If you have never heard of Rainbow Day, you’re not alone. I learn of it for the first time just this week, in a note from Rabbi David Seidenberg. He describes himself as a neo-hasid, a modern mystic, and is passionately concerned for nature, attitudes I 100% share.
There are more than 365 (or even 366) ‘days’ in the year. There are days devoted to almost every area of human concern, and to numerous species of animals, birds and even insects. So what is Rainbow Day and how did it begin?
I’d assumed it must have secular origins, like so many ‘societies for the protection of…’ (even one, I’m told, for the appreciation of dandelions, though this may be a tease.) But I would be wrong. In fact, the source is in the Torah: ‘In the 2nd month, on the 27th day, the earth dried out,’ and Noah, his family and all the animals were finally able to leave the ark and re-establish life on earth. (Bereshit 8:14)
This year the 27th of Iyyar, (the 2nd month in the Hebrew calendar) falls next week, on the night of the 17th / 18th May.
I’ll certainly be marking the date. For, as Rabbi Seidenberg writes, it’s ‘a chance to reflect on the deep spiritual and religious meaning of diversity, creation, and our role as part of creation and partners with God.’ This matters urgently, both in human society and nature.
It’s not just because I’m Jewish that I understand viscerally the importance of societies which don’t just tolerate but respect and celebrate diversity. But being a Jew has made me skin-thin sensitive to this essential concern. Additionally, hosting refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Somalia has made me look at the world in new and challenging ways. It’s brought the truths of injustice, hatred and cruelty closer. It’s made me realise what a proper meal, a bottle of water, a hand in friendship can mean.
I agree with the government that the merciless exploitation of refugees by traffickers is a vicious wrong. But I admire the Archbishop of Canterbury for bluntly speaking truth to power in calling the proposed immigration bill morally unacceptable, a slur on Britain’s reputation and a threat to international cooperation in supporting refugees from war, famine, and persecution. We need safe, legal and justly administered routes for people seeking asylum. That’s fundamental to being a decent country in a rainbow world.
As a rabbi I have the privilege of listening to many people: this has sensitised me to the importance of Rainbow Day in other ways too. If the doors of our community spaces, homes and hearts are open only to those who are so-called ‘normative’, be that gender-normative, neuro-normative, or indeed physical body ‘normative,’ (I use these words with trepidation) we leave a lot of people outside and cause much pain.
Talking about ‘outside’ takes me to the other half of Rainbow Day: anxiety, hope and care for the natural world. When I think of this my heart, like Wordsworth’s, ‘leaps up’.
I’ve always loved animal. Once scared of birds, I’ve learnt to love them too. I watch eagerly for the jays and woodpeckers, the long-tailed tits and occasional grey-blue nuthatch. I’ve understood that insects matter and treasure log-piles for beetles. Life on earth starts here.
But then my heart shrinks back, confronted with what we humans do to our diverse world. As Rabbi Seidenberg writes, ‘The Torah teaches that God has promised never to flood the Earth again. But that doesn’t mean humanity can’t’ – and won’t.
Therefore I want to remain a tree-planter, meadow-lover, and carer for both people and animals to my dying day. That’s why I’ll say my first-timer shehecheyanu thanksgiving blessing this Rainbow Day and henceforth mark it always.