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16/06/2017

Thought of the Week - Friday 16 June

Dear Members and Friends,

There is a familiar and frightening litany of tragic events taking place, far too frequently, and far too close to home: a catastrophe of terrible magnitude, the announcement of those known to have died, those admitted to hospital, in critical care or discharged.  And then, when a few days have passed - the missing.  The reports, the photographs, the video recordings of this most recent tragedy, the fire that consumed Grenfell Tower Block, are all utterly heart breaking.

There is no news of one young man's entire family - his mother, father and all his siblings.  The sheer uncertainty, the unknowing for so many individuals and families, must be unbearable.  The younger brother of another man weeps as he tells reporters how he left his flat in the early hours of Wednesday morning as the fire took hold, thinking that his brother was following. 

These are images and words that will stay with us - the burning building, enveloped in flames, the traumatised figures waving at windows, the final messages of love and forgiveness, the desperation of those trying to save their children - reminiscent of those frightening photographs of 9/11. 

This tragedy is unimaginable.  Today, the tower block is a blackened shell, its great steer girders charred wrecks, every single home gutted and burnt to an absolute cinder.  And the missing?  The reports that perhaps they will never be identified must be nothing less than agonising for those who are left. 

Today June 16th, as our thoughts remain with all those so profoundly affected by this fire and with the emergency services, themselves traumatised, still picking over the building as, no doubt, they will be for many weeks to come, the family of the murdered MP Jo Cox are marking the first anniversary of her death in a way that pays tribute to the extraordinary values of openness, compassion and honesty that characterised the 41 year old MP.

Jo's family and friends have initiated 'The Great Get Together', inviting individuals and communities to come together this weekend in a celebration of all that unites us. Schools and charities, businesses and sports clubs, communities and neighbours, are hosting more than 450 events throughout the country in order to remember the MP who, in her maiden speech spoke these words: 'Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.'

In the same speech, she also spoke of her own constituency, Batley and Spen, which, she said, was lacking confidence - because of the non-existent rate of economic growth, the lack of decent wages, the gap that exists between those with skills and those without, the stripping of resources to already impoverished areas, the harshest of cuts.

Jo Cox's death and the death of an uncounted number of children, women and men in Grenfell Tower, the homelessness of those who have lost absolutely everything, grieves us all terribly - and this is a grief that is not normal - the needless trauma that will stay with all those who are left behind. 

I have no doubt that each one of us is affected by the dreadfulness of these events; but there also needs to be a connection with the lives of those for whom we, as a society, have not cared for nearly enough.  Jo Cox was absolutely right - we have stripped away, to the bone, the rights and resources of those to whom we owe far more: their homes and living conditions, opportunities for their children, their wages and the opportunities for conversations with those who should have a voice about what they need, what is right for all those - living in those tower blocks or in other accommodation, in jobs or circumstances that leave them at the mercy of others.

If our Judaism teaches us anything, it is that injustice is utterly shameful, and that we have to learn step by painful step to 'do good, to devote ourselves to justice, to help those who have been wronged, to uphold the rights of the orphan; and defend the cause of the widow' (Isaiah 1:17).  That is our task; that is the task of our leadership and all of us who have a voice and vote in the direction that our country is now going to take.

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright

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