May 31, 2013 admin

Dog days

Some days one goes to bed tired, and wakes up the same. But on others something gentle seems to touch us in one’s sleep or in our dreams. The dawn, suggests the Zohar, belongs to Abraham, whose quality is loving-kindness, for then the angel Raphael goes forth ‘who possesses all kinds of healing’, and the birds ‘thank and praise the Holy One’. Maybe that’s why this morning when I woke up these small scenes were in my mind.
Last week Mitzpah, my dog, ended up with an embarrassing circle of red lipstick on his head. I blame it all on Margaret, and her ninetieth birthday. I first met Margaret when she came to our home for the Kol Nidrei service which we conduct together with the Holocaust Survivors Centre. I’m always on my way out to synagogue as the small congregation arrives, and I’m never sure if it’s appreciated that I leave the dog behind. So I was relieved when Margaret said to me one year with her customary charm, ‘He’s such a mensch, your dog, and welcomes us so nicely’. And Margaret, who survived the Holocaust, including Auschwitz, insisted, although I don’t think she’s a traditionally observant person, that what she would most of all like to do to mark her ninetieth birthday was to come to the morning service, at 7.00am on a Tuesday, and of course the dog had to be there. Deborah brought a cake, and Margaret, and the dog came too (though we didn’t count him in the minyan) and received a kiss.
And still of dogs, Noach Braun, whose personal vision and determination created the Israel Guide Dog Centre for the Blind, was at my home yesterday. ‘Let’s do a walk together in aid of guide dog training,’ I suggested. ‘Let’s see if we could start at the Israeli Embassy and meet David Blunkett and then Clare Balding on the way’, I continued without, of course, having consulted any of the people concerned. ‘Great idea’, Noach replied, ‘Let’s do the walk on Israel Independence Day’. Seeing me look puzzled at this choice of such an eminent date, he added ‘After all, guide dogs bring people back their independence and that’s what it’s all about.’ At once images of canines faded from my mind and instead came pictures of freedom, – freedom to live, to move unhindered and unafraid; and the whole concept of independence, and the whole importance of Israel, and liberty, rethought themselves in my mind.
These little moments move me, for in them I feel, in small but in close up, the spirit and the courage which propel Jewish history itself.
One more incident. Some weeks ago as I was walking on Shabbat, I saw a young woman sitting on a park bench, her head in her hands, and realised that she was weeping. One cannot just go past. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked. She looked up. ‘Has something bad happened?’ She nodded. ‘Can I sit with you for a moment?’ One worries as a man if one’s unintentionally being threatening, but mercifully a kind lady from our community came walking up. ‘Let me sit with you for a little’, she said, and did so, and afterwards I learned that she had sat and listened and they had spoken for a good hour.
The Talmud says that when we meet God on the other side we’ll be asked if we’ve dealt with our fellow human beings in good faith. I think we’ll also be asked ‘Have you been kind?’ In fact, I think we’re asked that question all the time. I hate to think how often I’ve failed to notice.
Kindness alone can mitigate, at least partially, the injustices of fate and unwind the coiled springs of cruelty.

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