July 5, 2013 admin

Burning Temples

Last Sunday I was invited to speak at the end of year celebrations of the Bravanese community. Because their own centre was burnt down in a racist attack, the event was held at the North London Business Park, a location spacious enough to accommodate the several hundred adults and children who participated. It is an annual festivity, timed this year to precede Ramadan, which begins on the new moon of the month of Menachem Av.
When the Community Security Trust contacted me on the morning after the fire to inform me of what happened and to suggest that the Bravanese community, with whom I already had good relations, might appreciate it if I got in touch, I did so at once and with a whole heart. Jews of all denominations, Christians and civic leaders responded in exactly the same way.
For me there was a special reason in addition to the obvious abhorrence at such an attack (which could equally well have been perpetrated against our own congregation.) My grandfather described in his memoirs how, when the great Boerneplatz Synagogue was engulfed by flames on the morning after Kristallnacht, there was a large crowd present. It wasn’t the case that nobody knew. Only, no one did anything to put out the fire. Those who weren’t actually implicated in the violence, or silently supported it, were no doubt too afraid to take action and just the fewest of the courageous few later found covert ways, hidden from the ever menacing SA and SS, of manifesting their support.
These associations were in my mind last Sunday as I listened to the speeches, recitals from the Koran and songs of which the afternoon was composed. Perhaps that’s why what moved me most were not just the warm words of the leaders of the Bravanese community, to whose courtesy I have become accustomed. I was struck most by the police and the local councillors. They did not speak as officials whose duty had compelled them to forgo their Sunday afternoon and give due voice to their formal support. Their words were heart-felt, filled with real sorrow for what had happened, full of warmth: ‘How could anyone do such a terrible thing to this peace-loving community, who fled here from persecution in Somalia, and with whom I’ve lived side-by-side for twenty years?’ ‘We’ve stood together in the past. And we’ll be standing together in the new building we’re going to make sure you soon get, and it’s going to be even better than what you had before’.
I was reminded of the words of my teacher, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, as he reflected back after surviving Auschwitz on his home town of Berehovo and the implications of the fact that Christians and Jews had lived side by side without ever really knowing one another: ‘That I spend much of my time working for better understanding between religious groups and fighting racism…is partly because I know that you can only be safe and secure in a society that practises tolerance, cherishes harmony and can celebrate difference’.
With the fast of Tisha be’Av drawing near I thought too of the tradition that the Messiah is born on the very same date as the Temples in Jerusalem were burnt down. Even the flames of destruction can be understood to shed light, in which we see with an urgent clarity our hopes, our vision and our responsibilities.

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