Like so many of us I’ve been both horrified and disturbed by events in Paris in the last week. I share with all decent minded human beings, or every religion and none, in condemning these acts of violence as appalling and utterly unjustifiable.
Those of you who were at services on Shabbat will have heard one of our French members sharing the Prayer for the State of France from the siddur of the French Masorti Movement and I am sure none of us will forget the extraordinarily moving – and even for me – unexpected rendition of Adon Olam to the tune of Les Marseilles. I can’t think of the last time I cried during the Adon Olam, I know I was far from alone in my tears. My prayers and wishes for comfort are shared with all of those who have lost loved ones and we will recite memorial prayers in the coming Shabbat.
In my sermon I engaged in a close reading of the passage read in Synagogue Exodus 1:8-16 and subsequent verses, where Egypt falls from a grateful and civil relationship with the Jews into genocidal oppression. These verses, which so often remind me of the descent into the darkness of the Holocaust, seemed to have a sad but intense relevance to so much of what has happened in France, and not just in the last week. I commend them to all.
I also offered a large, a medium sized and a small reflection.
The large reflection took much inspiration from the article by Jonathan Freedland [CREATE LINK - http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/09/charlie-hebdo-cartoonists-paris-killers-fascist-death-cult] and the extraordinary cartoon of Joe Sacco [CREATE LINK - http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks] that had arrived over my doorstep that Saturday morning. This is not a war between East and West, or between Islam and the ‘civilised world.’ That is, as Freedland suggests, precisely what the wicked fanatics would wish us to respond.
There are, indeed, wicked leaders seeking to radicalise impressionable youth and there is a challenge Muslim leaders need to address, ever more seriously, to stop the religion they love being used as a front for murderous terrorism. But there are also problems of disenfranchisement in increasingly stratified societies where – just as in ancient Egypt – we no longer know one another, we no longer have relationships with those with whom we share civic space, and that, as the Torah and the great Jewish philosopher Immanuel Levinas noted is the root of moral and ethical failure.
It’s not enough to condemn wicked action – though I do. It’s not enough to point to other leaders of other sections of our society and to call on them to do more – though I do. We also need to demand more of ourselves, we need to encounter otherness and difference with a more open heart and commit ourselves to creating a more decent and honourable society in which all can find a home.
The medium sized point was this. Several years ago this community were members of London Citizens, an alliance of churches, mosques and synagogues; schools, colleges and universities; unions, think-tanks and housing associations; GP surgeries, charities and migrant groups to work together for the common good. Through the training I did with the organisation and through our participation in a number of their campaigns, particularly around immigration and the Living Wage, I came to feel that this is an extraordinary organisation that can be a huge part of reweaving this society in which we all live. Some have told me that this is an organisation with some overt party-political agenda, that’s simply untrue. If there are members interested in knowing more, meeting with a local organiser to see what it would mean for New London to explore this relationship with London Citizens again, please do let me know. You can reach me at email@example.com
There is more information on Citizens UK – the mother organisations of London Citizens [here - http://www.citizensuk.org/]
The small sized point was this. My good friend Yeshaya Dalsace is the Rabbi of the local Masorti community to the Kosher supermarket attacked last week. His children attend the local school. I would like us, the members of New London Synagogue, to sponsor the Kiddush this coming Shabbat at his community, Dor VaDor in East Paris. If you would like to join me in making this donation, you can do so at the New London Synagogue donation page, [here - http://www.newlondon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=179&Itemid=1290]
With blessings and prayers for all those suffering at this time,