|I remember the moment so clearly. |
I was in Junior 2 at North West and was being picked up from school.
As we walked to the car – all the parents were talking about it.
It was Thursday 26th March 1981 – and four people had broken away from Labour to form the SDP.
Just under 28 years later a similar seismic event happened in the political scene of the UK.
However, this time it wasn’t simply about far left policies and European integration that caused the split but the sinister and disgraceful appearance of virulent anti-Semitism at the heart of the Labour party.
As Luciana Berger said to a shocked world on Tuesday morning ‘I cannot remain in a party that I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic’.
We know that most of this anti-Semitism has been couched in a visceral hatred of all things Israel. Rabbi Sacks in his speech to the Lords a few months ago explained superbly why they are one and the same. ‘My Lords, it pains me to speak about antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred. But I cannot keep silent. One of the enduring facts of history is that most anti-Semites do not think of themselves as anti-Semites. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the Middle Ages, just their religion. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the nineteenth century, just their race. We don’t hate Jews, they say now, just their nation state.
I was in that nation state this week. Wherever you look you see a remarkable story. A tiny country that has made the desert bloom, a tiny country that is reaching out across the world to bring Israeli technologies to millions of people and a tiny country that has brought Jews from over 100 countries back to their ancestral homeland.
It has done all of this while defending itself from neighbours who wish its annihilation on a daily basis and while absorbing immigrants at a rate unparalleled across the world. And then today came the astonishing news that Israel has launched a spacecraft to the moon. So far only three other countries have managed such a feat: USA, Russia and China. Let’s look at those countries:
USA population 0.35 billion GDP $19 trillion
Russia population 0.15 billion GDP $2 trillion
China population 1.3 billion GDP $12 trillion
And now we have a fourth country – tiny Israel:
Israel population 0.008 billion GDP $0.35 trillion
Click here to watch the SpaceIL promotional video for the launch.
Even more remarkable is the low cost. NASA lunar missions costs $1.5 billion each time. Israel have done it for just $100 million and with mostly private funders. They have called the Israeli shuttle ‘Bereishit’.
A remarkable story but just one of the myriad connected to the one and only Jewish state. If you just take a step back and look at the story of Israel in the modern era as well as the Jewish nation over the last 4000 years the only emotions you can feel are a mixture of immense pride and complete awe.
There is a wonderful idea at the start of the parsha which can reflect on this. The Jewish people are asked to give the half shekel to establish the census of the Jewish people.
When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. (Shemot 30:12-13)
The obvious question is, why not just count the people? Why the need to get them to give money? Yes, we are told that it is dangerous to count Jews – but why?
Rabbi Sacks gives a beautiful answer. The assumption beneath every census is: there is strength in numbers. The more numerous a people, the stronger it is. ‘That is why it is dangerous to count Jews. We are a tiny people. The late Milton Himmelfarb once wrote that the total population of Jews throughout the world is smaller than a small statistical error in the Chinese census. We are a fifth of a per cent of the population of the world: by any normal standards too small to be significant. Nor is this true only now. It was then. The danger in counting Jews is that if they believed, even for a moment, that there is strength in numbers, the Jewish people would long ago have given way to despair.’
How then according to Rabbi Sacks, do you estimate the strength of the Jewish people? To this the Torah gives an answer of surpassing beauty. Ask Jews to give, and then count their contributions. Numerically we are small, but in terms of our contributions to civilization and humankind, we are vast. This week we saw the highs and lows of a country – while Israel soars to the moon, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party brings us down in the dirt. Thankfully due to the courage of former Labour MP’s, led by Luciana Berger, the idea of that man ever being prime minister is less likely – and for that we should all be thankful. However, we have to remember that we are not defined by anti-Semitism, we use their hatred as a source of pride. As one writer said this week ‘Whenever a Jew wanders around the British Museum in London, or the Met in New York and sees the Roman, Egyptian, and Assyrian remains, they can think, I was there. We are the people of forever.’
The forever people have seen it all before – we have had a whole slew of enemies over the millennia – just add Corbyn and his cronies to the list. We will continue with what we have always done, living lives of Torah, building the Jewish State into a beacon for the world and striving to ‘l’taken olam b malchut Shaddai’ – to perfect the world through the Kingship of Hashem.
That is our mission and whether the world loves us or hates us – that mission remains the same.
The countdown has begun.
The clock has been ticking for thousands of years, with our return to our homeland and to Jerusalem, you can hear the engines getting stronger.
Please God, we should merit the final geulah speedily and soon.