offers an especially moving film. It doesn’t only feature the bravery of the landings. Rather, through interviews with families of soldiers who were killed, it focuses on the lives they would have led if they had survived to return to their homes.

The familiar words are simply true: they died so that we, our grandparents, parents and children, could live in freedom.

Earlier this week was Yom Yerushalayim. I remember my father waking me in the night to tell me that the Old City, where several of his friends fell in 1948, had been captured.

For those like me who never served in an army, the courage and resilience of those who fought for the freedom of others, risking death and terrible injury, is unimaginable.

We must never take for granted the peace and freedom for which so many died.

 

On revelation: God in the supermarket

Shavuot, just nine days away, is the festival of revelation, of God’s giving the Torah.

I’ve experienced revelation; I suspect we all have. Of course, it’s not the grand kind, with God’s voice emerging amidst thunder and lightning. It’s the little kind, easily overlooked or discounted.

There’s the moment when I turned into our driveway and saw a little boy with his grandmother staring at our garden. They seemed nervous, as if they oughtn’t to have stopped so long and were about to be told to go away.

But they’d reminded me of how, when I was a small boy, my father took me for a walk soon after my mother had died. As we passed a plant nursery the owner came out; he and my father exchanged quiet words, then the man gave me a pot with a yellow primrose.

I lowered the car window and asked the child to choose the flower he liked best. He spent a long time deciding, before settling for a tall daffodil which I cut and gave to him.

It was that man at that nursery who helped me do what was right, fifty-five years later. He revealed to me a glimpse of that reservoir of kindness from which a constant river flows just beneath the surface of ordinary things, passing through the human heart. He showed me a path to its banks.

Or there’s the night before our teacher, Rabbi Jacobs, passed away, may his memory be for righteousness and blessing. He was in hospital in town. The family were all gathered there; it was a Friday night and I didn’t know what they had to eat. ‘Fruit’, I thought, ‘People do eat fruit at such anxious, loving vigils.’ Veronica Kennard helped me locate three nearby greengrocers.

I called the first number and explained. ‘I can do you a basket’, the man said. ‘And deliver it?’ ‘Yes’. I got out my credit card. ‘It’s £xx for the fruit’, he said. ‘And delivery?’ I asked. ‘I understand why you are doing this. It’s important. I wouldn’t dream of charging.’

The fruit arrived promptly. To my great sorrow, when I wanted to write and thank the man, I realised I’d lost the contact details. If by the remotest chance this reaches someone who recognises ‘that was me’ I thank you truly, and for more than the free delivery. You showed something deeper than the material fabric and materialist transactions which dominate this world.

Or there’s the rush-hour moment at the supermarket when the frail elderly lady in front of me reached the head of the queue. Despite impatient customers, the woman at the till greeted her with ‘How are you today, my darling?’ helped her put three small items in a much-used bag, and, when she handed over her purse saying ‘I can’t manage’, carefully counted out the exact amount, so that everything was open and fair.

Or when Heather, much missed, told me that her best therapy in her cancer was to walk around the corner and talk to her loved tree…Or when…Or when…

These in many ways ordinary experiences scarcely amount to God speaking from the mountain top. But to me they are far from unimportant. They show how the smallest interactions can be manifestations of love, kindness, faith and trust. So trivial they can easily be missed or dismissed, they testify to something gentle but tenacious, simple yet sacred, which unites us.

Maybe that’s why the Torah doesn’t just say ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, but ‘Love your neighbour as yourself, I am God’. For in such moments, something of God is revealed.

How can we hurt this earth as little as possible?

I look out of the windows of the train. (I’m travelling to Berlin for my termly teaching there, determined to go at least one way by train and cut my use of planes). We enter the flat lands of Brandenburg. In the fields are many horses. I glimpse a foal, an eager shake of mane and tail, then it’s gone. Or rather I’m gone, in this ridiculous way we speed across the world.

Ki li ha’aretz, ‘for the land is mine’: I often think about this short sentence which we read in the Torah tomorrow. It’s the explanation for the sabbatical year. The land is not left to rest to increase its yield in the six other years of the cycle. Its not left fallow for humans to have time off. It’s left, – left for the benefit of all that lives including wild animals and domestic, foreigners and citizens, home-owners and homeless – because it belongs to God. In the sabbatical year there’s no place for ‘No trespassers’ signs, except in so far as we are all tres-passers, passers through, passers across, God’s world.

God’s world? I’m more of a mystic than a Maimonidean. For the latter, the world is God’s work. To know God, study it and its very structure will lead you from the physical to the metaphysical, from what you see to what lies beyond what can be seen, the invisible, unknowable, unchanging, unbounded creator.

But to the mystic God is within as well as beyond. They love to quote the Zohar: ‘No space is free of the wonder of God’. There’s nowhere it isn’t possible to wake up and say with Jacob after his dream of the angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven: ‘There’s God is in this place – and I hadn’t realised’

Around midnight in Berlin, a city I now love but by which I feel haunted, I go running. I pass the statue of Frederick the First at the entrance to 17 June Avenue, its towering victory column in the central circle and the Brandenburg Gate at its close. I pass too the Russian tanks, survivors of the final battle for Berlin in 1945, at the Red Army memorial and see half a kilometre away the outline of the Reichstag.

God isn’t the only one who ever said, ‘The land is mine’. In the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel puts these words in the mouth of the archetypal tyrant, Pharaoh: ‘It’s my Nile and I made it’. What did he think he was saying? Rashi explains: ‘By my might and through my wisdom I increased my greatness and my power’. Small bronze plaques to more recent victims of this monstrous tyranny are set amidst the Berlin cobbles. I almost tread on a group of them: ‘Deported; murdered; deported’.

I see myself back on the train, looking out of the window. We exit the forests and pass once again through farmland: fields to a distant tree line, a huddle of calves. I think of Blake’s poem:

Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead…

Okay, they’re not lambs – to whom the verses are addressed. But they’re no less innocent. They’re lucky calves. Their air and earth is as clean as it comes in Europe. ‘Dost thou know’, I wonder, what awaits you after this field?

I’ve always loved the vistas of this earth. In my earliest memory I’m looking out from the upstairs room my father built alongside the carpenter to extend our bungalow outside Glasgow. I can see a field and horses. I think I’ve always felt somewhere in my soul that it’s God’s earth, though I’ve often failed to realise: there’s always been wonder in the leaves, the fallen rhododendron flowers from next door’s garden, which I put on the ends of my fingers.

I can reach only one conclusion. Yes, we may live off the land. But it’s God’s. How, then, can I hurt it, and the creatures who live with us on it, as little as possible?

 

Mental Health Awareness Week: We can ask; we can care

This Monday to Sunday is Mental Health Awareness Week. Nicky and I stayed up past midnight watching Horizon’s Stopping Male Suicide:

I walked the Golden Gate Bridge for forty minutes. I’d made up my mind that if anyone, just one single person, asked me ‘Are you OK?’ I wouldn’t do it. Joggers, drivers, police, walkers all went passed. A tourist gave me her camera to take snaps. I did. Then she went without a word. At that moment a voice said ‘Jump’. I jumped…

It’s one of many outstanding programmes featured this week, including Nadia Hussain on how she suffers from anxiety and Alastair Campbell about depression. What emerges is that there is something we can do: notice, ask, care. It may not be enough, but it’s better than not caring, or, more likely, being held back by nervousness about showing we care. (And sometimes caring means respecting people’s boundaries, their space, their quiet.)

We may be fortunate not to suffer severely, but the evidence is that most of us have had bleak days, frightened days, days when even walking down the street is a challenge (I need to pass the tree on that side, not this), days when our mind has rolled around the thought of ending it all.

Over the last years I’ve had many conversations with family members of people who have taken their own lives. My heart aches for them, left in unchartered territories, grief-stricken, maybe helpless, angry, regretful; wondering if it could have been possible to reach with greater love, understanding or vigilance into the inner spaces where consciousness had felt so painful that it was impossible to bear. (Sometimes the answer is no; it was not possible to access those bleak and suffering places, encased in some membrane impenetrable even to love.)

It’s well known that Judaism, like Christianity, understands suicide to be wrong. Our body is not our own to harm or destroy, but on loan to us by God for the duration of our lifetime, to be used in good deeds of kindness and justice. That’s the theory.

But the following passage in the Talmud, though puzzling, is more compassionate:

For two and a half years, the Schools of Shammai and Hillel debated: These said: It would have been better for a person not to have been created than created. Those said: It is better for a person to have been created than not created. (Eruvin 13b)

They put the matter to the vote and decided that it was better not to have been created.

The Talmud sadly omits to tell us the contents of the argument. Did the rabbis regard life as too complex, too full of temptation, too painful, too great a trial? We don’t know. But they certainly understood the harsh grind of daily existence: ‘You’re born, you live, you die whether you like it or not’.

After the vote the rabbis agreed that, since we have been created, we need to consider our actions. This doesn’t initially sound helpful. But what I think they mean is that we are all responsible for creating societies in which each and every person, and each of every person’s actions, matters. We may not leave anyone feeling meaningless, disconnected, unwanted, thinking that their life, their day, is pointless. In our communities, each person is to be respected and welcomed for his or her human dignity and unique contribution, and treated with hesed, thoughtful and attentive kindness.

That’s not enough to heal all inner pain. But it’s where we have to start from, and just to get to that starting place would be an achievement requiring the participation of us all.

 

My Heart is in the East

‘My heart is in the East, and I – in the far distant West’, wrote Yehudah Halevi, in one of his best loved poems. That’s how I have felt much of this week.

On the night of Yom Hazikaron, the day of memorial to those fallen in Israel’s wars, I spent the midnight hour translating from the army’s tribute to Nadav Elad, the brother of a friend and colleague, who was killed before he was even twenty. His comrades, who were with us in our community on the Peace of Mind programme, wrote:

Nadav, you were the heart of the team, the spokesman, – now everything’s gone silent. Nadav, we’ll remember, remember and never forget, how you were a brother to us, a comrade and a role model….We’ll always be there for your family, and for you, Nadav, full of memories, longing for you….Your unit

I thought about my father’s uncle Alfred, who fled Germany in 1933 when he was dismissed from his post as a judge, who settled in Jerusalem and was set to be a leading expert on jurisprudence and Jewish law in the about-to-be-declared new state. He was killed in the convoy attacked and left to burn, with all its passengers trapped inside, on its way to the enclave of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus.

My heart was with the memorial gathering, organised despite many obstacles by the Parents Circle, and including several friends, Israelis and Palestinians, who for the last several years have come together to mourn their children, brothers, sisters, not in a spirit of anger but in the solidarity of grief acknowledged and shared, and in the commitment to work together until the longed-for day when fear, hatred and war are over and gone.

I thought of the beauty of the land. I remembered my father’s uncle Alfred’s letter in which he wrote after a lecture tour of kibbutzim in the north in 1946 or ’47 of the wild-flowers and the wonder of the spring. In idle moments before the Jerusalem marathon I took pictures of cyclamen, anemones, a pair of hoopoes feeding in a meadow.

Most of all, I reflected on the prayer which asks God to

Grant those entrusted with guiding Israel’s destiny the courage, wisdom and strength to do Your will. Guide them in the paths of peace and give them the insight to see Your image in every human being. Be with those entrusted with Israel’s safety and keep them from all harm. Spread your blessings over the land. May justice and human rights abound for all her inhabitants. Guide them ‘to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God’ (Micah 6:8)…May the vision of Your prophet soon be fulfilled: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’ (Isaiah 2:4)

Who would not want such a prayer to be read before the governments in Jerusalem, Tehran, Ankara, Gaza City, and perhaps every capital city in the world every single day?

I think with profound respect of all those who build bridges, in Israel, Jordan, Palestine, anywhere in the world, between different faiths and peoples, between community and community, school and school, refugees and people fortunate to be refugees no longer, between individuals and their own heart and soul, humanity and nature, the animals, the trees and the very earth. They are the fellowship to which I aspire to belong.

I would like to mark Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, as my colleague Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum does there at her Kehillat Zion, by praying together with rabbis, priests and imams for the peace and wellbeing of the city shechubrah lah yachdav, which is united all together (Psalm 122)

 

Yom Hashoah: memory and what we do with it

We carry them with us, those who loved us and whom we have loved. We don’t know what unexpected sound, smell, touch will suddenly bring their memory to consciousness. In such matters the passage of time is irrelevant. A month, twenty years: the dead speak in our hearts as if eternity were a single everlasting yesterday:

And pricking himself on a needle
Still stuck in a piece of sewing,
Suddenly he sees her
And cries quietly. (Boris Pasternak: The Zhivago Poems)

Yesterday was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day according to the Jewish date. My yellow candle has now burnt out. I lit it, as did tens of thousands of others, for a child, family unknown. Aleksandr Derevicher was 5 when he was murdered at Mariupol in 1941. I shall put the little card with his name in one of my prayer books; there I shall find it again, amidst the songs and prayers.

Zochrenu lechayyim, remember us for life: it’s the simplest, most poignant phrase from the High Holyday liturgy. We take those who loved us with us into the life they gave us, the life they enriched for us with their faith and wisdom, and no doubt also complicated with their foibles, their meshugaas. We also carry with us those they loved, and who loved them, and even the communities who nurtured them. Somehow, little Aleksandr Derevicher walks with us too, his own life, his childhood eagerness, so utterly and cruelly destroyed.

On the day before Pesach I was putting jars of the charoset my son had just made into parcels of food and wine for the Seder night to send as small ‘thinking-of-you’ tokens to families where there was illness or grief, when I recalled the letter my great-aunt Sophie sent to her brother in New York from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on April 8, 1941:

We finished our preparations for Easter. The house is in order. Dear Mama did a lot of work on the Easter gifts; we sent eight parcels…

Presumably she wrote ‘Easter’ instead of ‘Passover’ to bypass the censor.

Tomorrow I shall take down one of the sealed jars of fruit which I bottled in memory of Sophie because that’s what she used to do with her garden produce, and because my father taught me how to do it too. Nicky and I will serve it to our guests for Shabbat lunch.

I never knew Sophie. Yet she’s in my life, her memory for a blessing.

In his powerful book Who Will Write Our History, Samuel Kassow records the words of David Graber, a member of the Oyneg Shabbes group who hid documents, diaries, testaments in milk cans beneath houses in the Warsaw Ghetto:

What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world we buried in the ground…We would be the fathers, the teachers and educators of the future. But no, we shall certainly not live to see it…May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened…

The truth, the facts, must be known; every piece of testament is significant. Deceit and denial will only arm other hatreds. They already do.

But there is also something else, something no less important: zochrenu lechayyim, remembering for life, in the small, ordinary things we do, the foods we cook, the melodies we sing, the long and ancient tradition of compassion and community, mitzvot and learning, which is in reality a mosaic of the loves, fears and values of millions of lives, some lived into venerable age, some cut short by terrors.

To be faithful to those who perished, we must try to turn memory not only into warning, but also into wisdom.

 

After the Attack on the Chabad Synagogue in San Diego

It is with deep dismay that I’m writing once again following a murderous, racist attack on a synagogue during Shabbat services. Our hearts go out to the family of the woman who was killed, and our prayers are for the wounded, who include a child.

The age-old stereotypes of anti-Jewish hatred have once again expressed themselves in murder and outrage.

We stand in solidarity with the rabbi of the Chabad community in Poway, who called for peace and unity even after he himself was injured, and with all the congregation.

In recent weeks Muslims, Christians and Jews have all been targeted and murdered while at prayer.

Whatever our faith or philosophy, we must together declare our shared abhorrence at these vicious crimes against the sanctity of life, and at the brutal desecration of places dedicated to worship, humility and peace.

Those responsible for such abominations must be brought to justice.

Though they alone are fully answerable for what they have done, their actions cannot be taken in isolation from the rising rhetoric of racism in all its manifestations. All those who promulgate hatred of others, individually, collectively and on social media, whether their targets are Jews, Muslims, Christians, blacks, whites or ‘those foreigners’, must constantly be called to account.

In these cruel and frightening times we must not merely talk solidarity but live it in our actions, by deepening our relations with people of other faiths, people whose culture may be different from ours, people who, like us all, are left feeling vulnerable and afraid by the deeds we are once again seeing perpetrated against life itself.

On the very date the attack in San Diego took place, we read in Isaiah of the day when ‘they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s mountain, because the earth shall be full of the awareness of God, as the waters cover the sea’.

However far we may be from such a time, we must not desist from working towards it with courage and determination.

 

Earth Day and the songs of the earth

I received a beautiful greeting from my colleague in Jerusalem, Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum: ‘May the songs of the sea, the earth, the animals and humankind be with you’.

On the seventh day of Pesach we sing the Song at the Sea. On the last day of the festival we recite the Song of Songs and read Isaiah’s wonderful prophecy of the time when humanity and nature live together in harmony and all the earth is called God’s place of prayer. Some communities hold a Se’udat Mashiach, a feast for the Messiah, on this day, to nourish our hopes of redemption.

Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wrote that holiness conceived in opposition to nature is not true holiness:

The highest essence of holiness is the very holiness of Nature herself; it is the foundation of repairing the world in its entirety, tikkun olam kullo.
(Orot 77; Orot Hatechiyah 25)

When the holiness inherent in all things is truly appreciated ‘War will cease entirely…and all things will incline towards loving-kindness’.

He was referring to the mystical understanding, a felt and experienced reality to many lovers of wild places, that God’s sacred energy sings in different modes and rhythms throughout all creation.

We are tragically far from that time envisaged by prophets and seers. But this is no reason to desist from the responsibility of working towards it.

On the contrary, the hour could not be more critically urgent. All life urges us to act for its protection. The songs of nature are beautiful (our garden is so full of birdsong that a friend just asked me over the phone if I was calling from an aviary). But those very cries and are often calls of warning; for a small bird, life is always at risk.

We now know now that all life is on the line, certainly the lives of the poorest in drought-riven lands and flatlands swept by the rising sea.

Judaism speaks of two overwhelming spiritual feelings, love and fear (or awe). Both drive me in my concern for this wonderful earth. Since childhood I have loved woodlands, gardens and wild places: the green hills near our home just north of Glasgow, the pine-forests of Mount Carmel, owl calls, bats’ flights. Like all gardeners, I live by the smell of rain and the feel of the soil in my hands.

But now I’m also deeply afraid. Often dread sits in the pit of my stomach, alleviated only by moments of wonder at the sheer beauty of the world.

That’s why I attended the Jewish section of Extinction Rebellion’s Pesach picnic for Earth Day at the assigned area at Marble Arch on Monday, became a life member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and joined the London Wildlife Trust. It’s why I’m passionate to co-lead Eco Synagogue to change not just what we do in our religious buildings but in our homes, in how we eat, shop, travel, care for the world.

Only a sadist would intentionally harm someone they love. Only a very careless person would persistently hurt a loved one through neglect. If we love the world, love life itself, how can we go on behaving in ways which wound them?

So may the songs of the birds, trees, rivers and seas, as well as the songs of our own soul, guide us to protect and preserve the music of all creation.

 

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