In Holesov

(which I visited for the first time this week)

My father said, ‘One day we’ll go to Holleschau together’. He always used the German name of the town, ‘Holleschau’, not the Czech ‘Holesov’. We left it too late. He’s been gone seven years now, and here I am without him, to visit his grandfather’s grave, to see the old synagogue where he served as rabbi for almost 20 years until 1914, to gaze from the street at the house from which his widow and daughter were deported, to wander the uneven pavements of this small, poor town and stare at night at that railway siding from where they were taken, first to Uhersky Brod, then to Theresienstadt, and then…

My great-grandmother never got to Palestine to join the three of her six children who escaped there to a new future between 1933 and 1937. By the time the papers came through it was too late to travel. Maybe, had she stayed in Berlin, she would have made it out even then at the close of 1939, or during 1940. But she’d gone to her eldest daughter back in Holleschau, in Moravia, and from there the Nazis allowed scarcely any emigration. 

‘I’m entirely at one with our beloved Papa, visiting him once a month, but in my thoughts I’m with him always’, she wrote on January 17th 1941, ‘and the little vase with flowers always stands next to his picture on the night table. My prayer every morning and evening is that our good gentle father should protect you on all your paths and lead you to where you can live in quiet and at peace and free from worry.’

I went to the old Jewish cemetery today with my daughter Libbi. The beautiful Ohel, the chapel, was closed. We’ll see it tomorrow. We followed the path my great-grandmother must have taken every month over those bleak years, to where the solace of her great love might embrace her. We paused to decipher weather-beaten Hebrew inscriptions, to puzzle over details on different stones:  did that mother and daughter come back here after the horrors, or did the June 1945 date indicate that this was a memorial placed here by others to one whose foot found no resting place even in death? We managed the more recent German better; Libbi asked why there were more in German than in Czech. We wondered why the graves were facing not just south-east but in every possible direction.

Then we saw it: there before us was my great-grandfather’s tombstone, tranquil amidst the resting dead, peacefully protected by the crumbling walls of the cemetery, the over-long grass: ‘Here lies buried Rabbi Yaacov, son of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Freimann; he wrote many books and taught Torah in great congregations’. His death in December 1937 released him from the fate which would not spare his wife.

I looked around for signs of withered forget-me-not leaves, the blue flowers which had often filled that bedside vase to which my great-grandmother had referred. I failed to find them; maybe they too were by now forgotten.  

 My great-grandmother made her last visit here in the second week of January 1943: ‘My dear children’, she wrote, ‘Today I took my farewell from your beloved and good father; may his spirit hover over us in these difficult times’. She and her daughter Sophie knew that this would be the last letter. ‘So that you know where to look for us afterwards’, Sophie had written; as the continuation made clear, what she really meant was ‘where to look for our possessions’.

My great-grandmother was a lady who embraced whatever fortunes God sent her. And yet she had not been able to help reminiscing as she contemplated Pesach under Nazi rule in 1941: ‘In the year of ’35 we arrived in Palestine during these very days; the joy of our dear departed Papa when he saw the land from the ship was indescribable.’

How she would weep for all its wounds if she knew how little that land had been able to find peace; how she would weep for all the children. But she would never have lost her hope. ‘In spite of everything, my faith in God remains unshakeable’: that was her final testament as remembered and recorded and transmitted to the surviving family after the war.

Dusk had brought on the twilight birdsong; the call of a swift accompanied our prayers as Libbi and I washed our hands at the stone basin: ‘God has swallowed up death forever, wiped the tears off every face’.  Amen and may it be God’s will!

And soon.

Later that night

I went back after midnight to the deserted station

to stare at the empty tracks:

So it was from here?

Slowly the nose of an inquisitive hedgehog

emerged from among the sleepers.

I hastened to the platform to check

the yellow schedule:

‘Hurry’, I willed it, yelling in my head, ‘Hurry’

as it lingered between the lines:

‘You have till 3.12 precisely. Get out of here!’

Bombing Judaism

I would prefer not to write what follows, but it seems to me more and more that the bombs falling in the Middle East are also falling on Judaism itself.

I mean the rockets landing on Israel, causing people to run to shelters, taking few lives only because of the remarkable success of the Iron Dome. I mean the bullets which kill Israeli soldiers, cut off their young lives and leave their families in grief for the rest of their days.

I mean too the bombs which land in Gaza, taking the lives of hapless people who did not choose to live in the horror-zone between Hamas and Israel, especially the lives of children, each one someone’s hope and dream, each with a future which might, had they been born somewhere less wretched on the earth, have been so different. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy. It has to stop.

Like so many others, I’m both angered, and troubled, about blame. Utterly cynically, it seems a deliberate strategy by the leadership of Hamas to goad Israel into actions which alienate its support, besmirch its image, and draw forth the international cry of ‘war crimes’. Then, itself seemingly caring little about the appalling human cost, it can point the finger and say ‘See what Israel did?’ Human lives appear to matter to some less than laying their price at Israel’s door.

For Israel itself, amidst the provocations, amidst the threats to its existence from such a cunning and cruel enemy, the question becomes unavoidable: is there any other way? Because, how is what is happening now really helping in the long term? Is it wise? Is it just? And, however much Israel warns families in advance to leave their homes, and does not deliberately target civilians, war is neither pin-point accurate, nor clean, nor free of errors, or fear, or fury, in the midst of battle. And rockets are stored in schools…

The bombs land on Judaism too, through the effect of so much hatred, from without and from within, on Israeli society. The Deputy Mayor of Haifa and his son were severely beaten in a right-wing demonstration. Racist phenomena which the anti-Defamation league in America or the Board of Deputies here would abhor, sometimes appear in the streets.  ‘Every day the war continues’, wrote the respected author and President of the Association for Civil Rights Sami Michael in Israel, ‘it is liable to defeat Israel as a democratic country’.

The bombs fall on Judaism abroad too, though not literally. Vicious, indiscriminate incitement against the very existence of Israel, displays of blatant anti-Semitism: these reveal the folly and sickness of parts of other societies across Europe and must on no account in any way be condoned. 

Amidst all this visceral, immediate distress, it may seem almost irrelevant, effete, to worry that the bombs’ effect Judaism and the Jewish People too; Judaism the religion which has for at least two and a half millennia taught and cultivated the often counter-intuitive demand that we respect most those who are most vulnerable, care for the stranger, welcome the homeless and feed the hungry; the Jewish People which has known like perhaps no other nation what it means to be marginalised, alienated, slandered, dispossessed and killed. What are we to do with those values now, we who are heirs to this great tradition and responsible for it at this very moment?

In these horrible times we absolutely must not step away from Israel. On the contrary, we must step closer; the country is after all beleaguered and in need.

But in my view we should step closer in order to stand behind those voices which, from within Israel and loyal to it, and from outside the country and caring deeply for it, seek to proclaim those very values for which it was created, the core and essential values of Judaism itself. Those calls may seem hopeless now, scarcely a whistling in the wind, but we would be incomparably more hopeless without them. I conclude with quoting from one of them, Daniel Barenboim, in yesterday’s Haaretz:

I am writing these words as a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations and as someone who holds two passports: an Israeli and a Palestinian one. I am writing them with a heavy heart… In my opinion, compassion is not merely a sentiment that results from a psychological understanding of a person’s need, but it is a moral obligation. Only through trying to understand the other side’s plight can we take a step towards each other. As Schopenhauer put it, “nothing will bring us back to the path of justice so readily as the mental picture of the trouble, grief, and lamentation of the loser.” In this conflict, we are all losers. We can only overcome this sad state if we finally begin to accept the other side’s suffering and their rights. Only from this understanding can we attempt to build a future together.

May Shabbat bring Shalom

Innocent life

It’s so hard to know what to say in these terrible times. We pray for the lives and safety of those we love, and for all innocent life. ‘The whole country is a battle front; this can’t just be allowed this to happen’, said my friend from the Parent Circle. Rockets continue to be aimed and the sirens to sound across the country. No country could allow such a situation. Were it not for the iron dome, matters would be very different.

At the same time my friend has stood through these days in Tel Aviv together with other Israeli and Palestinian bereaved parents, hoping and working for less cruel, more compassionate times. We hope Israel gains freedom from the rockets and other dangers which prey on it. We hope and pray that both Israel and Gaza gain a truce, which may one day become a peace, with a real future, a human future with hope for all people.

Every untimely death is a tragedy, especially death through violence. The suffering of ordinary people is terrible, especially the suffering and death of children, whoever they are and wherever fate has placed them on this earth. We regret the loss of innocent life. We pray that the children of Israel and Gaza should one day grow up to encounter not conflict and hatred but the blessings and opportunities of family, education and freedom. Today these sound like vain, idealistic prayers, but, as David Grossman recently wrote:

The situation is too desperate to be left to the despairing, for accepting despair amounts to an admission that we’ve been defeated. Defeated not on the battlefield, but as human beings. Something deep and vital to us as humans was taken away, was stolen from us, the moment we agreed to let despair to have a dominion…We… insist upon hope. A hope that is not wide-eyed, a hope that won’t give up. A hope that gives us – Israelis and Palestinians both – our only chance to resist the gravitational pull of despair. (On Hope and Despair in the Middle East, July 8, 2014)

Pondering his words, perhaps there is something more one can say, something about an inner, human struggle. For, alongside the physical battles, a moral battle is taking place, not just within Israel, but within the hearts of Jews everywhere, somewhere within the hearts of all people. The nature of that battle is incisively described in a Hasidic teaching concerning the fight against Amalek, the biblical nation who attacked the Children of Israel cruelly from behind on their way out of Egypt. Amalek’s aim, taught Rebbe Shalom of Belz, is to become an inseparable part of us, to make us too into Amalek, so that we become like them. The real agents of hate want to make us too into their messengers, to turn us into their colours. There is always the danger that they may succeed.

It would be impossible not to feel anguish, anger, grief and frustration, especially for those in the midst of danger. But there is no future if we become deeply poisoned by enduring hatred, blind racism or a bitter desire for vengeance. We must not allow the core values of our Judaism, the very values for which Israel was created and for which the country has struggled so hard and so deeply, the values of dignity, justice, compassion and equality, to be corrupted or undermined by those whose strategy might be to try to destroy us not just from without, but from within.

It is easy to write these words in faraway England. But there are many close to the centre of the conflict who are working courageously and indefatigably to keep them true. I conclude with just one example:

[We visited] various hospitals with students of all religions taking part. We went to Al-Mutla Hospital where we were taken to the department of children with cancer. We went to each of the rooms and handed flowers to the patients… Later we went to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, where we also went to the childrens’ department and distributed flowers to the patients. Many people who were there joined us to visit the sick and it was really moving. Yehudah Stolov, Interfaith Encounter Association, Jerusalem

That was in March. They are still endeavouring to continue similar works, even as the wounded from this war, and from the conflicts of the whole region, are cared for in hospitals in Israel whose vision of healing extends beyond the borders of countries and faiths.

May God, who makes peace in the high places, make peace for us, for all Israel and the Middle East, and for all the world.

I Shall Not Hate

I feel deeply sad. Before me I have the remarkable book by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate. Three of his daughters, Bessan. Mayar and Aya, died when an Israeli shell struck their home in Gaza. The valiant, and successful, efforts to save his other children, which involved both Palestinians and Israelis, were reported live on Israeli television when in desperation Dr Abuelaish phoned his close friend, the Channel 10 talk-show host Shlomi Eldar.
In those moments the sheer tragedy of the event sank deep into people’s hearts. There are those who consider that it was this which helped to bring Operation Cast Lead to its end.
Now more children have died in Gaza; four yesterday while playing on the beach: ‘My father has a fishing boat there. We were playing hide and seek when we were hit.’ Hamad Bakr was waiting for surgery at the Shifa hospital. Only timely sirens, the provision of shelters and the remarkable success of the Iron Dome have prevented such horrors inside Israel.
The courageous and determined title of Dr Abuelaish’s book says it all: I Shall Not Hate. I’m tempted to say that the reason he’s right is because hatred has no future. But that isn’t true. I fear hatred has an excellent future; its capacity to engender grief, helplessness, anger and frustration, in short more hatred, currently seems unlimited. The problem is that hatred does have a future, and, not just in the Middle East, that future is growing in the hearts of children even now. The most dangerous human beings, no doubt wounded themselves, are cynically investing in that future. Others are drawn, maybe unwillingly or unwittingly, into helping them.
Faced with Hamas, Israel is in an extraordinarily difficult position. The realities the country faces are brutal. Rabbis are not trained to devise military strategies, though they do have a responsibility at least to formulate the question, which I have heard Israeli friends put now, and in the Lebanon War during the bombing of Beirut: ‘Is there really no other way?’ Ultimately, there have to be legal and political solutions, so that no people is left to live either under existential threat or beneath oppression.
But rabbis are guided by the legal and ethical insights of Judaism to worry about the moral and spiritual legacy of events. These frighten me. In my worst waking nightmares I see hatred (not just in the Middle East) like the entrance to hell in some lurid mediaeval painting, like a great stomach, devouring humanity.
Who will unwind from around the heart the strangling coils of grief and anger caused by all our fighting? Who will remove the bitter seeds of future wars from the wounded souls of children? Humanity’s most urgent task, alongside not destroying the environment of this our only planet, is to find ways of extracting hatred from our hearts.
My prayers therefore are firstly that a different way should urgently be found, if not today then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow then as soon as ever possible. I wish there were someone who could exert the power to insist.
My special prayers are with all the healers, whoever they are and however they heal, whether they are doctors or teachers or family members, or people themselves smitten by grief, who nevertheless find the inner strength to say: ‘Let our wounds not turn septic with hatred. Let us seek not enmity, but shared humanity, through our sorrow.’
Those latter prayers are definitely not in vain because we ourselves can act on them. I wish there were a group of people of all faiths who for the next hundred days would devote a portion of their income to those who heal, and take it in person to the hospitals, and schools, the gatherings and homes…

Sacred space

Yesterday, amidst all the terrible events happening across Israel and Gaza, a small group of us, Muslims and Jews, met to share prayers and an Iftar meal for the close of a day of Ramadan. We were pleased to be together and share the worry of these harsh days. We were well aware that our gathering made no difference to where the rockets and bombs were falling, or to the anguish of those beneath them. Nevertheless, we formed a small island of human solidarity, one of many across the world, including in Israel itself, even at this very time. Who knows: maybe one day the contacts created between us may somehow change hearts, even save lives.
We were going round introducing ourselves and the turn came to Fiyaz, a long-standing friend and leader in the Muslim community. ‘I have something to offer you’, he said, and produced a small yellow scroll. ‘I was given it many years ago and it’s lain in a drawer since then, but today I remembered it and felt it was time that it returned to its true home in the Jewish community. I was told that it comes from North Africa, is three hundred years old and is written on parchment made from deerskin’. What Fiyaz then handed me proved to be single column from the Torah. How, when and why it came to be thus, a small isolated section of the sacred Scroll, will never be known. It was a portion from the Book of Exodus, a chapter from near the close, describing the making of the Mishkan, the sacred space for God to dwell among the people: ‘These are the instructions for God’s dwelling place, the Tabernacle of testimony, which God instructed by the mouth of Moses’.
For a few moments I was able to say nothing. The gift itself had just transformed the place where we were sitting into somewhere sacred. I believe we all experienced it, the presence of something greater, silencing our words and filling hearts. And it struck me that this is our challenge, to create sacred space, space where God’s voice, that sound of fine silence so frequently unheard, sounds within us more strongly than our fears, angers, prejudice, righteousness and our desire to pay back hurt for hurt.   
I realise that I’m writing in a privileged green corner, far from the bombs and explosions. Others more courageous have created such spaces and moments even within the circumference of where they might fall.
But I’m writing because I’m convinced that these moments when our hearts are touched by our common humanity and humbled by a presence deeper than ourselves have the power to change our lives whoever we are, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, or people of no religious engagement. They take us, for a while at least, to a place beyond hatred, to God’s sacred space.

A Prayer for Israel – and also for Gaza

We pray for the safety of ordinary people who want to live their lives in peace, in Israel, in Gaza, wherever they are.
We pray for an end to the rockets and the attacks, for a truce, which will lead to a cease-fire, which may in the end turn one day into peace.
We pray for the opening of a road towards a safe, enduring and just resolution of the conflict.
We pray that hopelessness does not lead us to forget that peace, however far off it may seem, has always been our ideal.
May our prayers accompany the prayers of all who are anxious about the safety of those they love.
May our prayers accompany the prayers of everyone who wants to get on with daily life, free from hatred and violence.
May our prayers enter the hearts of those who are filled with anger and the desire for revenge and begin to change them.

May God, who makes peace in the high places, make peace for us, for all Israel and for all the world.


In 2009 the European Parliament determined that July 11th each year should be a day of Remembering Srebrenica, the site in 1995 of the worst genocide in Europe since the Holocaust.

The terrible war in the Balkans began in 1991. In 1993 the United Nations established ‘safe havens’ for the protection of some of the tens of thousands of civilians left at the mercy of the savage fighting. The most important of these was at Srebrenica, where Serb forces threatened to overrun 60,000 Bosnian Muslims. In July this ‘protection’ was provided by Dutch troupes, inadequately armed to carry out their mission. How the United Nations failed those who entrusted them with their lives constitutes a profoundly distressing account of lack of planning, conviction, responsibility and moral imagination. It implicates the humanity of us all.

On July 11 the ‘haven’ fell. That night General Mladic walked through the enclave assuring that everyone would receive transport, ‘women and children first’. Men, from the age of 12 upwards, were separated from their families and beaten to death or shot against walls, in warehouses and in the hills. Women were raped, systematically. Thousands who set out in a vast column towards the Muslim town of Tuzla sixty-three miles distant were ambushed and murdered en route:

  • My husband kissed the children. He took the oldest in his arms, crying, and said, “My son, you might not see your father ever again.” The whole war, everything, was not as dreadful as that goodbye. He stood at the fence, crying. He left. (Testimony of Nermina Smajlovic)

What happened to him then? To this day many women do not know the precise fate of their fathers, husbands and sons. Bodies were often buried in parts in different locations. In a vast refrigerated hall outside Tuzla, run by the International Commission of Missing Persons, thousands of bags await identification. As well as bodies, pictures and items of clothing have been unearthed:

  • Kadefa recognised a photograph of a man’s belt and a pair of torn trousers, stitched in the way she had once repaired Mirsad’s trousers. But she refused to accept his death until six years later when a DNA match identified his bones. (Missing Lives)

One of the most searing pictures in the haunting booklet published this year by Remembering Srebrenica is that of two hands; the hand of a living person, protected by a plastic glove, holding the earth-covered fingers of the dead.
Tens of thousands live with the gaps, the silence, the empty spaces of those who will never come home. In his Pale Diary, Mladen Vuksanovic recorded with dread what happened before the men were taken away. Pale is a small village overlooking Sarajevo. Muslims and Christians lived there together for generations, until Serb forces occupied it in order to shell the city below:

  • A convoy of buses stands for hours on the main road. More people come to ask: ‘Are there any Muslim houses round here?’ My wife says to one fellow, raising her voice: ‘No, there aren’t! Neither Muslim nor Croat ones! There were only humanhouses here!’

Can we build, in spite of all that’s happened and still happens, ‘human houses here’?

May grief become hope!
May revenge become righteousness!
May the tears of the mothers become prayers
That Srebrenica never happens again.  (Imam Cekic, Memorial for Srebrenica, 2005)

On the 100th Session of the Drop-In Centre for Destitute Asylum Seekers

There are three overwhelming reasons why we should care for the wellbeing of those seeking asylum from persecution. All of them are deeply rooted in basic and central Jewish teachings, as well, I’m sure, as in the teachings of other faiths, and in broad humanitarian values.

The first is loving-kindness. ‘Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and free the oppressed’, teaches the prophet Isaiah. This is what God wants of us. ‘Do not hide from your own flesh’, he concludes. Just as we are all made in the image of God and all life is sacred, so too we are all composed of blood and nerves; we all feel pain, need food, warmth and shelter. We are not allowed to ‘hide’; that is, to contrive to avoid noticing the suffering of other people, or to claim that it is not our business. It is our direct concern.

Secondly, the central story of the Jewish People is the journey from slavery to freedom. We were slaves to Pharaoh; God delivered us from the house of bondage and guided us on the path to liberty. You shall love the stranger, teaches the Torah, because you yourselves were strangers in the Land of Egypt and you therefore know what the life of an outcast is like. There is no day in the entire year when we don’t repeat that story; it is the moral touchstone of Jewish values. Out of the experience of injustice, cruelty and the stripping away of our dignity, we must come to learn the essential importance of justice, loving-kindness and respect for all humanity. Just as we longed for the protection of justice when we were outcasts, so we must show justice and kindness to those who are ‘outcasts’ today.

Thirdly, history, down to recent decades, has made Jewish people all too aware of what it means to be marginalised, alienated, and scapegoated. Jewish people know what it feels like to be society’s ‘other’, to be the victim of racism, religiously motivated contempt, suspicion, prejudice and hatred. The experience of trying desperately to escape from encircling death is vivid in Jewish memory. Those who were fortunate reached a foreign land, were fearful about the fate of their family, uncertain of the future and usually destitute. They had to begin from nothing, far from those they knew and loved. Sometimes hands reached out in kindness; it is our desire to be such hands towards others now.

But the Drop-In is not an exercise in doing what we’ve been taught. My experience is that it is rooted in human warmth and solidarity, in being together to do what we can for one another. Volunteers have come forward, Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of no particular faith, people of all ages from their teens to their eighties, because they like being together with those who come to this centre, because we feel human contact and understanding and that, by God’s grace, we are able to help each other. Together, we help each other to see and share a wider and deeper humanity. One of the great achievements of the Drop-In is that it has brought together so many people from different backgrounds to find one another and work together in a common cause valued by all.

I am extremely grateful to those whose brain-child this Drop-In was, those who turned it into a reality and those who have worked at it ever since, to ensure that there are enough volunteers, that it runs smoothly and appropriately, that sufficient funding is available, that people who come here receive food, clothing, medical and above all legal help and that the atmosphere is cheerful and kind. But the most important appreciation lies in what one lady whom I had never met before said to me last September: ‘I thank God, whose grace has enabled your communities to serve Him by helping us’. 

Light tag

This a sad and serious time for Israel, the Middle East, and the Jewish People.

I took a cab to get to the other side of Jerusalem and the radio was, of course, on. So I asked the driver whether there had been any more news about Muhammad Abu-Chadyar, the poor boy who was taken from his home two days ago and found murdered in the Jerusalem forest. It is not known who was responsible, but no one I spoke to thought it entirely impossible that it might be a revenge killing, God forbid.

The cab driver answered: ‘The world responded to us differently after the murder of our three boys. It felt towards us differently. Now this has happened and it’s turned everything on its head. Unless there are absolutely clear proofs to the contrary, the world will think it was an act of revenge’. He continued, ‘After everything the Jewish People has been through, we wanted this to be a Jewish State, a state with true Jewish values.’ I looked across and saw the pain on his face.

The eight o’clock news began and he turned up the radio. The opening item was a speech by President Shimon Peres: ‘I call upon all citizens of the country’, he declared. ‘Two things are needed at this time: respect for the law, and restraint in our speech. We must not be drawn into incitement to wrongdoing. Whoever incites brings about the most perilous state of hatred and enmity. This is not our purpose. We aspire to live in peace and to allow our neighbours to live in peace.’ He said, categorically and unambiguously, what every leader needs to say. He was speaking to Israel’s Jewish community; he was also speaking to its Christian and Muslim communities.

But most powerful was the statement by Avraham and Rachel Fraenkel, just a day after they had buried their own son. Because they were in mourning, Avraham’s brother Yishai spoke on their behalf: ‘We don’t know for certain what exactly happened last night in East Jerusalem. However, if the young Arab boy was killed on nationalist grounds, this is the most terrible and shocking act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality or age of the victim. There is no justification and no excuse for any murder whatsoever.’ They no doubt also recognised the grief of Muhammad’s family through the depth of their own.

At this time people feel deeply pained, saddened and vulnerable. There is plenty to be afraid of. People may naturally also be angry. The spiritual and moral struggle is to turn these raw  feelings not against Arabs, or against Jews, or against any other person, nation or religion, but into sorrow and indignation at the very existence of hatred, cruelty and injustice. This may be the greatest challenge an individual or a society may ever have to face. The capacity to do so may prove decisive for our future, not just in the Middle East, but in all our conflicts, across the entire globe.  

We therefore need each other’s humanity, solidarity and understanding, not each other’s threats, rejection and prejudice. Significantly, each day there have been demonstrations in Israel of just these values, Tag Meir (‘Light Tag’)  in Jerusalem yesterday and a rally in Tel Aviv tonight. I admire those who not only attended them, but strive to live by the qualities of universal respect, justice which they represent.

For those of us who live in the Diaspora this is a time to stand in solidarity with the words of Shimon Peres and Avraham and Rachel Fraenkel. Both in Israel and in our communities across the world, we are called upon to renew our commitment to live the true values of Judaism. This is not a moment to withdraw.

It is essential for us to reach out to our neighbours of other faiths, especially our neighbours who are Muslims. We need one another. We have no one else to stand surety for each other’s safety and humanity.

I will therefore conclude with the words of a Muslim friend and leader who attended the vigil outside the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday night:

‘I pray that the most recent losses will make communities of all creeds 
gather in solidarity to echo the message of NO to violence and YES to 
peace-building across the globe. I link arms with you all as one family mourning the loss of your  beloved and will be very pleased to assist in any way that I can.’

Revenge won’t bring back our boys

‘Revenge won’t bring back our boys’, read the banner above the rally called by Tag Meir, Light Tag, in Jerusalem yesterday. ‘This gathering brings me hope’, said one of the speakers. Thousands of people, mostly young, both secular and religious, had come together to mourn, and to express their commitment to peace and tolerance in spite of everything. It takes courage and conviction to say ‘No to racism’, when three young Israelis have just been murdered. Yet the message could not be more timely or important. Tag Meir has repeatedly organised counter-rallies in response to calls of hatred.
A young man stopped me: ‘What’s that sticker say?’ he asked. I replied that it was about the importance of neighbourliness. ‘Not when they’re Arabs’, he said. ‘What do you suggest as an alternative?’ someone called after him as he walked off. 
But there was little heckling at the gathering; there were few angry calls. Elsewhere this has not been the case. Anger is understandable, but the truth remains that hate leads only to more hate, and injustice to more injustice.
Meanwhile, the question of who murdered Muhamad Abu-Chadyar, who was seized from his home two days ago remains unsolved. It may well be a vendetta killing. But there is a fear that it could be an act of revenge by a Jewish splinter group. Yediot Acharonot this morning reported the words of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, who allegedly described ‘revenge as a natural phenomenon’. In profound contrast stand the words of Rachel and Avi Fraenkel, the parents of Naftali who was buried on Tuesday: ‘There is no difference between blood and blood and murder is murder. No murder is justified.’ Demonstrations, burning tyres, threats of the third Intifada are among immediate responses.
There were many at the Tag Meir rally for whom teaching and struggling for a just and equal society are their daily bread, and some who regularly put themselves on the line for these values. I respect and admire them.
It was deeply moving to sing the Hatikvah quietly together.

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