Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777: Responsibility as a society
And so we are closing the year 5776 and today we start a new year. Western society, on the secular New Year, believes that we should open a new page, start over, and of course, to celebrate this with huge parties and dinners. It is not so in the tradition of the People of Israel. We believe that even if we do start a new year, we must not forget what happened during the year that ended. On the contrary, we have to take responsibility for our actions and hope that at the end of this year we are starting, that we will be able to repair, to improve and in a year from now, stand here on Erev Rosh Hashanah feeling that we advanced and we are better. That’s the whole point of the season we started with the month of Elul and that we will finish 10 days from now with Yom Kippur. Dear friends, we didn’t have an easy year as a society and a country, neither as human race and Jewish people. In Hebrew we say “may the year and its curses be gone and the new year with its blessings arrives”. I hope that we are aware of the personal curses, the ones we received and the ones we gave, and may all of them go away. It is important, as well, for us to be aware of the collective curses, those that we had as a society and that are responsibility of all of us. We are finishing this year and starting the new one more afraid from terrorism than never before. After terrible attacks in several places in Europe, especially in our neighbour France, we are terrified that the next one will be here. This fear is legitimate, even if we trust our CST and our police to keep us safe. Still, this legitimate fear should not meddle and interfere with our obligations to our fellow human beings, especially refugees from Syria and elsewhere looking for a place to live with dignity. We must take care of ourselves and we must respond with human concern and solidarity to those in the same need that we have been before. If you want to know of ways to do this please contact me after the holidays and I will be happy to direct you the people helping as Jewish Community and Masorti Jews. This year we have been witnesses to hard expressions of racism and xenophobia in our society, before and especially after the Brexit referendum. This hate and prejudice is all too familiar for us as Jews and it doesn’t have a place in modern society, it shouldn’t have a place in modern British society and it is our duty to see that it is so. We are in a period of Teshuvah, of reflection and repentance, and sadly many of the people hating, of the people afraid of those different, will not ask for forgiveness from their victims, on the contrary, they believe they are doing a good thing, a patriotic thing, some even a holy thing. Therefore my friends, it is we who have to ask forgiveness. We as a society are responsible for each other and it is us, good citizens, believers in democracy and human rights, committed modern Jews, we who know that all men were created in God’s image and that Judaism and democracy must and can exist together. It is we who must ask forgiveness for those who won’t ask. Our God is the God of all humanity. It is also the God of the refugees, the God that created little Aylan Kurdi, 3 years old, whose body was washed into the shore last year after he tried to flee the Middle East. It is the God of little Omran Daqneesh, whose picture in shock and covered in dust went around the World. We ask you for forgiveness God, we ask you to be more like the little American boy called Alex, 6 years old, who wrote President Obama asking him to bring Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy, to live with him and his family. “He will be like my brother” he wrote. I wish we all could be a little more like Alex. Our God is the God of the hundreds of EU citizens and British citizens belonging to minorities that have been attacked verbally and physically, shouted to go back home and made feel unsafe and unwanted. Doesn’t matter our stand on immigration, we must be embarrassed and ask again forgiveness. Our God is the God of the Scottish Moslems, where according to my friend Sheikh Amer Jamil, the number of hate crimes against them rose by 89 percent during the last year. Apparently as a response to the terror attacks elsewhere in Europe, as if every Moslem has to pay for the horrible actions of some of them. God we ask you forgiveness. Our God is the God of the victims of terrorism, in France, in the US, in Israel and elsewhere. Those that were killed for being Jewish, those killed for being the wrong kind of Moslem or Christian, those killed for being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual; those killed for being Arab living in Israel. We failed to build a World without violence and therefore we failed to save them. God, we ask you for forgiveness. Our God is the God of Non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, all the streams and groups, that every day battle and fight for equality, acceptance and pluralism in Israeli society. Their Rabbis, including myself, have been called criminals, heretics and have been accused of being guilty for the Shoah. Movements that are trying to show to the majority of Israelis that it is possible to have a different Judaism, one that is not all or nothing. That we must have freedom of religion in Israel now, not in 20 years. It is so ridiculous that only in Israel Jews don’t have freedom of religion in the Western World. Because of all this and more we are sorry, we beg for mercy from you God. All these, the victims from all nations, races, gender, age, religion, they are our heroes. All the attackers, the haters, the ones that do violence, they are our curse. In Rosh Hashanah, when the World stands in trial according to tradition and we sit in our festive tables. When we bless and wish good to ourselves and others, when we pray for a sweet year. When we, a people that know what it is to be a victim, what it is to be helpless, persecuted. A people with scars from a thousand pogroms, hate, forced poverty, prejudice and violence. When we ask blessings for us, let’s ask as well for blessings for these victims, for this and other people that suffer. Let’s wish that they do as well have a good year. May God give us strength and wisdom this year, may we be able to learn from the past and repair what requires fixing. May we all be blessed.