For the Month of Av: from Destruction to Restoration

We are on the eve of the new moon of Menachem Av.

The month begins in sorrow: ‘When Av comes in, joy is diminished.’ The ninth day is the fast of Tisha B’Av, when we remember the destruction of the Temples. But afterwards comes consolation, as we read from Isaiah ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.’ The full moon, Tu B’Av, is all celebration, Judaism’s ancient equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

I was privileged last week to share three experiences which expressed just this movement from sadness to restoration.

The first was in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, bombed out by the Luftwaffe in the night of 14 November 1940. We gathered, scarcely a dozen of us of different faiths and philosophies, surrounded by the remains of the walls and spires, made safe but not rebuilt. It’s not an obvious location for marking Britain’s first ever Thank You Day. But it’s a humbling space and that’s what drew us together. It opened our hearts. We were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Bahai, Humanist. We all spoke, but the atmosphere of the place said more, reaching into us without words. We belonged to different generations and persuasions but it filled us with the same determination: not to hurt, not to denigrate, but to nurture and appreciate life.

The second was the Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving in St Paul’s Cathedral on the 73rd anniversary of the National Health Service. I sat next to Dr Perpetual Uke, a consultant at Birmingham City Hospital, who told me how she’d been caring for patients when she herself got Covid and became desperately ill. Now, thank God, she was almost entirely recovered. She was here both as giver and receiver of care. Nearby was a man representing the Ambulance Service. I told him how many times I’d had cause as a community minister to witness the kindness and skill of their teams.

Dr Uke lead the prayer:

For the vision of those who pioneered our National Health Service…
For the dedication of those who serve all in need of healthcare…
For the courage of those whose lives are marred by illness and bereavement…
For those who work for a healthier and fairer world.

What does one do when one hears such words? One feels saddened, humbled, touched, consoled and inspired all at once. One subconsciously resolves to do one’s best, to make one’s own contribution.

The third was the joy of two days in Scotland. Getting off the night train in the Highlands, the scents of woodland, heather, wild thyme and bilberry, the green of silver birch and pine, the sound of running streams – these are all God’s agents, they restore my soul. We experienced, too, a more practical kind of restoration in the regenerated woodlands, the young self-seeded trees carefully protected against deer and rabbits, the warnings not to disturb the rare capercaillie which nest on the ground, the feeding stations for red squirrels, the sight of an osprey. This too is part of health care, the health of the earth and our mental and spiritual health at the same time.

On Tisha B’Av we dwell only temporarily on destruction, long enough to rediscover the dedication to restore, rebuild, heal and replant in all God’s Temple, in Jerusalem itself, and throughout that universal Jerusalem which is God’s earth.

Viva, viva la musica!

Many years ago, Nicky and I participated in a conference in a beautiful monastery in Lower Austria. It was an interdisciplinary gathering, including faith leaders, scientists and writers, who shared deeply thoughtful discussions.

On the programme was also a short reflection: ‘Brother David leads us all in singing.’ What was he going to do with two hundred people of various persuasions? Would this be awkward, I wondered nervously? He got up on the stage, a smiling, wizen man of almost eighty, and with irresistible charm led the entire auditorium in singing ‘Viva, viva la musica.’ It was as moving as it was simple. That music still lives inside me.

One memory brings another. I was digging in the synagogue garden one Thursday some years back, when members of the community started to walk by in twos and threes with a degree of enthusiasm which suggested that they were probably not about to attend a religious service.

Cars began to arrive. Slowly, doors opened, and passengers were helped to get out. Some had Zimmer frames, others needed wheelchairs. There was my friend David Jackson, poet, scholar, lover of the Psalms, very frail now, whom it had been impossible to persuade to leave his rooms for many months. Then came a whole year group of six- or seven- year-olds from Akiva School round the corner.

They were all attending Intermezzo’s lunchtime concerts, the brainwave and joyous hard work of a team of five whose aim was to bring together gifted musicians, many young and still studying, with an audience of everyone and anyone, people from local care homes, and lots of children. The first concert took place in October 2013; the 70th will be next week. Lockdown didn’t stop the music; it merely put it online, where I expect, it was more appreciated than ever, a joy which will be superseded only when we can come together in person once again. Thank you, Intermezzo team!

There is wonder in the creation of music. My cousin’s husband is a maker and repairer of violins; he studied the art in Italy and now has his workshop in Jerusalem. I’ve visited several times: everywhere are instruments carefully stood up or rested on their sides. There are many kinds of wood, boxes of tools, all carefully labelled, vices and glues. It’s a world of spirits; I can imagine the violas and cellos rising at night like King David in the legend, to make music until dawn.

The Bible relates how Elisha was summoned to prophesy. He called for musicians and ‘when the player played, the spirit of God came upon him.’ The mystics read the words slightly differently: when ‘the player becomes the music,’ when we become lost in the melody, that’s when God is with us.

We don’t live in one reality only, intractable as the daily grind of society with its inequality, injustice and frequent cruelties is. We live, too, perpetually on the edge of wonder, a fourth (or is it fifth?) dimension, a plenitude of beauty, to which the entrance may be a line from a poem, a garden, the night sky, music, a friend’s words, or simply silent stillness. When we enter, we are embraced by something no lockdown can close off, no evil can destroy. We are inside holy space and it knows no barriers.

We read tomorrow in the Torah that ‘Moses gathered the whole community together to make the mishkan, a dwelling place for God’s presence. It’s also the other way round; when a dwelling place is made for the spirit, through music, through anything of deep beauty, it gathers us all together.

What unites us: Jewish thoughts on Christmas day

There are two beautiful sentences in tomorrow’s Torah which move me today on this complex date, a fast in Judaism commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army, and a day of celebration and good tidings throughout the Christian world.

Both sentences are spoken by Judah as he pleads before the viceroy of Egypt, whom he does not yet know to be his long-lost brother Joseph, to let Benjamin come back home to their father. Judah explains to the viceroy that ‘nafsho keshurah benafsho, – his soul is bound up with his soul,’ the elderly Jacob cannot bear to live without his youngest child.

There is a deep generosity in Judah’s words. He has come to appreciate that Benjamin is special, presumed to be the only surviving son of their father’s adored but long dead wife Rachel.

Those words ‘his soul is bound up with his soul’ transcend their context. They speak simply and briefly of the love which can exist between people. Judah isn’t talking about himself; this is not his bond with his father, but Benjamin’s. Yet he treats it with the deepest respect; he honours love itself.

This is what I witness when families with a relative in intensive care tell me, ‘A nurse or doctor rang every day. They were so thoughtful. And they must be under such pressure.’

This cruel year is teaching us to know and respect the deepest needs and connections of the human heart, of life itself.

Judah now explains why he of all the brothers has stepped forward to plead for Benjamin, in whose sack Joseph had his special goblet surreptitiously planted and who now stands accused of theft. ‘Ki avedacha arav et han’ar, I, your servant, stood surety for the lad before my father:’ Judah has promised to take responsibility.

Arav means ‘mix’: to stand surety is to appreciate that one’s destiny and integrity is mixed with that of others. To be truly human is to be engaged, concerned, answerable. Hence the Talmudic saying: ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – All Israel are responsible for one another.’ We are connected by a heart-felt duty of care, to our own community and people, but also in the most universal sense to other communities too, as prescribed by our common humanity. In the deepest sense of all, we are responsible for all life, entrusted by God with care for creation itself.

I feel this more deeply than ever this year. That’s why I wrote a letter to The Church Times, which they published online:

My heart goes out to Christian colleagues and communities as Christmas approaches and it becomes clear how limited gatherings and family celebrations will be.

We struggled over the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement when families could not come together as accustomed, and long and beautiful services had to be curtailed and numbers limited. Yet we were upheld by that profound sense of spiritual solidarity which sustains all faith communities.

In these difficult times solidarity of spirit across our different faiths and philosophies matters more than ever. These frightening and bewildering months have shown us how interdependent we all are and how deeply we need one another across the whole of our society.

Our liturgies may differ, but we stand together in praying for a safer, more peaceful, sustainable and compassionate world.

There’s much in the past year which we don’t want repeated, but I hope a deeper awareness of the bonds which connect us and the responsibilities which unite us will not be lost.

 

After the terror attacks in Hanau

Like all of us, I feel disgusted and disheartened by the racist murders in Hanau. Our hearts go out to the grief-stricken, the wounded, their families and all who’ve been traumatised by this outrage. My thoughts are especially with everyone who was in Halle on Yom Kippur, and all people, wherever in the world they are, whose haunting memories of witnessing or being near victims of terror are reawakened by this latest outrage.

The terrorist killings in Hanau are an attack not only on those who lost their lives, and not only on the groups against which they were aimed: the Turkish community in Germany, as well as refugees, Muslims, Jews, all minorities.

They are an assault on the soul of society, against its heart, against the principle of togetherness itself, against the fact that we are all humans on this earth, that we need each other, that we should and must support each other, and that without such solidarity and cooperation we cannot survive, cannot thrive materially or spiritually and cannot pursue lives of happiness, dignity and value.

European history, and the history of the Jews of Europe above all, testifies to the brutal, shameful, bloody calamity of race hate. But history alone, without vigilance, is a singularly unsuccessful instructor.

Society is most vulnerable to attack at its periphery. That is why the Torah commands us over and again to respect and protect the ger, the newcomer, the outsider, the person who is different. Samson Raphael Hirsch, who fought for equal rights for Jews across the German speaking world, described the ger as liable to being accorded

no rights to land, home, or existence, and towards whom everything was consequently regarded as permitted…

Therefore, beware, he warns,

lest in your state you make the rights of anyone dependent on anything other than the simple fact of their humanity, which every human being possesses by virtue of being human.

Yet every society throughout the ages has struggled to embrace such a universalist vision.

There are indeed limits to how many people a country can welcome, and it is reasonable for any state to regard its primary responsibility as caring for its citizens. Any society, community and individual needs a sense of identity and belonging.

The danger begins to grow when we begin to define our Us by a Them; when we project onto that Them our fears and prejudices; when we use that Them as a tool in an ideology of supremacism and exclusion; when we legitimise contempt.

Regarding perpetrators like the murderer in Hanau, it is probably impossible to know whether racism incubates their hatred, or whether their hatred finds a nurturing home in Neo-Nazi racism.

Whatever the case societies, including our own, need to be vigilant not only in intelligence, policing and the protection of vulnerable community, but also in challenging racism and hatred in public policy and discourse, in every domain of civic life, in communities and in schools.

Whatever the opposite of race-hate is, it needs to be fostered everywhere, not excluding with us, in our actions, words and thoughts. That’s why so many of us believe in and are committed to working with people of other faiths and in other communities, meeting, learning, even planting trees, together.

Hanau is very close to Frankfurt, where my grandfather served as rabbi for thirty years. When, after fleeing the Nazis in 1939, he returned to the city in 1950 to rededicate the Westend Synagogue, he prayed for a different future. I echo his prayers today.

 

 

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.

 

Prickly Subjects

11pm last night was a highlight of my week. ‘Come’, my daughter Libbi called from the garden, ‘Quickly. I’ve seen it.’

‘It’ was the baby hedgehog I’d brought home one damp November night. I’d been out late with the dog on the Heath when I noticed a tiny ball of prickles curled up in the wet grass. Sometimes hedgehogs are born too late in the year to make it through the winter; they have to reach a minimum weight to survive hibernation. Was this baby animal too small? If I took it home to feed it up, would I be removing it from its family, doing more harm than good? But then, we had a large garden with other hedgehogs present and, following professional advice, we’d taken the essential measures to make our garden hedgehog friendly.

The animal fitted snugly in my glove. I ran home, dog leash in one hand, baby hedgehog in the other. I called the hedgehog help-line (yes, Britain has such a thing), took advice from congregants (there’s expertise on everything), bought the right food, fed the animal nightly and invested in a deluxe hibernation home. (‘A fool and his money are easily parted’, says my wife – who would have done exactly the same for an animal, or human, in need).

So, when Libbi called out, and we saw the hedgehog, thin but definitely alive, emerge from its winter sleep, we were thrilled.

I’m writing about this not just because it brought our family joy, and not only because over and again I reli­­­­ve a horrid scene where at a crossroads I watched a gang of teenagers stone a hedgehog to death.

I’m writing because, in a world which leaves so many of us feeling so powerless so much of the time, I am passionate about ‘can do’. ‘You are not at liberty to desist from the work’, insisted Rabbi Tarfon 1900 years ago, words we put on the certificates of achievement awarded by Eco-Synagogue.

We don’t have to watch, like helpless bystanders, the decline of wildlife, or race and inter-faith relations, or teenager safety and wellbeing, or social justice, or compassion itself.

I’ve had a learning week. I met Leket Israel, Israel’s National Food Bank, which last year gleaned 30 million tons of produce from the fields and saved 2 million hot dinners from waste. I saw City Harvest, which has provided 5 million rescued meals in London (they bring food to our asylum seekers drop-in). They estimate that 9.2 million meals are missed each month by Londoners who can’t afford food, while 13.3 million meals are thrown away.

I met with parliamentarians, religious leaders and the heads of The Wildlife Trust to discuss their input into the forthcoming environment act, based on their amazing report Towards a Wilder Britain. Britain is among the most environmentally degraded countries in the world.

Our hedgehog, our garden, our synagogue and Eco-Synagogue will all play a part.

I went to Barnet House to express solidarity against racism and anti-Semitism with members of the Muslim community. I listened to how teenage boys and girls experience our local streets. Last Friday a group of us took gifts to the North London Mosque following the atrocities in Christchurch. In this populism age, with xenophobia on the rise, we need to stand, and be seen to stand, together.

In his excellent book To Do The Right And The Good, Elliot Dorff describes compellingly how Judaism understands the creation of a compassionate, just and sustainable world as the inescapable responsibility of every individual, household and community, – our part in our partnership with God.

When that young hedgehog emerged last night from its long sleep, I felt that it was shaking me awake too, and all of us, to do more for the sake of life.

 

Please find out more from:

https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk

https://www.leket.org/en

www.cityharvest.org.uk

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wilder-future

https://jps.org/books/to-do-the-right-and-the-good/

After the murderous attacks on worshippers at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand

We stand with you in solidarity and sorrow.

Wherever we are in the world, whatever our faith and beliefs, we stand together with you as pilgrims on this earth, as fellow human beings striving to do what is compassionate and just, hoping to share with our loved ones, friends and fellow citizens the privileges and responsibilities of life.

We have no place for racism, hatred and supremacism.

We are appalled and disgusted at the premeditated racist murder of Muslim people, made even more brutal, blasphemous, hurtful and despicable because it was carried out in the sacred precincts of prayer, during the peaceful hour of worship.

We mourn the victims alongside you, children, teenagers, healers and teachers, heroes who tried to save others, people from different parts of the world, contributing to the civic life of Christchurch and New Zealand.

Our hearts are with the bereaved. Our prayers are with the wounded and traumatised, and with all those striving to heal and support them. Our anguished thoughts are with all whose family members are still missing.

We feel for Muslim communities across the world.

The oneness of God and the fellowship of our common humanity unite us. We must stand as surety for each other in times of threat and danger. We must act collectively against all forms of hatred and bigotry. We must foster friendship and understanding between us and all people. We must work together for the safety and good of all life everywhere.

Written in sorrow

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism

Don’t blame others – be a leader

I have just come inside from saying shacharit, the morning prayers, in the garden. The last of the snowdrops, the crocuses, the early daffodils; that faint late February smell of pre-spring buds and promise: my heart gives thanks for you.

There’s nothing I want more than to pass to my children, to all children, a world of such wonder and multifarious beauty. The longing to do so has become my passion and, increasingly often, my frustration.

Perhaps it seems odd to focus on pastoral trivia in a week of political drama. I haven’t had my head in the sand. On Monday I had to facilitate what became an angry and aggressive evening on the impact of anti-Semitism. On Tuesday I worried for my French colleagues as there took place in France hate and counter-hate demonstrations. Last night I spent with the Community Security Trust.

I worry for Jewish, and not just for Jewish, MPs. I worry for anyone who, in this rising tide of populism, puts their head above the parapet in the name of humanity, truth and compassion. And I’m sure we have to be out there with them.

Meanwhile the government and opposition in this country are caught in the blinding intricacies of Brexit, bringing most other business to a virtual halt. Elsewhere, Presidents Putin, Trump and Bolsonaro are not currently leading their countries, or the world, in inspiring directions.

Yet all the while the earth itself is suffering, as report after report, on soil impoverishment, insect depletion, falling biodiversity and habitat loss makes so clear that it’s hard to bear reading them. If this continues, with land and food loss, we will see refugees from environmental disaster, from whole territories become uninhabitable, in numbers we had not imagined before.

In these frightening times, when the future of humanity is at stake, we need leadership which faces the real issues in energy, agriculture and transport policy, and in economic and social justice. We need a leadership with integrity, honesty, humility and imagination. We need leaders who can help us turn fear of the future, and the anger and frustration it engenders, into a vision for the future which inspires and enables us to work together, British, European, Jewish, Muslim, whoever we are. I expect this is what many current leaders aspire to be and do. Perhaps they need not just our support and encouragement, but also our indignation.

This brings me back to the garden. Nicky – my wife – has become a galanthophile, a lover of rare and unusual varieties of snowdrop. When, as we stared at two virtually indistinguishable flowers, I asked her why she cared so much about the minute differences in petal and pattern, she said, ‘Because they make me notice’. I’ve been thinking about that answer ever since.

The garden, the park, the birds, make me notice. The refugees we’ve hosted, the homeless I’ve met and the people I’ve encountered who look after the homeless, make me notice. Noticing makes me care and caring makes me passionate. This helps me find others, individuals, organisations, leaders in thought and action, who know more. They are my teachers and my inspiration, in Britain, Israel, wherever they are.

What matters most is not blaming other leaders but supporting and becoming leaders in the issue about which we care.

Judaism teaches me to love this earth, cherish this creation, care about people, seek understanding, support those who are weak, live by my values.

The sight of the snowdrops reminded me of that this morning.

 

In solidarity with the Tree of Life synagogue

I share with our community, with all Jewish congregations around the world, particularly in America, in Pittsburgh, and among the members of the Tree of Life synagogue, a heavy heart.

Those murdered in the appalling gun attack last Shabbat were the faithful of the congregation: a couple, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, married for 62 years; two brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, who ‘loved their community and never missed a Saturday’; Daniel Stein, with a ‘very dry sense of humour’, who recently became a grandfather. As a colleague wrote, they were those good, kind, reliable souls ‘on whom we all depend in our communities’.

הַנֶּאֱהָבִים וְהַנְּעִימִם
בְּחַיֵּיהֶם וּבְמוֹתָם לֹא נִפְרָדוּ

They were beloved and kind in their lives;
and [cruelly] in their deaths they were not divided.

There has been an immediate, immense, shocked, heartfelt outpouring of solidarity. It is local: the Muslim community raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the bereaved and injured; at a nearby school, pupils of all faiths sang Havdalah. It is national: at synagogues across America thousands upon thousands have gathered in sorrow and support, queueing in the streets outside, often joined by Christians and Muslims. It is international, as here in London, where the Home Secretary, the Mayor and the American and Israeli Ambassadors spoke out.

Whatever comfort this brings, I’m sorrowfully aware that it does not remove the nightmare that a place of prayer has been made the site of a massacre and that families now face the long years of irreplaceable loss. May God be with them and with their friends, their community and all who lead and guide them.

Those murdered are the victims of three crimes. First, anti-Semitism. They were killed as Jews, because they were Jews, at synagogue, engaged in Jewish prayer. It is abominable proof, as if that were wanted, that this ancient hatred, of Jews for being Jews, is not over.

Second, racism; specifically, white supremacist racism. The killer targeted the Tree of Life synagogue because it works with HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, to support refugees. He screamed abuse about both Jews and Muslims. His actions are an eruption of a vicious hatred of the other; a scornful and fearful contempt which considers itself increasingly legitimised not just in America but across Europe and much of the world.

Third, gun violence. From Britain, American gun laws seem incomprehensible. Why should such lethal, often military-grade, weapons be accessible to those who plan slaughter in schools or places of worship? It is a United States issue, but not solely so. We must all be ashamed that wealth is made from the arms trade, money out of violence. Mostly we don’t know the victims; here, we do.

How must we respond?

Hate speech is lethal. This should not need saying and yet must be said.

Hate speech leads to hate actions. It prepares the ground for lynching, killing and mass murder. It must not be legitimated in the classroom, workplace, clubroom, or from the pulpit of any and every religion. It must on no account be legitimised from high office. ‘Life and death depend on the tongue,’ says the Talmud. The more powerful the tongue, the greater the responsibility. We must therefore reach out to each other across the ‘boundaries’ of faith and ethnic group, as Tree of Life did and does, and as their Muslim neighbours have demonstrated by example. We must never listen passively to hatred and bigotry, against us, any individual or group.

Above all, we must live by our values. We must be vigilant. But we must also be defiant, not in an aggressive manner, but with the defiance of commitment and inner depth.

Our strength lies in living by our Judaism, in rooting our daily actions in its teachings of disciplined dedication to community, to our people and to humanity in all our potential for good and all our susceptibility to suffering.

This is what faith truly means: trustworthiness and service before life and before God. It unites us with the deepest source of inspiration: the dedication, courage, wisdom and compassion of Jewish people, and countless people of other faiths and none, across the troubled millennia.

 

 

A special day in the life of a rabbi

My Tuesday touched on almost everything I care about most deeply. I wouldn’t normally write up my dairy, but these are values I hope we can all work together to make real.

10.00am, Mill Hill: a meeting of councillor, community and faith leaders, two days before the anniversary of the Grenfell fire, ten days before the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox, to learn to work together. Emily, now studying to be a C of E minister, describes how she became the landlady of a pub in Colindale and transforming it from a place known for violence into a beloved local hub. ‘Find the dormant talent’, she says: they’ll come forward, musicians, magicians, gardeners…. She’s the opposite of what the Mayor of London called ‘A culture of institutional indifference’.

12.30, Victoria Station: coffee with broadcaster, naturalist Mary Colwell. She walked 500 miles for curlews, the emblematic bird whose haunting song cries out the decline of once rich meadowlands. Her book Curlew Moon shows her knowledge, faith and passion for this beautiful world. Intensive farming is robbery of the land: we can’t just take and take again, as if the earth has no inner life and its creatures don’t matter. I think of the Torah: ‘The land is Mine’ says God. The mystics teaching that one life runs through all existence; what we destroy is always also part of our own spirit. A pragmatist, Mary campaigns for the best compromise for farmers, wildlife, food production: creation must live together.

2.00, Charing Cross: more coffee with Marie van der Zyl, new President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Her life has given her a special and profound commitment to the diversity of the community. We too discuss togetherness: can we create a Street Festival of Judaism? Can we advance Eco-Synagogue, supported by all denominations from Liberal to the Chief Rabbi? How do we work with friends, and antagonists, of other faiths and none? In a crisis, God forbid, could all British Jewish clergy say psalms together: ‘From the depths I call to you, God’?

(Another chance to get running practice; hate being late.)

3.30, St Pauls: (refusing coffee) meeting Graham, advisor to the Islamic Finance Council and the Church of Scotland, who’re working on a declaration of values. It speaks of ‘Stewardship’, ‘Love of the Neighbour’, ‘Justice and Equity’. ‘Could there be a Jewish voice?’ he asks. ‘It’s already there,’ I say, the unnamed source of these very principles. He smiles and nods: that’s why he’s invited me. My first request is to change ‘Old Testament’ to ‘Hebrew Bible’. No-interest loans to the poorest, micro-finance, supporting the earth which supports us: how can faiths together make these ideals real?

4.30, tea in a quiet corner. I try to study the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto’s sermon on chukkah, God’s laws beyond the grasp of human rationale. There are times, he writes, when reason cannot help us. The mind must immerse itself in the purifying waters of the sacred. Only faith can strengthen and console us…But my phone goes; a question about wedding plans; another about conversion; a call from Refugees at Home.

6.30, meeting Nicky in the Strand to celebrate Tim Robertson’s appointment as Chief Executive of the Anne Frank Trust. His speech is outstanding: this would have been Anne’s 89th birthday, he notes, reading from the diary about her hope in life…He explains the experiences which motivate him to lead the Trust in teaching against racism across the UK: his years of work in child protection, love of literature and nature (Wordsworth first), commitment to education, religious practice as a Quaker (keen to visit our synagogue).

Nicky and I travel home together. Then it’s back to the desk. I haven’t prepared tomorrow’s teaching. I need to make a personal list of people who are ill. But I’ve a full heart, the gift of so many courageous, innovative people, who live the values I passionately care for too.

Bedtime: ‘Not yet!’ says Mitzpah the dog, waiting eagerly for his night-walk.

 

 

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