January 16, 2015 admin

Not just ‘I am’ but ‘I care’.

This has been a terrible week. Our thoughts are with our fellow communities in Paris. We followed the sieges with anguish, learnt with horror of the deaths of hostages, were stirred by the huge demonstrations across France, and pained to witness the grief of the families at the funerals of their loved ones in Israel, and across France.
The anxiety has not gone away. The same threats which manifested themselves in such a vile manner in Paris remain; threats to democracy, to freedom, and to Jews and anywhere Jewish. Islamist terror endangers all humanity, not least Muslims, who have paid the greatest price in lives and loss of liberty.
What do we do?
On a pragmatic level we must be vigilant. In this country we are grateful for the support and advice of the Community Security Trust and the police. We are closely in touch with them and follow their guidance. We are also in contact with fellow communities in France (click here or see below*).
But what do we do on the spiritual level?
Frightening events, whether in the personal or the public sphere, are traditionally understood as opportunities for Teshuvah, re-engagement with our deepest nature, values and faith.
The demonstrations in Paris were marked by identification. Millions chanted je suis Charlie; many carried signs je suis juif. If it has enduring content, the true translation of that je suis must be not just ‘I am’ but ‘I care.’ This is a time not to step away from, but towards our Judaism. I mean its central values; compassion, justice, self-discipline, dedication to making this earth not a battle-ground over who can exploit it most ruthlessly, but God’s world in which we live with appreciation and respect for all that is. I mean, too, Judaism’s central institutions, those constructed around community, learning and care for the vulnerable.

It is through faithfulness to our own traditions, together with openness and generosity of heart, that we reach out most deeply to other faiths and fulfil our shared responsibility of caring for one another. Being true to ourselves must bring us to work harder to be true to each other. If being loyal to our own faith does not lead us to discover our deepest common humanity, then we misunderstand the meaning of faith.
On the question of faith, I find myself reflecting yet again on the letter Anatole Shcharansky wrote from Chistopol prison about yirat shamayim, awe before heaven, which he describes as ‘an inner stirring brought about by the lofty Divine vision’, and as ‘the one factor capable of conquering human fear’. People have been speaking to me about fear. We know that the threat from terror is real. Though we pray that they shall, even the best intelligence and the greatest vigilance cannot for certain thwart every plan, everywhere, all the time. Shcharansky’s words therefore resonate inside me. They speak of how reverence before life and its source can fill the heart with an awareness so humbling, so strong and so inspiring, that it penetrates as deep as fear. But unlike fear, it unites us in solidarity with all living being.
This was exemplified when I visited John Hyman yesterday. There is no testament to God and goodness greater than what he, his wife Mavis and daughter Esther, have done in memory of their daughter Miriam who was killed in the London bombings. They have met hate with goodness, perpetuating the love Miriam had for life. Because she rejoiced in beauty and colour, they dedicated themselves to enabling blind children to receive operations to restore their sight. They literally opened their eyes to see the sun, to enjoy the simple sky, the trees and stars. Now they are working with schools, to facilitate greater understanding between pupils of different faiths so as to open hearts as well.
This is a truly remarkable way to respond to evil.

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