Understanding Jewish History
This morning I woke up to a letter in the Guardian. (link) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/nov/14/concerns-about-antisemitism-mean-we-cannot-vote-labour
Over two dozen British public figures, including authors, historians and actors, had written an open letter saying they could not vote for the Labour Party in the upcoming elections due to the party’s anti-Semitism scandals.
One of the signatory’s, Maajid Nawaz, tweeted ‘I signed this letter to the Guardian. During Weimar years, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party used democracy to win. There was always an excuse to betray Jews, it was never quite bad enough to support them. Why say #never again’.
Having just stood this week once again in Auschwitz and told the students there the exact same statement, it made me realise that it is not just the Jewish people who are worried – and that is why I am grateful.
The letter itself was very poignant:
Antisemitism is central to a wider debate about the kind of country we want to be. To ignore it because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government. Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?
Opposition to racism cannot include surrender in the fight against antisemitism. Yet that is what it would mean to back Labour and endorse Mr Corbyn for Downing Street. The path to a more tolerant society must encompass Britain’s Jews with unwavering solidarity. We endorse no party. However, we cannot in all conscience urge others to support a political party we ourselves will not. We refuse to vote Labour on 12 December.
I was heartened to read the list of names of prominent actors, historians and authors and I thank them for writing. However, what about the 29% who still are saying they are going to vote Labour, how can they? The fact that some Jewish people are still involved with the party in the run up to the election – is beyond belief.
This coming Sunday 17th November 2019 sees the 85th Annual AJEX Remembrance Ceremony & Parade in Whitehall where we honour the memory of fallen Jewish service men and women in all conflicts but mainly those who fell in the Second World War defending the world from Nazism. How poignant is it that this parade is happening during such a worrying time for British Jews. It behoves us to be there on Sunday to support those brave men who are mostly now all in their 90’s who put their lives on the line during those dark times.
And speaking of dark times, this week, once again rockets rained on Israel towns and cities.
In a blog https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/same-old-anti-semitism-different-jews/ (link) Yair Lapid writes powerfully about anti-Semitism and the current situation.
‘The great Jewish satirist, Ephraim Kishon, once wrote: “The State of Israel wasn’t founded so that anti-Semitism would end. It was founded so that we could tell the anti-Semites to shove it.”
Jews are done being afraid. We’ll fight back. In the legal arena, the press, if we need to use physical force – the State of Israel knows how to do that. If we need to target anti-Semitic terror networks, the Mossad will be there.’
The reason the rockets rained down – was because the terrorist leader of Islamic Jihad was killed by Israel. As Yair Lapid said ‘we will fight back’. And thankfully due to the Iron Dome, the hundreds of missiles sent over to murder men, women and children are not able to cause their full horrendous damage.
However, what about the thousands of years when we didn’t have Israel? When Anti Semites had a free pass at Jew hatred and for centuries we suffered unspeakable cruelty at the hands of our oppressors. However, during those thousands of years, a remarkable thing occurred.
I believe to really understand the Jewish people, one has to understand history, and the remarkable role we have played in it.
However, to understand how we have survived, despite all the odds, one has to look past history, into the world beyond the natural, into the realm of the Divine.
Here is what Sir Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol (1761-1782), said about the Jews in the eighteenth century, before the horrors of the 19th and 20th centuries: “The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most single and illustrious acts of Divine Providence. What, but a Supernatural Power, could have preserved them in such a manner as no other nation has been preserved and no less remarkable, is the destruction of their enemies. Let it serve as a warning to all those who, at any time or occasion, are raising a clamour or persecution against them.”
As Mark Twain famously told us in 1899 ‘The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?’
The answer, in how we have survived while every nation that came to destroy us has disappeared is simple. As we learnt last week in Parshat Lech Lecha, Hashem said to Avraham. “I will make you into a great nation… and I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” Bereishit 12:2-3.
If history and the story of our people has proven anything, it is that Hashem has kept His covenant; His promise to the Jewish people.
We have to realise we are living in unparalleled times. Yes, there is a rise in anti-Semitism, yet never have we as people in the last 2000 years been stronger and more protected. Yet within our community, unlike centuries ago, our connection to the Eternal covenant is weak. Jewish people are drifting away from Torah globally in unprecedented rates.
Yet the current problem could be the solution. If we can remind our community that it is actually the message of the Jewish people that has transformed the world for the better, as Hashem said to Avraham in this week’s Sedra.
‘And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring because you have listened to my voice’ Bereishit 22:18.
However, just before this, Hashem promises Avraham that his offspring will be ‘like the stars of the heaven and like the sand on the seashore.’ Bereishit 22:17. Our Rabbis explained that there are times in history that we will be soaring like the stars and times that we will be trampled underfoot like the sand.
For centuries we were trampled, today we have to realise with Medinat Yisrael and the incredible opportunities for learning and Torah observance – we are the stars in the sky – but we have to inspire the community to realise this.
Yes, we have our enemies but with Hashem’s help we will once again overcome and move ourselves ever closer to the Geulah Shleimah – the final redemption.