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Dreams of the ideal future

04 December 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

Last Shabbat in my sermon I spoke about Jacob’s Dream as an inspiration to fulfil our potential and to achieve the best possible future. I invited the community to create our own vision of the ideal world after the pandemic. I was not surprised to know that we have so many talented and visionary members and friends. Many people sent their expression of future dreams. I am very grateful for all contributions, and I would like to share three dreams of the ideal future from our members.

Katherine Tack opened her dream saying: 'since our world is real but not an ideal place, we can change the things around us and so to righten the past for a better future no matter how significant or insignificant these changes may seem.' Katherine wrote an important and inspiring text, calling us to set an example by doing good deeds of charity as we see real issues in our world.1

Hilary Totterman wrote a beautiful poem 'We know we can we are we have we keep...' It is written in the present tense which makes it a powerful inspiration for us today. The poem ends with the following vision:2
 
We have time to notice more
To be in tune with each other
So we can be kind extraordinarily
We surprise and amaze each other
We have time to be silent
Time to truly listen
We keep life simple
We know what really matters
And we do it
Together

Judith King expressed her dream in music.  She recorded herself playing the end of Schumann's Arabesque Opus 18. In the accompanying message she wrote: 'it means a lot to me, and it is always the piece I play last thing at night, as it brings peace and hope.' I hope it will bring peace and hope to all those who will listen to it.3

In this week’s Torah portion, we find Jacob on the way back to his homeland. After many years in Haran, Jacob acquired wealth and a large family. He will meet his brother Esau and reconcile with him. Today, when we are in the position of the pandemic, we often feel that we have little control over our lives and our future. Perhaps, Jacob’s story can be an inspiration for us that trust and belief in a better future is the best blessing we can give to ourselves. May our Judaism and our community be an inspiration for all our dreams to come true.

Ken Yehi Ratzon. May this be God’s will.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Igor

1. Read the full text of Katherine Tack’s vision of the ideal future here

2. Read the full text of Hilary Totterman’s poem here  

3. Listen to Judith King playing the end of Schumann's Arabesque Opus 18 here

Vayeshev/Chanukkah

11 December 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

Perhaps it happens once in every forty years or so – the coincidence of the first night of Chanukkah and Human Rights Day on December 10th, as it did so this year.  The last time the first candle of Chanukkah occurred on Human Rights Day was in 1982 – the year of the Falklands War, the year Mark Thatcher went missing in the Sahara, the year of Martina Navratilova, ET, the year Prince William was born.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was co-drafted by the French Jewish jurist and activist, Monsieur René Cassin (1887-1976).  It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 and René Cassin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968. ‘There will never be peace on this planet as long as human rights are being violated in any part of the world,’ he wrote.

Rahima Mahmut is the UK Project Director of the World Uyghur Congress.  A few months ago, she spoke at an event the LJS co-hosted with the organisation that has taken René Cassin’s name, the Jewish voice for human rights.  This is what she writes about Chanukkah and her own people, incarcerated in so-called re-education camps in China, forced to break their Muslim traditions and laws:

Tonight I light a candle for the festival of Chanukkah, the "Genocide that nearly happened." The Greeks tried to wipe out your religion and culture as the Chinese Government tries to wipe out ours. The Greeks made you eat pork as the Chinese Government forces us Uyghur Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol. As the Greeks desecrated your temple, the Chinese Government desecrates our mosques and burial grounds. You fought against the Greeks and won your freedom. Now you are fighting for us and our freedom. The candles of Chanukkah burn as a symbol of light and hope that just as you won your liberation, we will win ours, with God's help and that of our Jewish and non-Jewish friends around the world.

It is the endless question: what lies behind the oppression of one people by another?  Why can’t we accept diversity and difference?  Difference has become a dirty word, pejorative in some ways and yet our customs and traditions, our beliefs and languages, our food and what we wear, all this cultural richness are the very stuff of the world.

‘I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive,’ writes the American author, social activist and feminist, bell hooks (yes, she spells the first letters of her name in the lower case), ‘full of hope and possibility. Not this “in order to love you, I must make you something else.”  That’s what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.’

Learning to accept – no, not simply accept, but to love and appreciate – difference, is a process of remaking and recasting ourselves.  We learn implicit associations from infancy, said Femi Otitoju, Wednesday’s trainer on the Unconscious Bias course, and unlearning them means retraining our neural pathways. 

As we light our candles for Chanukkah this year, we do so with hope and anticipation that a vaccine will help to arrest the spread of Covid-19 and begin to save lives.  Intelligent minds, scientific knowledge and creativity from around the world have been the drivers behind the hoped-for success of the vaccine.

At the same time, we need to ask ourselves whether we can we use those attributes to address the other major challenges in our world?  The climate emergency, poverty, growing inequality and the deluded vision of a Britain that imagines it can sail off alone into the sunset. 

We add one candle each night in our Chanukkiah, said Beit Hillel, d’ma’alin ba-kodesh v’eyn moridin – because one goes up to a higher level in matters of holiness, one does not go down.  We need greater numbers, we need partnerships, we need to sign treaties, we need to collaborate and cooperate and work closely with our nearest neighbours.   And we add one candle each night to spread the light, to create a broader and more diverse vision, not just for ourselves, but for all peoples wherever they live in the world.

Shabbat shalom, 

Alexandra Wright
 
Please join the Koleinu Service on Shabbat morning at 11.00 am with Rabbi Alex via Zoom. Click here for the Zoom link. 

Don't let the light go out!

18 December 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

Today is the last day of Chanukkah, the Jewish Festival of light, hope, and home decorations. It is not a coincidence that the day with the tradition of candle lighting is so near to the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Many religions share the custom of candles lighting in late December-early January. It is an attempt to bring balance to the world and to fill darkness with light.

In an effort to explain the metaphorical darkness - disorder and chaos of the world - great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria proposed in 1570 a concept of Sh’virat Ha-Kelim, or the ‘breaking of the vessels.’ According to this poetic metaphor, In the beginning of Creation, the Divine Light was contained in special vessels. Unable to contain the powerful current of light, they shattered, and the light was scattered all over the world in the form of countless Divine sparks. These sparks are still around us and can be found in the most unexpected places.

In his book ‘The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul.’ Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz suggests that all people are vessels which can contain such sparks of the Divine light. Our task is to gather as much light as possible and train ourselves to become better and stronger vessels. Once your own vessel is full, you should not stop there, but continue to gather the light so that it overflows for people around you to collect.

There are many broken aspects in our world today. We should not turn a blind eye to what is happening and do our best to repair the broken parts. However, it is important to be able to see and acknowledge all good parts of our world too. One thing that we have seen all over the world is that kindness is prevailing in uncertain times. People are coming together to sing on balconies in Italy, others are offering support to the elderly or vulnerable friends and neighbours, there are many stories of people having virtual talks, tea parties, and film nights over video or phone calls. The Mental Health Foundation recommends us to do small acts of kindness and be grateful recipients of the kindness of others. Such acts can seem too small and insignificant, but they help to keep the light within us alive. Acts of kindness and support are the Divine sparks and the source of our strengths and hope. As Peter Yarrow put in his song ‘Don't let the light go out’:

We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail.
Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years.
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears.
 

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Igor

Sun, 24 January 2021 11 Sh'vat 5781