Fighting on Two Fronts
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
This week it all goes horribly wrong.
This is not a prediction on the voting patterns of the United Kingdom but on the subject matter of our Parsha – Noach.
Yet when we look around the UK, certainly amongst the Jewish community, one can sense the real fear for the future.
A letter was written by Rabbi Jonathan Romain to his community which made its way to the national press and I quote (I don’t normally quote Reform Rabbis!)
‘In past elections, never have I dreamt of suggesting which way one should vote. This election is different……. If you, too, think that a Corbyn-led government would pose a danger to Jewish life as we know it…whether it be utterances that cause Jews to feel victimised, less secure and no longer at ease…or maybe even legislation that restricts Jewish life or relations with Israel in some way, then you may wish to vote to ensure Labour does not gain your local seat.’
He is absolutely correct and kol ha kavod for writing it. He is not the only one to go public with his fears – Rachel Riley posted the following on twitter:
‘As we edge towards a December general election, a heartfelt promise: I will do everything in my power to try to ensure my baby, Jewish by blood, will not be born under an anti-Semitic government. I hope this will never happen, please use your vote wisely.’
Stephen Pollard writing in the Telegraph said, ‘No one can with certainty write off Labour’s chances of winning. Hence the raw fear. Because while two years ago the more charitable (or, rather, gullible) among us might have fallen for the Magic Grandpa act, this time no one can be in any doubt about the true nature and intentions of the party leadership.’
How have we got here? How are we in a situation where these things are being written about the reality in 2019 Britain.
I would like to hope and pray that this election will usher in a new era of kinder politics, away from the hate and intolerance that has dominated the political discussion – specifically on the far left.
Part of the problem was that in 2017 when during election campaigning Corbyn delivered his impossible utopian vision which millions believed, all it was was just words – words that could never be fulfilled without crippling the economy.
When it comes to Judaism – we can sometimes fall into the same trap, we may talk about what we want ourselves or others to do – but without the concrete action – it is just words.
Noach faced the same problem.
Noach is also my bar mitzvah sedra and one of the hardest things about being a Noach boy is, well – he isn’t Avraham! We like to think of our Bar mitzvah guy as a hero – and he did save the world, but Hashem didn’t start the Jewish people with Noach. He chose Avraham which is next week’s Parsha!
So what was it about Noach that wasn’t quite enough to make him one of our forefathers?
One answer given is that Avraham pleaded on behalf of the people when Sodom was going to be destroyed whereas Noach remained silent.
Another beautiful understanding that I heard is the following. We know that Avraham spread the message of Monotheism far and wide and had many converts.
Noach on the other hand had 120 years of ark building and all he got into the ark were himself, Mrs Noach, his three sons and their wives, a pretty dismal showing for 120 years of campaigning!
You can picture the scene. Noach starts to build this enormous cruise liner, around 450ft long, which is miles from the sea and tells everyone God is going to destroy the world with a flood. Well imagine the reaction of the locals. They must have thought this man has lost it and they scoffed.
So what did Noach do? He talked to them, tried to explain to them the error of their ways, tried to educate them, all to no avail. 120 years later, it was still just the eight of them. As we said talk is cheap, talking never truly changed anyone and Noach found out the hard way.
Avraham did something altogether different, he didn’t talk Judaism, he lived it and invited people in to experience it. When it comes to Torah, speeches don’t change people, people change people.
Avraham showed people how to live, showed people the beauty of a monotheistic belief and showed people hospitality of the highest order.
Yes, he taught – but his education was hands on.
As Avraham showed us, the only way to spread a love of Judaism and to educate in a real way is to create an environment where people will be exposed to the beauty of Judaism.
Somehow in the last few hundred years we have made people believe that the shul or the school are the centre of our religion, it never has been and it never can be. The Jewish home, that is the centre. That is the lesson from Noach and Avraham and that is where the battle for Jewish survival will be won and lost.
So yes, we have good right to be worried about Corbyn and co, but I wish the Jewish community would not only worry about the external threat of anti-Semitism, but also about how strong is our own Jewish identity – our internal battle.
That battle will not be won and lost on the streets of the UK
But in our homes.