The London and Manchester terror attacks, the horrifying fire, – they make us think about the frailty of life, but also about its value. No one can ever assess the worth of any human life, but the criteria which speak to me most are simple:
What impact have we had on the lives, hearts, minds and souls of others? Have we alleviated suffering? Have we shared joy and appreciation? Have we brought companionship and love?
Jo Cox was murdered exactly a year ago, on 16 June 2016, just before her 42nd birthday. Labour MP for Batley and Spen, she was killed because of her open, inclusive and deeply compassionate values. As Sarah Brown said in tribute: ‘Jo reserved a special place in her heart for the most vulnerable and the poorest citizens of the world. She was fearless, she was endlessly upbeat…’
Before entering Parliament, she worked for 10 years at Oxfam, becoming the head of advocacy and policy. As then Prime Minister David Cameron said, she ‘epitomised the fact that politics is about serving others’.
The very day his wife was murdered, Brendon Cox issued an extraordinarily courageous statement:
Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.’
At Brendon’s request, this weekend of 16 – 18 June is dedicated to The Great Get-Together, to motivate us to create in Jo’s memory a society ‘where we know our neighbours, invest in our communities, and are able to keep an eye out for each other’s children…Jo was ambitious for what could be done…’
This is the plain meaning of the quotation from the Torah inscribed next to the Ark on the eastern wall of our synagogue: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. When Jews gained civic equality in Germany (for all too short a time) Samson Raphael Hirsch interpreted these words to mean that we must seek for every member of our society, irrespective of their faith or ethnicity, the very same rights and opportunities we want for ourselves. We could add that we should also try to provide for others the same security, reassurance and loving kindness we hope will surround us during our journey through life. For life can be cruel, lonely and wretched.
Brendon Cox could not have known that this weekend would come at such a painful and fragile time in the life of the country. In the last two weeks, we have seen the horrors of both physical fire and the fire of hatred.
But we are also witnesses to the great outpouring of kindness, generosity and solidarity which has characterised the huge public response, including people of all faiths and none, and across all sections of society from the Queen to the homeless.
This is a moment when the heart of humanity is open and we are called upon to be part of it.