Our ancestor Jacob had the right response to a long, hard night when he said to the stranger with whom he’d been wrestling, ‘I won’t let you go until you bless me’.
This is not a comment on the polling results. Like the countless people who spoke to me, I felt with anguish that this election was a choice between different kinds of bad. I could foresee no likely scenario which would leave me truly happy. It goes without saying that I’m no fan of Antisemitism, top down or bottom up, nor of any form of racism.
Rather, I’m focussed on what we, each and every one of us, and each and every community, can and must do in the time ahead. We must fight for our values.
I would have written this whatever the outcome of the elections. What wasn’t clear until morning was exactly which of those values would top the list of those most in jeopardy.
‘We’ve become complacent about moral progress,’ wrote Philip Pullman in Tuesday’s Guardian:
In the doorways of great, stony-hearted buildings, in urine-stinking underpasses, under crumbling bridges, people who have nowhere else to go lie down to sleep. And we go past.
The vast and profound literature of Judaism contains three thousand years of prophetic voices screaming at us that God abhors such complacency. It takes no great insight to know what the values are for which our faith, every true faith and every ethical attitude to life, teaches us to fight.
‘Don’t shut your heart to the poor,’ the Torah demands. To become a country or culture of hard-heartedness is to immolate ourselves morally and spiritually. Open your hand, open your heart, the Torah demands. Don’t let refugees, the homeless, the poor die around the corner from plenty.
‘Heal the sick,’ our daily prayers plead. The National Health Service is this country’s pride. If public money proves in short supply, then the gates of synagogues, mosques, churches and temples must be opened even wider as doorways to compassionate help and understanding for those struggling with physical disability, mental health and loneliness, to those who feel isolated in the search for solidarity and hope.
It’s your world, God, we say daily. We don’t have to be theologians to appreciate that what this really means is that we are stewards, trustees, protectors, temporary residents held responsible for what does not belong to us: the inestimable wealth and wonder of life. Every clean river, every well of drinkable water saves lives. Every field protected from insect- and bird-killing pesticides matters. Every tree not felled for short term interest, every forest restored, matters. Every species saved in the unfathomable interconnectedness of nature is the saving of our children’s children’s lives.
All these issues matter; we must give up on nothing. We pray, as we have in every synagogue each week, that Her Majesty’s Government will guide us in these struggles, or, if not lead then at least listen and follow.
But should this not always prove the case, we should remember that Judaism, like other faiths, knows another forms of power: the inalienable strength of individual conscience, magnified a hundred-fold by the resources and resilience of community, and a thousand-fold by working with other communities of faith, principle and commitment, locally, nationally and across the globe.
In these convictions, one feature of these last days has inspired me above all: seeing so many young people from our community campaigning because of their beliefs.
Some may disagree with their opinions; that’s not the point. They’ve stood up for their values. They give us hope. They teach us how to wrest blessings from the night.