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About Hope

04 March 2022

Dear Members and Friends,

Václav Havel was a Czech politician, playwright, and former dissident, who served as the last president of Czechoslovakia and then as the first democratically elected president of the Czech Republic. Between 1985 and 1986, Havel conducted interviews with the Czech journalist Karel Hvížd’ala, who was living in West Germany at the time. In Czech, the resulting book became an informal and confessional autobiography, called Long-Distance Interrogation. The English translation, Disturbing the Peace, was published in 1990. In it, Havel gives insights into Czech history, the social and political roles of art, and his understanding of the values underlying recent events in Eastern Europe.

Here is a quote from Disturbing the Peace:

'Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.’ (pp. 181-182)

This week’s Torah portion is Pekudei. It describes the final steps of building the Mishkan – a portable Sanctuary that Jews took with themselves wherever they went. It begins with a statistical summary of the materials used for the Tabernacle and ends with a description of God’s presence in it during both day and night. A cloud covered the Mishkan by day, and a fire burned over it by night, indicating God's Presence therein:

'For over the Tabernacle a cloud of The Eternal One rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.’ (Exodus 40:38)

If we read this verse metaphorically, it conveys a beautiful message of hope and support. During the darkness of the night, God provided people with fire, which represents warmth and light. During the light of the day, God appeared to Israelites in smoke, covering the light. It might serve as a reminder that you need to be prepared for the unexpected in the good times. At the same time, during darkness, God sends us the message of hope - because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Shabbat Shalom,
Igor Zinkov

 


Shabbat Vayikra 

11 March 2022

 

Dear Members and Friends,

This is the text of the letter that I sent today to Lord (Richard) Harrington, newly appointed Minister for Refugees and a former member of The LJS.

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright


Dear Lord Harrington,

Congratulations on your peerage and on your new appointment as Minister for Refugees. It is clearly a very difficult and challenging time to enter this office. Last summer saw thousands of Afghan evacuees enter Britain, some of whom are still housed in hotels in Central London, others dispersed around the UK.

Now another crisis faces us – the displacement of over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing a brutal and devastating war in their own country. Many have escaped into neighbouring countries such as Poland, Moldova and Romania and have been met with warm and generous hospitality. Some have gone further afield to Germany and Hungary, where people have opened their homes to offer a place to stay for as long as necessary.

European nations can be proud of their generous response in a time of catastrophic crisis. But what of Britain? What have we offered Ukrainian women and children, leaving behind husbands, fathers and brothers to fight in this dreadful war? What are we doing to make it easy for people to cross over into our country and find refuge here from devastating bombs and artillery?

On Monday, the Home Secretary declared that a Visa Application Centre had been set up in Calais. None had been established and families and individuals were redirected from Calais to Brussels or Paris. Why are ministers continuing to resist waiving of visas? Why not allow Ukrainians to come into the UK and to go through the visa process here? Why are we continuing to make lives difficult for people who have been living in apocalyptic and terrifying conditions in their home cities?

The hostile attitude in this country towards refugees and people seeking asylum is shameful and I am writing to you, in your capacity as Minister for Refugees, to ask you, firstly, together with your colleagues in the Home Office, to create a stream-lined and fast process that will allow Ukrainians to come into the UK as quickly as possible. Secondly, we need to increase the numbers of Ukrainians coming into this country, to include not only those who have family here, but people with no ties to this country, they are the individuals who need to find sanctuary.

Five hundred people have already offered their homes to refugees from within the Jewish community alone and are waiting for arrivals.

In 1938, the UK government allowed 10,000 children to enter this country just before the outbreak of the Second World War. We continually hold up the example of the Kindertransport as a gesture of open hospitality and kindness. But as the daughter of one of those ‘children’ reminded me today, the UK was not generous enough to rescue their parents, and virtually all those children became orphans when their parents and grandparents and countless other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.
 

The UK government has been sluggish and reluctant in its response to the displacement of Ukraine’s citizens. That must change. It is not enough to say that we are working on a scheme to allow Ukrainians without family ties here to come to this country. These times demand urgent and rapid attention now and a different way of working in this time of crisis and catastrophe.

I hope in your new role you will swiftly create a system for displaced Ukrainians to come to the UK and find safety and peace.

Yours sincerely,
Alexandra Wright
Senior Rabbi, The Liberal Jewish Synagogue

We are continuing to encourage people to support World Jewish Relief and the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) who urgently need funds to help refugees. 
The photograph above shows one of the buses paid for by LJS donations to the WUPJ, evacuating refugees from Odessa to Moldova.
You can donate here 


 

Rabbi Igor's Purim message from Warsaw, Poland

18 March 2022

Dear Members and Friends,

On Purim we read the Book of Esther. This is the festival where everything is reversed and turned upside down. Everything in the plot goes against the plan. Although salvation comes and Jewish people are saved, the price is overwhelmingly high. This year, the story of Purim becomes the most relevant for all.

My Purim costume this year is not figurative, not a character, but a concept. This Purim I was dressed as the Paradox of Moral Ambiguity. We live in the world where negative became positive and positive turned out to be negative.



 

 

 

 


This weekend I am in Poland with the mission of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) in my role as a coordinator of WUPJ Ukraine Crisis Fund. There is a tremendous need to help refugees and there are many organisations that provide such support now. My role is to assess the need and to support these organisations and communities.

Here is how it happened. A few days before the war, it was unclear if Putin would attack Ukraine. I pushed these dreadful thoughts away and did not believe those who warned the world about it. I thought it would never happen.

Many people were anxious, and I felt the need to organise Solidarity Shabbat with the Ukrainian Jewish community in partnership with World Union for Progressive Judaism, Liberal Judaism and many others. The service took place at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue and was livestreamed all over the world. Guest speaker was Julia Gris, a Ukrainian progressive Rabbi from Odessa. Together with Julia and with the support of WUPJ we decided to create a Ukraine Crisis Fund. This way, people could express their solidarity in action as well as their presence and words.

When the war started, it became clear that this fund was not just a symbol of solidarity but an urgent necessity. Today those who donate write: ‘It’s good to be able to do something, however small.’ I understand them. It is painful and scary to watch the war, humanitarian catastrophe and refugee crisis unfold. You want to scream, cry, and pray for its end. But the war does not end despite our voices, tears, and quiet conversations with ourselves.

Over the last three weeks Carole Sterling - chair of WUPJ - and I coordinate the WUPJ Ukraine Crisis Fund. This is a Jewish international fund. We hope that one day we will spend this money on building synagogues and communities, training Rabbis and Jewish educators, musicians, organising seminars, summer camps and many exciting programmes. But all of it will come later. Now we must do everything we can to help and support those in need - people in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees. Although the fund is Jewish, we help everybody.

Thanks to the Kyiv Progressive community and their good friends, there is a house near Warsaw that gives shelter to up to 150 refugees. This guest house belongs to a Christian family that had personal connection with Kyiv progressive community opened their home to members of Ukrainian Jewish community. We cover all expenses of this house. Many of congregants of Ukrainian Jewish communities are currently finding shelter, food, and support there.

My colleagues and I try to be in touch with as many people as possible daily and ask if they need help. Sometimes we help with information, sometimes with action, but often – with money. I know that money alone cannot help in most circumstances, but at least I can help people and communities to make sure that money is not something they should worry about when they flee from war. We transfer money to refugees’ bank accounts to make their relocation a little bit easier. So far we helped over 80 people this way.

10 days ago we learned that the Odessa community has run out of money to pay for busses that evacuate people to the border. The money was transferred and arrived within a few days. All donations from the Liberal Jewish Synagogue went to this project. Please see a few photos from Odessa that show evacuation buses in Odessa bus station with the LJS logo on it.



Thank you all who are with me at this heavy task – all members and council of the LJS, all WUPJ Staff, but especially those who are in Ukraine or from there – Alexander Gaydar, Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, and Rabbi Julia Gris. They are real heroes, and I cannot imagine what they are going through.

Rabbi John Rayner wrote: “It is not enough to pray for peace. We have to work for it….” I would like to add. If war has already started, it is not enough to pray for its end. We need to save as many lives as we can.
Some time ago, I read stories about kindness in the midst of darkness and destruction. People told me stories of righteous who help those in sorrow and pain. Today there are many people who suffer and are in pain. I think the number of such people will only grow. These are the people who are at war or run from war – children, elderly, international students and workers, as well as those who lived there for many generations. It is cold, and they are running away – in overcrowded trains, cars, or walking. We must help them.

It so happened that every day I speak with those whose peaceful lives were interrupted and destroyed. I cannot stop thinking that I do not do enough, but at least I cannot say that I did not try.

We must help those who need it. Not everyone can go to the border and help refugees, but many can help in other ways.

If you would like to host a Ukrainian refugee, please register here

If you know anyone who needs help – please let me know.

If you can – please donate. The link is here

For donations in GBP, please do so via the LJS website, and put 'Ukraine' in the notes.

Shabbat shalom and Purim sameach!

Igor Zinkov
 


Shabbat Shemini

25 March 2022

Dear Members and Friends,

I have been searching for nests in the densely leaved hedges around the edge of my new garden. Surely, I think to myself as I watch one bird, and then another, dart out from the thickest part of the privet, there must be someone in there sitting on some eggs. But there is nothing visible and I wonder if I should step back and leave my neighbours some privacy.

Then, early this week, standing at a window upstairs, I see a blackbird perched on the guttering of the house next door with some dry grass in its long, yellow beak. I watch for a few minutes; its little head is tilted upwards, the straw-coloured strands poking out either side of its mouth. The bird trips off the edge of the gutter and, as quick as lightning, darts into a very small opening just underneath, into the eaves of the house. A few minutes later, a second bird follows, crossing the lawn from the branches of a budding willow outside my window.

In this new and different environment, I am beginning to identify my neighbours – a robin that alights on the branches of a holly bush outside my front door, and blue tits that fly right on to the window-sill of my study. The blackbird couple have been busy all morning and the sounds of singing and chirping fill the air.

To be able to stand at my window and watch these living creatures prepare for new life, to see spring unfurl itself from the stiff frosts of winter and to notice the green sap surging through branches of trees in this new neighbourhood where I am living – this, I am conscious, is a privilege. The nights are quiet and life is continuing in its usual way, following the cycle of the seasons, the wildlife doing what it does at this time every year.

And I ask myself, how can I indulge in this beauty and gentleness, how can I write about it when not so far away there are cities pulverized and devastated by missiles and artillery; when thousands have lost their lives and millions are on the move. One image from the past few days stays with me – a small child, her eyes screwed tight, her face full of distress and her hand touching the window-pane of a train as she reaches out for her father, left behind to fight in Ukraine.

You see the tired faces of the soldiers after a month of relentless fighting, defending their homeland. The deeply-lined contours of older men, the smooth chins of boys barely out of their teenage years, long-haired women, all bearing arms, all resolute in fighting to hold fast to their country. There is a timelessness to this war – a war fought out of time, or in another time, not in our century, maybe seventy or eighty years ago. Perhaps even two hundred.

How is it possible that such a war can be fought in our own age? How is it that all the beauty of the world, its natural processes, its music and poetry, art and literature, and everything we have learnt since the wars of the last century, could not hold back the barbarism and destruction we see daily?

There is a failure in our humanity. In what brings us life – this beautiful spring morning, a Beethoven quartet, the ethical imperative that demands justice, compassion, peace, truth – where are these? We wring our hands helplessly; we dig our hands into our pockets to give as much as we can afford, but it is not enough.
 

‘Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons,
And the turtledove, swift, and crane
Keep the time of their coming;
But My people pay no heed
To the law of the Eternal One… (Jeremiah 8:7)

We learn, says the Torah, from the beasts of the field, we gain wisdom from the birds of the air – modesty from the cat, that stealing is objectionable from the ant and faithfulness from the dove. It is such a small thing to stop and witness and learn from the labour of this natural world of which we are a part.

I text my son to tell him about the two blackbirds and the little hole in the gutter of next door’s house. He texts back: ‘Hopefully an – he inserts here a tiny image of a bird of prey – doesn’t get them.’

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright

Sun, 27 November 2022 3 Kislev 5783