Thursday, 26 January 2017

Write, Jews, Write it Down - Lessons of the Holocaust

This Shabbat we are marking Holocaust Memorial Day with a special event. I have invited two of our members to share the story of their work. Jenny and Dina are translators working for Yad Vashem. They work with the Oneg Shabbas archive, documents that survived the Holocaust, hidden, in the Warsaw Ghetto, by those who did not. 

“Write, Jews, write it down,” were the dying words of the great Jewish historian, Shimon Dubnow, as he was murdered by the Nazis in Riga 1941. He wanted to leave something so we can hear voices lost. Indeed there is plenty of writing, and the like, left for us. All that lacks is people will to read, to come and to hear - as hard as it may be. I do urge all members, friends too, to join us for this Shabbat. 

Dina and Jenny will be speaking during the service and also sharing insights into some specific texts with which they have been working during a sit-down-kiddush. (Youth activities will be provided outside of the Kiddush hall).

In conjunction with Holocaust Memorial Day, I want, particularly, to note the work of our member Hannah Lewis, whose story can be read here, for her heroic educational work. I’m also grateful to Freda who drew my attention to a showing of the new documentary Night Will Fall about the first footage shot by British soldiers in the liberated camps. Night Will Fall is being shown today at 9pm on More 4 (channel 14 on Freeview, 138 Sky and 147 Virgin), I urge you to record it for later viewing. More information here.

We live in strange times. It turns out that we cannot take for granted that ‘we’ - Jews, Brits, Europeans, members of the human race - know the story and even the message of the Holocaust. We must commit ourselves to doing more. The original footage which makes up the heart of Night Will Fall film was to be part of a, sadly, unfinished work directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Bernstein and Richard Crossman. That work was to end with these words, ‘unless the world learns the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall. But by God’s grace we who live will learn.’

Shabbat shalom,

Thursday, 5 January 2017

On Israel - the Grand Scale and the Individual

An Israeli rabbinic colleague of mine in America posted on Facebook about the two Israel-related discussions filling up his feed. His American friends, he wrote, were all processing the recent UN resolution on settlement construction and John Kerry’s recent speech on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. Meanwhile his Israeli friends were all engaged in the case of Sgt Elor Azaria - the Israeli soldier who shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, a Palestinian terrorist while the latter was handcuffed and prostrate on a Hebron street. You are unlikely to have come across the story of Sgt Azaria unless you read the Israeli press (in which case you would have drowned in comment) though this from the New York Times is good. See also this from IDF Code of Ethics author, Professor Asa Kasher.

Aside from the substantial - and there are very substantial - issues at stake, my friend observed how those most geographically close to the struggles of Israel obsessed on the fate of the individual, while those more distant looked to the bigger picture. For me, the grand scale and the microcosm simply reflect a singular issue. It’s a very religious perspective - religious Jews engage in the most tiny matters of detail because we believe that it is only in detail that our true beliefs and values are reflected. Stepping too far back, gazing from too far a distance, allows and even impels, generalisations and stereotyping. The Azaria case is appalling; appalling because of the original terrorist attack, because of Azaria’s response, because of the political pressures brought to bear on the military courts but, most of all, because none of this should have happened.

The Jewish presence in Hebron is inflammatory and, I believe, unjustifiable. I agree with the response of the New Israel Fund to the incident, posted here. The NIF noted that the murder victim was indeed a terrorist, noted also the clear culpability of the soldier, but also suggested Sgt Azaria was ‘a victim of circumstance’ - forced by an occupation into a role for he, a 19 year old, was unable to perform.

There will, of course, be others in this community who will take other perspectives. Indeed our love for Israel can only be accurately reflected in a breadth of views. I won’t be addressing this issue over Shabbat, but it is important for us to speak more about Israel, a country at the centre of our religious identity in so many ways. In fact, we will be dedicating time to so doing next Shabbat - 14th January. Indeed I am hoping we will be joined by a guest speaker who can share a particularly deep understanding of the political issues. I will be able to share more next week.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy
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