True to our values in difficult times

I listen to the news of the attack at the Louvre, icon of France’s love of beauty, and feel profound dismay. Poor Paris, city which has suffered so much in the last two years.

A brave soldier was swift enough to shoot the attacker. But the event still increases fear and suspicion. It cannot be doubted that we live in a world where constant vigilance and good intelligence are a sad but basic necessity for our security.

Yet we do not want to inhabit a society divided on religious, racial or ethnic grounds by barricades of suspicion, prejudice and anger. A world, state or city separated into ‘them and us’, with mass collective exclusions, is not the answer. It represents a victory for fear and hate; it is already a kind of failure. For division is the hallmark of hatred and fear.

Judaism has always had at its heart the belief in one God. Oneness is perhaps Judaism’s most unique and characteristic idea. What does it mean?

The oneness of God comes first. As Maimonides wrote in The Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, and as the mystical tradition persistently emphasises, to declare that ‘God is one’ is not simply to say that God is not two, or four, or eight. It is a profound affirmation that a sacred oneness, the divine spirit and presence, permeates all things and transcends them; that all life belongs to God and God belongs in all life; that there is therefore nothing and no one devoid of sanctity and value.

It follows that humanity is ultimately one. The description in the first chapter of Genesis that God made the human being in the divine image, is not a scientific account of what actually happened, but an assertion of the ultimate equality of all life. In the words of the Mishnah; ‘No one can say “My parents were better than yours”’. There is therefore no such thing, to use the ugly Nazi phrase, as ‘a life unworthy of life’. People may behave disgracefully, treacherously and wickedly and therefore merit punishment. But ab initio, they are not children of a lesser God, or of less intrinsic worth because they are Jews, Muslims, or Zoroastrians, for we are all not just children, but agents, of the one living God.

It follows further that all life is part of one inter-connected web of sacred vitality, as the prayers on the New Year declare, ‘let us all be part of one bond, to do God’s will with a perfect heart’. We are mandated to participate in a profound sharing of the resources of the earth and the gift of life itself. This is a truth affirmed at one end by a deep faith in the sanctity of all things, and at the other by the empirical evidence of ecological examination.

What then are we supposed to do in a time when fear and hatred threaten to pull us apart, yet togetherness, mutuality and understanding are at the heart of our vision?

We should be neither naïve, nor passive. Individually and collectively we need to do our utmost to remain true to our faith and ideals. We must deepen our roots within our own community, reach out to those who feel isolated, build relationships with those of different faiths and groups, and engage with those who are strangers, outsiders and refugees.

We need to be vigilant against violence, whether in words or actions, and whoever the victim. At the same time, we also need to be vigilant in our own hearts and minds, in what we say and hear said, against the proliferation of hatreds and prejudices of our own.

We need to work even harder to be true to our ideals. At this time of greater difficulty, the rewards are also great: new friendships, new connections, deeper bonds of shared humanity and commitment to justice and compassion.

Why interfaith matters

Brendan Cox’s remarkable statement following the trial of Jo Cox’s killer is an extraordinary testament to both her and his vision, courage and love. He described her murder as

An act driven by hatred which instead has created an outpouring of love. An act designed to drive communities apart which has instead pulled them together. An act designed to silence a voice which instead has allowed millions of others to hear it. Jo is no longer with us, but her love, her example and her values live on.

We are living through times when the need both to be pulled together, and to pull together in the issues which confront us all feels more urgent that at any other period in my life.

Hatreds have been released across the globe. Most probably they have always been there, semi-covert, half-hiding, under the lid. But now Isis and affiliated terror organisations preach loathing and practise merciless killing. In the West, the referendum here has revealed new levels of racist abuse and attacks, as recorded by the CST for the Jewish, and by TellMAMA for the Muslim, community. In the United States a language of xenophobia and supremacism has reinvigorated groups on the far right, some of whose deeds in the past have gone well beyond words alone. I find myself thinking bleakly about Shakespeare’s line in Othello:

Humanity must perforce prey on itself / Like monsters of the deep.

In the face of these realities, ‘interfaith’ sounds like a weak combination of opposites: what’s ‘inter’ about ‘faith’? Don’t our faiths tug us towards different and often antagonistic identities and goals?

This is partly true; our faiths ask us to anchor our moral and spiritual lives in the culture, liturgy, and discipline of our respective ancient traditions.

Yet, beyond what differentiates us (and even here our distinctive paths traverse in their particular ways the same landscapes of human nature, with its hopes, fears and fallibility), what unites us is immeasurable in comparison.

We belong to the same oneness of life. We affirm the same commitments to justice and compassion. We have the same needs for sustenance and safety, fellowship and community. Ultimately, our faith, hope and trust, whether we are Christian, Muslim or Jewish, are not hope, faith and trust in different, but in the same values, the same humanity and the same God.

My teacher, Rabbi Hugo Gryn of beloved memory, used to say that the world is divided into bridge breakers and bridge builders. We have a choice; we can either be dividers, or uniters.

But we don’t really have a choice: at this stage in world history the price of hatred and division is unthinkable.

In our community, as everywhere, we must develop our relationships with other faiths and communities, local, national and beyond and increase our shared work for the common good. In widening our contact with other faiths, we also deepen our commitment to our own. Through seeking to understand others, we come to know ourselves more truly and are enriched both by the wisdom and ways of our own tradition and by the one God who embraces us all.

Thoughts on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht 2016

It’s seventy-eight years since the Night of Broken Glass, when Goebbels unleashed upon the Jews of Germany the full of violence of Nazi hate. Though he described the subsequent horrors as the unpremeditated and spontaneous expression of the Kochende Volkseele, the boiling public mood, the smashing, burning and killing were co-ordinated across Germany and beyond. Nor was the timing incidental. It’s widely thought that the failure that summer of the rest of the world to increase their quotas for refugees from Nazism gave Goebbels a moral victory, enabling him to claim that nobody else wanted the Jews either, and gave Hitler the green light to act against them as he pleased.

I was in Frankfurt yesterday, where the Jewish Museum hosts an annual evening of study on the day before Kristallnacht. The subject was the rabbis of Frankfurt who fled the Nazis, and their legacy, focusing on my grandfather and his close colleagues. I re-visited his testimony of those terrible years. I read how he preached of his pride in the appellation ‘Israel’ after the Nazis forced all Jews to add it to their name. I stood where the great Boerneplatz Synagogue was burnt to a ruin. My grandfather was outside, summoned by the Gestapo. My father’s uncle’s family were inside; they lived in a flat adjacent to the lady’s gallery. He was arrested and taken to Buchenwald. His pregnant wife and their four children were hastily taken away by relatives, haunted by the sight of the blackened cupola, now visible through the burnt-out doors, of the great house of prayer. The baby died at birth.

Outside, many thousands of memorial tiles line the walls of the ancient Jewish cemetery.

I was shown pictures of the 1930’s, a Sabena aeroplane like that on which my family escaped, the airfield at Croydon where they landed – the very part of London where refugee children have now been arriving.

I sat at length with the director of the Jewish Museum discussing Frankfurt’s Jewish legacy: Ludwig Boerne, ‘the father of modern journalism’, born in the Judengasse, exiled, like Heinrich Heine, to Paris; and Samson Raphael Hirsch the great neo-orthodox rabbi who taught that ‘love your neighbour’ means seeking the same rights and opportunities for every citizen as you want for yourself, irrespective of religion or race. He taught, too, that the moment you abrogate in any way the rights of the stranger, or make the rights we owe each other conditional on any other attributes than the very fact of being human, created in the image of God, you re-open the gates to ‘all the horror of the slavery in Egypt’.

On the train home I passed through the Ardennes, the landscape of Hitler’s bitter last offensive, mercifully thwarted by Allied courage. The route went not far east of the terrible graveyards of the First World War, which we remember this Sunday on Armistice Day.

I followed responses to the US elections on twitter. And, not by any means solely for that reason, I feel afraid. I fear for my children; I fear for the earth. The world, it seems, is reverting to tribalism; maybe fear itself is part of the cause. I don’t know where or why this began, or if it is always thus. My next writing deadline is about the anniversary of the attack on the Bataclan theatre in Paris.

That is why it is essential to say ‘No’ to racism; ‘No’ to anti-Semitism; ‘No’ to the hatred of Muslims, ‘No’ to the denigration of women.; ‘No’ to xenophobia. That is why we must assert the centrality of the commandments, the very core of faith and humanity, to ‘do justly’, to ‘love compassion’, and never denigrate the image of God in anybody, or act with wanton destruction towards this beautiful world, God’s world, the world of which we must continue to say, conducting ourselves accordingly, ‘And God sees that it is good’.

No time for hate

When I came home I found four handwritten cards in the post. That’s unusual these days, when the latter consists largely of requests from charities, leaving the sad task of choosing one or two out of tens of heart-rending causes.

In my mind as I opened the cards were two lines from Mahmoud Darwish I’d just picked up in translation:

I have no time for hating those who hate me,
I am too busy loving those who love me.

I heard them recited (on YouTube) by Arab Aramin at a memorial service where he spoke together with Igal Elhanan: both lost sisters in the violence of the Middle East conflict; both their fathers, Bassam and Rami, are leaders of The Parents Circle; both are friends, and both have been to our community. The service, held last Yom Hazikkaron, strove to encompass the pain of everyone’s losses, embracing them in profound and courageous hope for the future.

The lines kept going round in my mind. After all, it’s so easy to do the opposite, and so understandable: you can be so busy hating those who hate you that you forget to love those who love you.

The first card was from a Polish barista to whom I’d written because a congregant told me he’d been badly hurt in a racist attack in London. I said how sorry I was about what had happened, and that this was not the country or society I believed we truly were. I took the liberty of writing in the name of the synagogue. He replied:
I am happy that I feel a lot better – most of the credit to my wife. If you are ever in the area it will be my joy to meet you…’
I’m hoping to be in the area.

The second card was from a non-Jewish woman who had contacted me out of the blue a while ago, writing the most generous letter about how she tried to reach out to those of different faiths and appreciated others who did the same. An amateur artist, she described in this card how when Nadiya Hussain, winner of the Great British Bake-Off, came to the Food Festival of Bolton, she presented her with ‘a life size colour portrait’ and ‘was rewarded by a big hug!’

The third was from Hana, the second daughter of the Christian lady who, as I mentioned in my recent book, sent food-parcels during the Holocaust years to my great-grandmother Regina and my great-aunt Sophie after they were deported to Theresienstadt. I met the first daughter last year in Holesov in the Czech Republic. I remember, Hana wrote, how my mother would tell me about your family; I am so glad she has found a place in your book, ‘which is witness to the cruel and unjust years for your people, and for all the world’.

The last card was from my wife’s aunt Rosalind. Recalling the war years (she’s over 90) she wrote: ‘I thank God that, but for 22 miles of water and the Battle of Britain, neither we nor future generations would be here’. It was a poignant reminder, after the other messages, of what racism and hatred can do when they have power, and the immense courage required to defeat them.

I went to bed humbled and rose today filled with the same chastening feeling.

There are countless causes for anger and hatred. Perhaps they will prove too powerful, and divide us, fatally, in the end. I do not want to think so.

As for us, whether or not history will bear us out, let’s take courage and place our hearts and efforts together with those who reach out beyond the divisions of races and nations, to heal the wounds of our shared humanity.


I’m running for Tree Aid in the London half-marathon on 9th October. Tree Aid replants desolated regions, to give people back a livelihood so they don’t have to become refugees. Please click here to sponsor me.

An attack on humanity itself

It’s hard to translate the phrase kevod habriyot. I can visualise examples more easily than I can put the words into English: a child taking an old man’s hand and gently leading him to the dinner table; a nurse addressing a semi-comatose patient ‘Now Mrs. X, would it be OK for me to give you an injection to help with the pain?’

Kevod habriyot, literally ‘the honour of creatures’, refers to the respect due to the state of being human. It knows no differentiations of gender, faith or nationality. It expresses that dignity which inheres in each and every human life by virtue of being created in the image of God. Whatever that endowment is, – intelligence, creativity, conscience, vulnerability, sensitivity to others, – it bestows upon each and every human being certain rights which it is criminal to breech: the right to personal safety, to respect for close family relationships and to justly acquired property. To violate those rights is to show that one has no yirat Elohim, no fear of God, no respect for the most basic, most universal, laws of life.

Neither youth, nor age, nor illness, nor disability can diminish a person’s kavod, It is a crime wilfully to hurt a person because they are too young, too old, too ill or simply too different from ourselves.

However, a person’s kavod may be heightened by virtue of age or office. Thus, a special kavod adheres to the elderly, before whom we are commanded to stand in respect. A particular dignity belongs to the priesthood and to those who faithfully serve God.

The violation we witnessed this week in the murder of a venerable priest, Father Jacques Hamel, while he was reciting mass in a small church near Rouen, in a place of holiness and sanctuary, is an attack upon the very foundations of human life and society itself.

This desecration reminds us of the vulnerability and exposure of each and every person to violent evil. Our very fragility binds us in an indissoluble bond of fellowship with all who respect and care for life, whatever their faith or nationality; with all who exercise kindness and compassion; with everyone who, in the words of Micah, ‘practises justice, loves mercy and walks humbly with God’.

As Jews, we know only too well what it means to be forced to die for the sake of our faith and identity. So, too, do members of other religions. It has been estimated that currently three hundred Christians are murdered for their faith each month. In parts of the world less documented than Western Europe Muslims are killed regularly in Islamist outrages.

Judaism has always understood any attack or disaster as a call to teshuvah, to return and repentance. This must not be taken to mean that we should understand the tragedy itself as caused by our sins. In the present circumstances such an accusation would itself be a blasphemous violation.

Rather, the very fragility of human life in the face of violence and disaster teaches us to return to our most basic values, to fellowship, friendship, sharing, generosity, kindness, supporting the hurt, the homeless and the needy.

I’ve just finished reading Samuel Kassow’s harrowing account of the Warsaw Ghetto, ‘Who Will Write Our History?’. In it he records how, after receiving the German expulsion order, the Jews of the small town of Skempa in Poland ‘asked their rabbi to give them personal letters attesting to their past status in order to remind strangers that they, too, were once respected householders, not beggars’.

To label others as less than human is easy. The challenge is the opposite, to recognise and respect the humanity of every person. We must never be driven to forget that kevod habriyot, respect for the dignity of each and every human being, is the foundation of our humanity, and of humanity itself.

In the face of terror….

I’ve just spoken to my colleague David Touboul, rabbi of the Masorti community in Nice. Mercifully, it seems his congregation are safe, though many were nearby when the attack took place. But poor people of Nice. Our thoughts are with the bereaved, the wounded and the traumatised. Poor France, and alas for a world where so many people suffer terror or the threat of terror every day of their lives.

Only this winter I celebrated with Rabbi David the twentieth birthday of his congregation at which everyone sung and danced with the Torah.

The Torah is called Torat Chayim, The Torah of Life. To hold it is to embrace the tree of life, like a child who throws its arms around the trunk of an oak tree in the park. You feel as if its sap is rising not only into its branches and leaves, but through you; you push your heart against the bark and sense the great nourishment of the giver of all life.

Judaism, life itself, finds its strength and joy through attachment to the tree of life. In hours of pain and confusion we turn to the Torah and its teachings to seek healing; in times of celebration we sing and dance with the Torah, like the dance of life itself.

The aim of terror and hatred is to detach us from the tree of life, to kill us physically and to maim us spiritually by destroying our confidence and joy. Any terror outrage anywhere is an attack on the preciousness of life everywhere. We must never condone it, or, though we have to be vigilant, be cowed by it, or allow it to undermine our values, at the heart of which is the simple truth that every life and all life matters beyond any price that can be put upon its head.

It is our duty to bring healing wherever we can. There are innumerable ways in which we can make this part of our lives, each of us according to our gifts and opportunities. Healing is not just saving lives, though nothing is more important where life itself is at stake. Healing can be listening to stress and anger with patience, a kind word in an otherwise anonymous interaction, a gift to someone who is hungry, the offer of help with a lonely, challenging task.

It is also incumbent on us to reach out to others, now more than ever. There are many within our own community (whether that is Jewish, Christian, Muslim or the locality of our street or village) who are isolated by age, disability or distance from their loved ones. It is far harder to bear difficult times alone than within the embrace of a neighbourly group. There are also many who feel unheard, unwanted and unwelcome. We must respond to those who exploit differences to foster fear and prejudice by crossing the lines of apparent division to develop friendship, mutuality and trust. That is the only way to defeat hatred.

Most of all, it remains our privilege and responsibility to celebrate life. We respond to contempt for life by honouring life; to the destruction of life by the nurturing of life. Celebration is not the same as heedless hedonism. It is an affirmation of the privilege of being able to breath, feel, communicate, enjoy, care, love, – all the sensations and emotions of being human, many of which we share with other forms of existence as well.

It is a basic form of gratitude. It is a way of saying: we never hold life in contempt; we are never indifferent; we are grateful for this short gift of time and will use it to cherish and love our comrades in this partnership of life.

It is the way we put our arms around the tree of life, – and sometimes even that strong and sustaining tree needs our embrace as well

Not Wanted Here

Whichever way people voted, everyone agrees: the political and economic repercussions of Brexit will go on for years. We only have to think of yesterday in Parliament. But one matter has swiftly become clear; I already heard about it the morning after the poll: many people feel ‘outed,’ made to feel ‘other’. Here’s what they’ve said:

‘Suddenly I feel a foreigner’.
‘They asked me to come to the UK to work but now they want me to go home’.
‘Will I be deported?’ (then tears).
‘I walk down the street and think: maybe this person doesn’t want me here; maybe that person doesn’t want me here.’

Perhaps what I’ve been hearing isn’t typical, but I doubt it. I’ve spoken to some of the Hungarians, Spaniards, Germans, French, Bulgarians I know – and that’s just around the neighbourhood. (Last week I wouldn’t have referred to these friends by country, but that’s the way they’ve been made to perceive themselves now). Many feel anxious, uncertain, angry; they sense they’ve been given the thumbs-down.

Perhaps ‘outed’ is no more than just a feeling, a hyper-sensitive reaction. After all, there’s racism and prejudice before the EU, after the EU, and certainly within the EU. Why should the referendum have made a difference? But I believe it has; it’s brought to the surface, semi-legitimised something ugly within our society.

And it’s not just a ‘feeling’ for the person who told me she’d been hit for being ‘a foreigner and a Jew’ in the run-up, or for the student insulted for being Jewish, or to the children who found their school daubed with anti-Polish hate slogans, or to the Muslims targeted during Ramadan.

There’s a debate about where there really is more racism since the vote, or just a politically-motivated need by some to claim that there is. I certainly don’t believe the great majority of ‘leavers’ voted as they did because they’re racists. That in itself would be another kind of collective calumny.

But there are racists out there, and no doubt among the ‘remain’ voters too, and across the EU, and race hate is on the rise. And I’m not waiting for the statistics to prove how big that rise is, or why it came about, before saying that any such racism is wrong.

One action we can and must take in these time of uncertainty is to show solidarity within our Jewish community which is more vulnerable now (consider how Jeremy Corbyn received the report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party!) with different faith communities, and with other groups and individuals who are, or feel, attacked and insecure. We must express that solidarity and be heard and seen expressing it.

In this week’s Torah portion the spies sent by Moses to explore the Promised Land report back that they felt like ‘grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in the eyes of the inhabitants’. Maybe it was only their imagination, but what they thought others thought about them invaded and diminished their own self-esteem. That’s what happens when a person experiences, or senses, the contempt of others.

There is a further question we have to ask ourselves in this connection; it’s uncomfortable but essential: who might those ‘others’ be whom we in turn find ourselves blaming for doing the ‘outing’ and ‘othering’?

There are more than enough people who hold xenophobic attitudes and commit racist crimes. Such views have to be challenged, such actions reported and condemned, and their perpetrators brought to justice.

But far more people probably feel that they themselves have long been society’s other: not heard, not empowered, not included in the opportunities from which those who ignore them have grown rich. If we don’t listen now, it will not only be to our peril, but constitute our own form of prejudice.

We are virtually all someone else’s ‘other’ and all of us, too, are inclined to ‘other’ someone else.

When the Torah insists that ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ it offers no immediate definition of who that neighbour is. It divides the world into two, us and our neighbour; not into three: us, our neighbour and the other. The Torah asks us not to ‘other’ but to relate. It’s a high, perhaps impossible, ideal.

‘Love’ is a vast and vague term. The Torah no doubt means something far more down-to-earth. If we could try to respect, be aware of and stand up for the rights and dignity of our neighbour as we would want them to stand up for us, then and only then will we live in a society at peace with itself, inside or outside the EU.

After the Referendum

Following the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, our country faces an uncertain and testing time. Whichever way we voted, none of us wants to see Britain’s long and remarkable democratic process stall or witness the decline of our country. None of us want to see the far right gain power either here or anywhere in Europe. We all share prayers for the wellbeing of our state.

This is therefore a time to strengthen our commitment to honest discussion, truthful debate and the creation of an integrated and just society free from hatred and xenophobia.

It is not a moment to fall silent or take a step back, but to affirm our values and commitments.

We should not stand idly by when any group or individual is targeted by racist rhetoric or violence. We should come to their support, and be seen to do so.

We should not countenance a culture of disrespect for experts, intellectuals and those who endeavour to exercise leadership in any sphere with honesty and integrity.

We should beware of implicitly condoning dishonesty or racism in any leaders or media figures, with platitudes such as ‘it’s not against us’ or ‘they don’t really mean it’.

We should speak warmly to those in the community around us who may feel rejected, those who were born here, have lived here for a decade, were invited to work in this country, and who now experience their status as insecure and feel they have been told they are not wanted.

We should work across our communities to strengthen our relationships with our neighbours of all faiths or none.

We should be attentive to those who don’t have privileges and opportunities we take for granted, be concerned about the many parts of the country which have suffered economic neglect, and engage actively for a more just, compassionate and inclusive society.

If we have family or friends who voted differently from ourselves and with whom we now find ourselves struggling to communicate, we should try to listen to one another and affirm the common values we still share.

We should respect the process of reasoned debate and the plurality of views.

May God guide us, our country and Europe at this difficult time.

‘Peace with security’

‘Peace with security,’ these words are so painfully familiar, that I had never realised that the first time we see them together is in this week’s Torah portion: ‘You shall dwell securely in your land; and I shall make peace’. (Vayikra 26:5,6)

Security is a most serious matter, sadly. I feel better if my bags are searched when I enter a large public building. Since the terror attacks is Paris one senses a different attitude to the police at Central London stations; one’s glad to see them. We ourselves need more help with voluntary security duties in front of our synagogue (and this is volunteer week).

The security of nations is equally essential, as we know all too well in regard to our worries about Israel. Security in this context means not just the challenging capacity to defend borders, but the ability to govern in such a way as allows the population, and the land itself, to feel safe, productive and prosperous. We should therefore pray for the security of Syria too.

But, while ‘secure’ is a fair translation, the Hebrew betach has a very different resonance in the Bible. It signifies security based on trust in God, divine protection merited by performing God’s will. That’s why in rabbinic literature bitachon means not ‘security’ but ‘faith’. This, alone, is the ultimate source of peace.

We might quarrel with such an idea. After all, it’s failed the reality test: many people have placed their faith in God, only to be murdered by their former neighbours. In the realpolitik of this world, we need more practical forms of protection too.

Yet, though you may say the Torah is a dreamer, the dream is profound. It’s a dream connected especially to the practice of the Sabbatical, the culminating year of the septennial cycle, when the earth itself must rest. For those twelve months ‘our’ land ceases to be ‘ours’ in the usual sense. Gates must be opened so that rich and poor, refugee as well as citizen, and both wild and domestic animals, can freely share the produce of the land, while the only form of trespass would be a sign saying ‘Private; No Access’.

This too has largely failed the reality test. But not the idea behind it. For within this dream, or truth, that the earth ultimately belongs to God lies the awareness that for any land to merit peace its population must provide for the needs and sensitivities of all who live off it. Only one voice is ultimately entitled to say ‘Mine!’ and that voice belongs to God.

This Sunday is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. I was nine years old during the Six Day War; I vividly remember how my father, who had been in the Hagannah during the siege of Jerusalem, woke me up to explain that the Old City was once again in Jewish hands.

If the city is truly to be as the Psalmist envisaged, ‘ir shechubrah lah yachdav, a city united all together’, this will depend on deep sensitivity to the needs of all its populations and faith groups, by all its populations and faith groups. The same applies, in macrocosm, to the earth itself.

Together with many Israeli organisations, Noam* and other youth movements have been concerned that celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim are conducted with such sensitivity. It’s an important moment, as Ramadan begins on Sunday night. Jerusalem is, and has been for thousands of years, central to Jewish history, geography and faith; we pray that it may be as its name indicates, a true city of peace.

I wish our Muslim neighbours here in Britain Ramadan Mubarak, a blessed Ramadan. I hope that these weeks enable us to deepen our sensitivity towards each other, because cities, like land, belong in the final analysis only to God and it is in the awareness of our shared trusteeship of God’s world that our hopes of peace and security ultimately reside.

 

*Noam is one of the Youth Movements that have signed a letter to change the route of the Yom Yerushalayim march.

  • Click here to read an article in The Jewish News.
  • Click here to listen to a New Israel Fund Podcast featuring Noam movement worker, Dan Eisenberg.

On Anti-Semitism

I am sending a further note to our community in haste before Yom Tov. It concerns a matter on which we would all wish that there was no need to write.

It is clear that we are living in increasingly difficult times. Both Jews and Israel are sometimes spoken about in utterly unacceptable terms. Anti-Semitic comment has become more prevalent. Sometimes it is intentional; at other times the speaker seems blandly unaware that the views expressed are hurtful and hateful.

I certainly do not consider that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic; this is far from the case. Yet it seems to me evident that certain kinds of rhetoric of contempt and hatred for Israel have also become a means of attacking and denigrating Jews and Judaism in general.

Naz Shah has made what sounds like a genuine and heartfelt apology in the House of Commons; the matter remains under investigation. What I find most disturbing in her case is that she may well have been quoting without consideration narratives and comments very widespread on social media and public discourse. Very many people do likewise, spreading all kinds of forms of racism and prejudice.

What has driven me to write are Ken Livingstone’s comments today about Hitler and Zionism. They are outrageous, inflammatory, inaccurate and in the circumstances entirely gratuitous and helpful to no one. I appreciate John Mann’s frankness and outrage in combatting them.

Not only we as Jews, but every sector of society needs to expose and counter anti-Semitism and every form of racism and bigotry. Those who hate one entire group of people quickly move on to hating another; we are all in the struggle against this evil together.

But that is not enough. The challenge is not to increase enmity in the world but to do our best to turn enemies into friends or at least partners in debate. Sadly there are situations and people where and with whom this is simply not possible. But wherever we can we need to find ways of creating relationships and entering into dialogue, even when it is difficult, with those who out of ignorance or received bigotry hold views we find unacceptable. Our real and enduring strength lies in our integrity and the quality of the relationships we develop with other faiths and groups in society and across the world.

These are profound and demanding challenges. We need to employ all the strengths, talents and human resources of our community and society in engaging with them.

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