Friday, 30 April 2010

Calling on congregants to help defeat the BNP

As you will be aware there is a very real chance that the BNP will take control of the council in Barking and Dagenham this election and could even win a seat in parliament. 

Yesterday a group of Jewish volunteers, including staff from the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, the Board of Deputies, Rene Cassin and the Jewish Community Centre for London, went to Dagenham to help the Hope not Hate campaign (organised by the anti- racist organisation Searchlight) deliver anti-BNP newsletters to hundreds of households in the Borough’s Becontree Ward.

Hope not Hate need more support to ensure the BNP do not take control of Barking and Dagenham Council and it is crucial that the Jewish community join them in this battle.

·         On bank holiday Monday May 3rd there will be another day of action in Barking and Dagenham where Hope not Hate will leaflet drop into ever y door in the borough.

·         On election day, Thursday May 6th volunteers will also be needed to knock on doors and make phone calls to encourage people to vote.

We would be very grateful if you pass this information on to your members to take part in this vital campaign.  Any interested volunteers should contact edie[at] or Hannah[at] Travel information will be provided.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

From Yom Hashoah to Yom Haatzmaut

This Shabbat falls in the midst of a Jewish ritual journey from Yom HaShoah to Yom Haatzmaut; from Holocaust to the Israeli State. In historical terms that journey took three years, 1945 – 1948. And now a further 72 years have passed. The State of Israel was never solely predicated on the Holocaust, rather a ‘tikvah shanot alpayim’ – the hope of a people over two millennia (lyrics from the Israel’s national anthem which, themselves, predate the Holocaust). But to the extent that, in Israel’s early years, the Holocaust served as a major driving force of Zionist commitment and support both within and without the inhabitant of the State of Israel, that connection is becoming attenuated as time passes and other genocides prick at the attention of broader society. Israel can no longer assume that a reference to the Holocaust will end any conversation about the triumphs or failings of the Zionist State.

None of that, of course, suggests that the need to stand strong in the face of anti-Semitism has gone away. The CST reports that acts of antisemitic aggression are higher than at any time since they began collecting this information. Israelis and supporters of Israel complain of increasing hostility on campuses, concert halls and elsewhere on a weekly basis. Many of these ‘new’ forms of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist hostility are ‘justified’ with respect to the political actions of the Israeli Government, but it is an error to accept these ‘justifications’ at face value, made, as they so often are; out of context, out of ignorance or out of an unwillingness to accept that Jews have a right to a safe sovereign state at all. But, for a Zionist like myself, my love and support of Israel is challenged by my discomfort when I see her fall short, as I believe she does, particularly when trying to develop a long-term sustainable future alongside Palestinian neighbours who also feel the need for what Leo Pinsker referred to, in a Jewish context, as auto-emancipation.

In an attempt to reason out the relationship between these swirling currents of pride and discomfort I went back to Herzl’s original Zionist manifesto; The Jewish State (published 1896). The section entitled ‘Causes of Anti-Semitism’ begins by suggesting that ancient Christian theologically driven Jew-Hatred has morphed into a kind of Jew-hatred predicated on our refusal to give up our particularity while emerging from the ghetto not as forelock tugging paupers but as ‘a prodigious rival to the middle class.’ I think there remains a piece of this in contemporary anti-Israel discourse. If only Israel was prepared to be weak, if only Jews were prepared to adopt their accustomed place as powerless grateful subjects of other dominions then, surely, there would be less aggression directed towards us. But this isn’t a new direction I am recommending for our Jewish futures.

Herzl however goes on to say something else – the refusal to assimilate and/or adopt the posture of weak underlings was the underlying cause of Jew-hatred in his age, but there was a different immediate cause. ‘The immediate cause [of Jew-hatred] is our excessive production of mediocre intellectuals.’ It struck me as a most surprising and provocative sentence – and one that has important resonance for our time. I do consider much contemporary intellectual engagement with Israel is ‘mediocre.’ I want to see a more nuanced voice, supporting Israel, emerge more broadly. For me the cut and thrust of most public debate on Israel fails to rise beyond debating-chamber point scoring and I wonder if Herzl is right – that contributes to the current levels of antipathy. These are complex and cloudy waters, but we, in this special community, are uniquely equipped to sail these uneven seas. At our Yom Haatzmaut celebrations on Sunday morning I will be looking to navigate this path more clearly. I do hope you will be able to join me.


Friday, 9 April 2010

On Stories and Real Heros - Yom HaShoah


Those of you who were at the New London Synagogue communal Seder would have seen me running into a rhetorical brick wall. I was prattling on about how the Seder night inspires us to stand up to the forces of oppression in each and every generation and then I realised that Jack Kagan was among our guests.


Jack was twelve when the Nazi’s captured his Belorussian village. He witnessed his mother and sister being selected for execution and bid good-bye to his father deported, also to his death at the hands of the Nazis. His way of standing up to the forces of oppression was digging, with sixty or seventy fellow inmates, a 250 metre long tunnel out of the camp at Peresika into the surrounding forest. His goal wasn’t to flee, but to find the famous Bielski partisans and join them in standing up to Nazi oppression, despite the odds, despite everything.


‘The date was set for September 26. I felt such excitement. I knew deep down that I was going to survive and I couldn't wait to join the Bielskis. The night finally arrived. It was dark and rainy - it seemed like it was made to order. No-one was allowed into the tunnel until the leaders had broken through the surface and made sure it was safe. And then the line began to slowly move forwards. I felt no fear as I approached the tunnel, just exhilaration. When I was about half way through I heard gunfire outside. Suddenly, I was terrified that the guards would be shooting at us as we came out. But I carried on. When I finally emerged I could see the whole field alive with flying bullets. The adrenaline was so high it is hard to remember what was going through my mind. I just started running. I had to get out of the field as quickly as possible.’


Jack found the Bielskis, he not only survived, he triumphed in the face of bleak horror. I was playing with words. Here, sat dipping the Karpas and enjoying the Matzah was someone who knew what it meant to leave Mitzyrayim, through narrow straights and great confinement. I ran out of words mid-sentence, swallowed, mumbled something about having a great hero in our midst and stopped talking.


This Sunday evening, at 7:30pm, we hold our annual Yom HaShoah commemoration. Karen Pollack, director of the Holocaust Education Trust will join us and we will have the opportunity to experience Julian Dawes’ Songs of Ashes. It’s a highlight of our Synagogue year. It’s not an evening to come you because you want to. It’s an evening to come to because this is part of our narrative, part of how we tell our story. Our experience of freedom, light and joy is sharper and more genuine because we allow ourselves to encounter our national experiences of slavery, darkness and loss.


More information about Jack Kagan can be found at


I hope to see all our members and many of our friends on Sunday.


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy


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