‘How beautiful the world still is, how stunning life is’, Simon Lichman wrote to me this morning: nature ‘is not just beauty, it is the finely tuned essence of that which makes it all possible.’
That ‘essence’ is what I mean by God; the better part of me tries to listen for it, everywhere.
I’ve been asked: ‘So what did you do in Israel besides run a marathon?’ The answer is: I heard that voice, many times – as I hear it also here, in London.
I heard it because I met so many people, different, the focus of their lives diverse, who yet had in common the determination to connect. I could list all their names and what they do, but I’m afraid I may leave someone out. So here are only a few:
There’s Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, who created the community Tsion, and who, on Yom Yerushalayim, the date the city was united physically in the Six Day War, unites it spiritually by praying with imams, priests and rabbis together to ‘Seek the peace of Jerusalem’.
There’s Levy Lauer, who knows every detail of what it means to give a decent meal, a place to sleep, a safe roof, to a destitute refugee who would otherwise be homeless and hungry with nowhere for her children on the streets.
There’s Shaiya Rothberg, who teaches mysticism at the Conservative Yeshivah, but isn’t such a mystic as to be afraid to put himself on the line for poor families, Arab and Jewish, in East Jerusalem, so that they shouldn’t be forced from their homes.
There are the Eritrean women at Kuchinate (‘crochet’ in Tirgrinia) creating red and sky-blue baskets, weaving from a past of flight, beatings and rape a future of comradeship, hope and dignity.
There are Art Green and Mimi Faigelson, scholars of Hasidism, who through this language of spirit and feelings help their students discover the pathway between intellect and soul.
There’s Yonatan Neril, off to Kenya where Israeli and British initiatives produce non-polluting solar energy for developing African economies. He picked up a roll the café owners were throwing away: ‘May I give this to the beggar on the corner’. Waste is intolerable, he said.
There’s Simon himself, devoted to bringing schools together, Arab and Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian. It takes him an age to walk up the lane in Ein Rafa because every child greets him, everyone calls ‘Hey! Simon!’
And, and,…What these people and so many others across the world have in common is the commitment to deeper connections: between Jews, Christians and Muslims mind and heart; home and homelessness; humankind and nature. In affirming these links, they help us hear, despite the surrounding racket, the quiet pulse of the hidden life which flows through everything, ‘that finely tuned essence of what makes all possible’.
I respect such people. I honour their fellowship. We must strengthen each other in the bleak times at hand, as fear grows and across the world populism sharpens its weapons.
Such people live by a Torah which, like the fire on the altar in the Temple long ago, burns through the night until morning, ‘lighting the darkness until it is transformed into light.’ (Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Tschernobil)
Late one night in Jerusalem I spotted a light still burning in a ramshackle store. The old man owner turned and saw me: ‘Yes, I have a Tallit, a prayer shawl for you’. There and then he retied the eight-threaded fringes on each corner, humble, devoted, speaking no words of distraction until the skilful work was complete. Traditionally one thread in each fringe is blue, recalling the brilliance of the sky. Thus I bore silent witness to the binding of the knots, the tying together of heaven and earth.
There are many whose lives are devoted to the weaving of such bonds, who make noble the endeavour to be human.