One has to hold on to the strange idea that on Tishah Be’av the Messiah will be born.
Tishah Be’Av, literally ‘the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av’, falls on Sunday week and is the saddest day in the Jewish year. ‘You move the commemoration of bad events to a bad day’ teaches the Talmud, and there is no shortage of them, from the destruction of both Temples, to the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain. ‘When Av begins, joy is diminished’, and that month starts today. There’s no shortage of sad events to ponder.
I just watched footage of the bus bomb in Bulgaria. You can see CCTV pictures of the suspected bomber wandering around the airport entrance in casual sports gear. Then you look at the wrecked bus and listen to survivors speaking of how they jumped out of the windows, not knowing whether another bomb was awaiting them in the terminal itself. They are Israeli holiday-makers, grandparents taking their grandchildren on a trip to Europe, doing exactly the things we might have been doing in a place we might have been, killed because of being Israelis and Jews. The Bulgarian bus driver must not be forgotten, slaughtered as ‘collateral damage’. Our hearts go out to all their families and those of the injured.
As thousands gather for the London Olympics, as our own beloved Leslie Lyndon prepares to run through Finchley with the torch, we think of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered in Munich forty years ago, for whom we will say a memorial prayer on Shabbat Chazon (Shabbat week). Their families need them to be remembered. So do we; so does anyone with a heart. As Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andrei, a fencing coach, was killed, writes:
The IOC says it’s not in the protocol of the opening ceremony to have a commemoration. Well, my husband coming home in a coffin was not in the protocol either. This was the blackest page in Olympic history. These 11 athletes were part of the Olympic family, they were not accidental tourists. They should be remembered as part of the Olympic framework.
After all, she says, aren’t the Olympics a time in which we are one human family celebrating the joy and courage of sport?
These events are quite enough to leave one feeling somewhat lonely, apart and vulnerable. But there is also last week’s Synod to consider. I was asked by the Board of Deputies to write a statement explaining why I could not support the proposed programme for Christian clergy visiting Israel and Palestine. I did so, saying that I could well understand the importance of seeing and listening to the very real sufferings of Palestinians. But the itinerary lacked all balance, the time in Israel and with Israelis being hopelessly and offensively minimal. Understanding and peace could only be fostered by those who fairly listened to the narrative and anguish on both sides. But Jewish voices were not heard in the ensuing debate; rather it seems that they were mocked, with ugly inferences about Jewish lobbying and money.
It is hard to see how the Church of England will be able to re-establish a reputation with our community for acting in good faith. Instead it feels as if old wounds about anti-Jewish prejudice have been reopened. This matter cannot be allowed to rest in such a troubling place.
So it’s hard to see much evidence that the Messiah is about to be born.
But that’s the point. We must not allow ourselves to abide in anger, or step backwards into despair. In the face of murder we must proclaim the preciousness of life, all life. In the face of prejudice and ignorance we must strive for knowledge and understanding. Where there is the danger that different faiths become more distant, we must work all the harder to draw them nearer.