Events from Paris continue to haunt my week. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the pursuit of safety.
In part these reflections have been entirely practical. I am serving, this year, as head of the Cheder. I’ve had parents contact me, quite understandably, worried about the safety of their children in a ‘Jewish building.’ Acts of terror do that to a person, it is only a fool who is not terrified by that designed to terrify us. Right across the Synagogue we’ve been relooking at our security procedures; what more could we do, what more should we do?
In part these reflections have been more philosophical. The Haaretz cartoonist Eran Wolkowski offered this biting reflection on the choices facing us, in our search for safety, this week - https://twitter.com/haaretzcom/status/555223293716738048. It’s a cartoon of a group of French Jews making their way to Israel. They are greeted by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Chancellor Naftali Bennett; Bennett is armed with a semi-automatic, clearly only to be used in defence of the new arrivals and the country they enter. The politicians beckon the new immigrants into a walled city where guns poke out through reinforced security doors and soldiers patrol the parapets wandering between missile launchers and other weaponry. This is the safety those who are imagined to be fleeing from France are to offered in the only country to provide an unambiguous welcome to any Jew. Oy.
I love Israel and at various times I’ve considered making my own life there, but not as a refuge where I can hide behind a big wall and bigger guns. I’m intensely proud of the strength Israel has shown in the face of existential threat, and grateful for every sacrifice made by every young Israeli conscripted into Israel’s defence force, but I don’t dream of a solution to the Jewish question that has Jews imprisoned behind walls; whether those walls are built by Jews to keep others out, or others wishing to keep us in. And therefore what?
I have no choice other than to believe in the value of a life lived beyond the wall, away from the security that guns and physical security devices promise. Ultimately I don’t believe guns make us safer. Of course we should have rigorous security procedures at the Synagogue, especially when we are entrusted with the safety of children – we mustn’t be anyone’s idea of an easy target, but professional security guards, concrete walls and the rest of it offer, at best, only a superficial promise of security. The great Jewish thinker Emanuel Levinas suggested that the encounter with our fellow human beings, especially with those we acknowledge as different to us, is the moment in which we can become moved; moved to ethical behaviour, moved to an abjuration of violence, moved to an appreciation of the preciousness of all human life. And that means we need to show our faces, beyond the wall. We need to expose our own fragility and we need to look upon the fragility of our fellow human beings. Goodness, that’s a tough call, especially this week. And, again, this philosophical approach does not mean we should drop our guard when it comes to the practical security procedures in place at the Synagogue. It just means that we need to do more than rely on security procedures; no matter the height of the wall or the calibre of the weaponry protecting us, we need to do more.
Shabbat shalom, my most fervent prayer, may this Shabbat come peacefully for all,