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A change of perspective

Friday 3 April 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

As we conclude this second week when so many of us have been isolated in our homes and unable to go out, our community is very much in our thoughts. And to all those suffering from the virus – some more critically than others – you are the subject of our most fervent prayers for healing and strength as we anticipate Shabbat and the festival of our liberation, Pesach, which begins next Wednesday evening.

We put our faith in so many things – in facts and figures, in science and medicine, in technology and its possibilities to transcend the most impossible circumstances of life. We place our faith in the turning of the seasons, in the flowing of rivers and tides of the seas. Even in darkness, when the sun is hidden from us, we know and believe in its presence. And we have faith in our freedom and in our human capacity to do yet more than we have accomplished already.

In an age of rationalism, we have often dismissed our faith in the things we cannot see or about which we have no certainty. Or perhaps we have simply been indifferent to them. Despite the immense upheavals of our time – whether the climate catastrophe, the roller-coasting of our nation’s economic health, the plight of millions of refugees across the world – we have put our faith in the tangibles and material realities of life, rather than in the hidden realities of our existence.

There is a difference, says the great Israeli scholar and author, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, between the two levels of faith, ‘faith in conventional wisdom, and faith in God.’ This difference, he says

‘is not grounded in any psychological disparity, but rather in societal norms. When a person says that he is a nonbeliever, it is not a very accurate statement. A real nonbeliever would not get out of bed. If he did get out of bed, he would not take a step, because almost everything that we do depends on hundreds or thousands of beliefs, from believing that the sun will rise tomorrow to believing that salt is still salty’ (Simple Words, 1999).

Illness and suffering test our faith in those perceived certainties. We ask ourselves, why is this happening to us? Why is a loved one afflicted in this way? Why are some dying and others recovering from a virus which locks into our respiratory cells, hijacking them, multiplying and colonising other cells?

And yet, at the same time, the acute and unprecedented nature of these last weeks, has summoned in us a different kind of faith, or perhaps, more accurately, a different perception of the world. The demands made on us and on our patience have tested our faith in certainty and made us question the meaning and purpose of our lives. No longer can we rely on common sense or knowledge, no longer feel confident in what will happen tomorrow or the day after, next week or even in a month.

And what of this new perception? Is it bringing about a re-orientation of our values? Are we not seeing that there is strength in community and friendship, in the kindness of strangers, in volunteering to be in touch even with those we don’t know? Are we leaning more on prayer and the ancient words of our liturgy: ‘Heal those who are in pain or anxiety, grant them perfect healing of body and mind’? And are we allowing ourselves, in the midst of our fear and anxiety about the virus, to have faith in the beauty and grandeur of our world – from the wind-swept daffodils that are already coming to the end of their brief lives, to the rich fragrance of wood-shavings and the sound of birdsong in the woods?

Are these the leaps of faith we are making in these frightening and anxious times? Building bridges with others, listening more carefully to each other, finding ways of building our own resilience and sense of hope? Faith is part of who we are, embedded deep in our spirit. It is not always, says Steinsaltz, ‘such a tremendous, overpowering emotional experience.’ It is a small step, sometimes unconscious, but a moment of profound change.

The world is changing and we, too, are changing. As we approach our great festival of freedom, we pray for freedom. Freedom from fear and anxiety, freedom to trust in ourselves and in each other. This is our time of faith, a struggle to realise our vision for something new that will give us light and hope in the future.

Shabbat Shalom

Alexandra Wright

 

There is no 10th April Thought for the Week

Coping during Coronavirus

Friday 17 April 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

In the Talmud, Berakhot 9b we find a discussion around how to determine the start of the day. This is in the midst of a conversation around when one should say the morning Shema. Much of the text focuses on the logic that it is morning when one is able to differentiate certain shades of colour from others. Then the argument changes, focusing not on the colours that are recognisable but instead the living beings.

The text shares: 

It was taught, Rabbi Meir says that the day begins when one can distinguish between a wolf and a dog. Rabbi Akiva says between a donkey and a wild donkey. And other rabbis say: When one can see another person, from a distance of four cubits and recognize them. (Berakhot 9b:12).

Both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva argue that the day begins when it is bright enough for similar-looking animals to be identifiable. Other rabbis then argue that a day begins when you can recognize someone from some distance away. 

In these times we are living in I was struck by the relevance of this text; the day begins when you see others and recognize them. It is hard to remember what day it is, what week it is, while staying home and not engaging face to face with others. It does in some ways feel as though these days are passing one into the next, into the next, without any real differentiation. Being in community with others allows us to mark time, to give and to receive, to engage in life in a synergistic way. There is so very much being offered by the synagogue to allow for our community to continue to do what we do best: pray together, learn together, do tikkun olam together, be together.

However, it still is difficult to be separated. We had a council meeting on Thursday and had the chance to speak about what the community has been doing to move to a virtual synagogue family. It was an inspiring meeting, including a pause at 8:00pm for all of us to go outside and clap for the heroic members of the NHS and other key workers. In a discussion at the end of the meeting around how remarkable it is that we were able to have this meeting over Zoom and have fruitful discussions around plans for the synagogue, someone commented that even so they are looking forward to being back in the synagogue. However much we each are trying to make our way through this uncertain time, protecting those around us by staying home and staying safe, it is difficult. 

This week marked the end of Passover, the festival celebrating our liberation from slavery. We eat unleavened bread reminding ourselves that our enslaved ancestors didn’t have time to let their dough rise before they needed to leave to freedom. In the uncertain times they were living in, not knowing when or if they would be freed from their confines, they still were baking bread, they still were investing themselves in what they could to keep themselves nourished. And we must do the same; we do not know, day to day, what these next few months will look like but we must try to keep ourselves nourished. We must tend to our physical, spiritual and emotional needs as best we can.

It is essential that in addition to supporting others in and outside of our community, that we also tend to our own needs in a time when we are isolated from those who help us to differentiate our days. If you are struggling physically, spiritually or emotionally and need support please do reach out to one of the rabbis or to Community Care Coordinator Aviva Shafritz at a.shafritz@ljs.org 

It is traditional to sing the Song of the Sea on the seventh day of Passover, the words of praise marked by the Israelites as they are passing through the parted sea to freedom. When we have made our way, as a human family, through this mitzrayim - this narrow time, we will continue to wail our laments but we will also sing our songs of joy and gratitude. Please God soon, like Miriam we will be able to pick up our timbrels and be together in a community in deep mourning for the loss of sacred life and with comfort that as a human family we have seen our way through this troubling time. 

Today is a new day, however much it might feel lost in the shadow of the trauma we are living through, remember to care for yourself and find a way to mark this day as different from the one before and the one after, ' this is the day Adonai has made, let us exult and rejoice in it' (Psalm 118:24).

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom, I hope there are moments of peace and joy in your day

As ever,

Shabbat Shalom

Elana Dellal

The importance of hope

Friday 24 April 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

One of my teachers used to say: ‘As a Rabbi, I am commanded to hope’. This teaching has accompanied me throughout my life. All of us have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak and, I am sure, many of us have been thinking of the changes which will follow when this is over. On the one hand, it is too early to draw any conclusions and learn lessons from the current situation. On the other hand, it is not too late to dream about the renewed world after COVID-19. I started to think about it last week and included some of my thoughts in my sermon, but I developed it a bit further for this week’s 'Thought for the Week'.

I took a moment and tried to imagine the ideal future world and the changes which I hope will happen for all of us. Here are my five dreams about the ‘World to Come’:

1. Communities matter. They say that the sincerest prayer is the prayer uttered on an aeroplane during a period of turbulence. We do not always remember our communities during times of prosperity and success, but it is in times of crisis when we need our communities the most. Community, interconnection, and interdependence are the highest values for Jewish people, and I hope it will remain so in the future. Community is what gives us power, support, and strength. In the world of my dreams, we will remember to support and strengthen our communities, even when this time of global turbulence and crisis is over.

2. Expertise is back. ‘Post-truth’ and ‘fake news’ should no longer be tolerated. This outbreak demonstrated very well that it is not enough to make claims with confidence. In the world of my dreams, we listen to experts and act based on scientific truth and not according to political need.

3. Cooperation is important. The world is more interconnected than many of us wish it were. In the world of my dreams, the bonds between nations, peoples, and countries are strong and genuine. The world before the coronavirus outbreak was the world which built fences and enhanced borders. In the world of my dreams, we will start building bridges and connections again - it saves lives.

4. People are not too proud to receive support. In the world after the Second World War there was a high rate of depression and mental struggle among middle and upper-class people - those who used to be successful but lost their businesses and jobs during the crisis. In the world of my dreams, people are not afraid and not too proud to receive help when they need it. In the words of Siddur Lev Chadash: ‘May we never be too mean to give, nor too proud to receive, for in giving and receiving we discover You, and begin to understand the meaning of life.’

5. No charity is as strong as government. When we organise a social action project as a community, it helps those who need support now. However, it does not always solve the core of the issue. Today it is clear that governments can act in a compassionate way and support people. In the world of my dreams, compassion, justice and lovingkindness are the main principles of society and the core values of those who are in power.
These are all my dreams and hopes; they may or may not come true. But as a Rabbi, I am commanded to hope.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Igor Zinkov

Sun, 25 October 2020 7 Cheshvan 5781