The news of the horrendous earthquake in Nepal has punctured my week; as I know it has done for so many of us. My thoughts and prayers are with those bereft. Susan Neiman, in her book, Evil in Modern Thought, documents how the earthquake that struck Lisbon in the mid-eighteenth century can be seen as the starting point for the collapse of religious world-views that sought to claim there is indeed perfect order in the world. There is something utterly appalling in the loss of life and the misery and suffering of those left behind. In her book Neiman documents how Leibniz’s claim that this is the ‘best of all possible worlds’ was exposed to ridicule in the aftermath of that quake, and it’s easy to feel bereft when facing the disasters of today. Of course the Bible’s itself finds earthquakes empty of redemptive possibility. Elijah is told to look out over a plate-tectonic rupture and is told God was not present in that moment. In the Book of Kings God’s presence is manifest only in a ‘still small voice.’ I suspect for us today God’s presence comes in the small moments of kindness, moments of possibility even amongst the destruction. I think that is why it is so important to respond to destruction with an act of Tzedakah – a charitable gift, these gifts, even of a few pounds are pinpricks of redemption amongst the darkness.
I’m proud our BM group of our Cheder responded, on the day after the quake, by organising a collection – funds were paid over to the World Jewish Relief Nepal Earthquake Disaster Appeal. And proud too of the responses of so many of our members who replied to share that they too have responded to this moment of darkness with a gift of hope, life and redemptive possibility.
In this week of darkness I’ve been lifted by a very different event, hosted at New London on Wednesday evening. We were approached to host an evening of music featuring the poetry of the great Arabic mystic Ibn Al-Arabi, and the great Rabbinic scholar and philosopher Abraham Ibn-Ezra. The event, organised by the Maqam Project at SOAS and Jewdas, was a marvellous success, most notable for the presence of 400 people come together to hear an oud player and his drummer provide accompaniment for poems a thousand years old sung in languages very few understood. Or maybe 400 people turned up to New London for a different reason. Maybe the real reason for the vast attendance was that we all wanted to celebrate the possibility of a connection between Jewish and Arabic culture, no matter how esoteric. Certainly that sense of connection was palpable at the concert. It was joyous and genuinely moving. In the moments between the last note of the concert and the warm applause there was a glimmer of light, possibility itself existed – another pinprick of light. After all the darkness, the loss of life, the earthquakes and everything else, it was special indeed to hear the still small voice.
To donate to World Jewish Relief’s Nepal Disaster Relief Appeal, please click [here - https://www.wjr.org.uk/]
For a short video taken at the concert, please click [here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xNOrJeDgX4&feature=youtu.be]