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.