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Shabbat Emor

5 May 2023
 

Dear Members and Friends,
 

I hope some of you will join us at the synagogue on Shabbat morning as we celebrate what Abraham Joshua Heschel called ‘the coronation of a day in the spiritual wonderland of time’, referring to the glorification of the Sabbath – a day of delight to the soul and to the body.

I know that many of you will wish to be at home or perhaps even lining the streets to acknowledge this historic moment of another kind of coronation.  The crowning of a new king, the first time in seventy years.

I was visiting my daughter in the United States in September when the news came that the Queen had died.  Alone in the house where we were staying, I sat on the front doorstep and felt immeasurably sad.  During the seventy years of her reign, she had served her people with devotion and grace, uniting races, creeds and tongues with outstretched hand and cheerful countenance.  She was discreet, dignified and utterly dedicated to her role as Queen.  And she possessed a sincere faith that must have sustained her through the tribulations and trials of her life.

As the Prince of Wales, King Charles visited The Liberal Jewish Synagogue on several occasions, wearing a kippah embroidered with his own insignia – three white feathers emerging from a gold coronet and with the words ‘Ich dien’ – ‘I serve’.

But it was at an event to celebrate the Jewish community at Buckingham Palace, just before  Chanukkah in 2019, when I heard him speak movingly and with great sincerity about the ‘special and precious’ connection between the Crown and the Jewish community and the contribution the Jewish people have made to the well-being of this country.  And he added these words:

‘I say this from a particular and personal perspective because I have grown up being deeply touched by the fact that British synagogues have, for centuries, remembered my Family in your weekly prayers. And as you remember my Family, so we too remember and celebrate you. I am thinking not just of the most prominent members of our Jewish community who, through the ages, have literally transformed this country for the better.  I am thinking also, crucially, of those who are not household names, but who are the cornerstones of their own local communities. They are the people who, I am delighted to say, make up the larger part of this evening’s guest list and to whom I want to offer particular gratitude.’

At the end of the Coronation, a deeply religious, ancient and traditional Christian ceremony, the king will make his outward procession to the music of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, no. 4 and Sir Hubert Parry’s March from The Birds and, in an unprecedented gesture, consolidating the diversity of the Realms, will receive a greeting by leaders and representatives from faith communities, including the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who will say to him:

‘Your Majesty, as neighbours in faith, we acknowledge the value of public service.  We unite with people of all faiths and beliefs in thanksgiving, and in service with you for the common good.’

As we celebrate this once in a lifetime occasion tomorrow, may I invite you, wherever you are to reflect on the words of our own specially written prayer for the well-being of our new sovereign, and the hope that through his influence generations to come will grow up to care deeply for each other and for the earth they inhabit.

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright

 

A Prayer to mark the Coronation of King Charles III
Shabbat Emor – May 6 2023

For the King on his Majesty’s coronation

Eternal God, who laid the foundations of the earth and fixed its dimensions, whose presence dwells with all creation, we stand together at this solemn and historic hour to celebrate the coronation of a new King, Charles III.

We ask You, O God, to sustain and support the King’s service to this nation, to the realms and to the Commonwealth; endow him with righteousness that he may do justly.  Let him champion the lowly among the people, deliver the needy and rebuke those who wrong them.

May he foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely. 
May he find the freedom and strength to speak out against cruelty and injustice and to lead by example, living in harmony with nature, conserving its resources, diversity and beauty for future generations so that they too may reap in joy.

May his reign be governed by truth, judgement and peace, as it is said, ‘These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates’ (Zechariah 8:16).

‘Let him be like rain that falls on a mown field,
Like a downpour of rain on the ground,
That the righteous may flourish in his time,
And well-being abound, till the moon is no more…
May he care about the poor and needy…
Redeeming our world from fraud and lawlessness…
Let the king live, let prayers for him be said always,
Blessings on him invoked at all times.
Blessed is the Eternal One, God of Israel,
Who alone does wondrous things;
Blessed is God’s glorious name forever;
God’s glory fills the whole world.  Amen and Amen 
(from Psalm 72).


War and Peace in Israel and Palestine 

12 May 2023
 

Dear Members and Friends,

War and Peace is a historical novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published in 1869. The novel is set in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and tells the story of five aristocratic families and their interactions during this period of turmoil. The novel explores themes such as love, war, ambition, family, and the nature of human existence. It is known for its complex characters, detailed historical background, and philosophical insights into life, death, and society.

Last week I was in Israel, participating in the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s international conference. During my time there, I could not stop thinking about Tolstoy’s War and Peace. From the moment I landed, I started to reflect on my relationship with the country. On one hand, I lived in Israel for over one and a half years before and during my rabbinic studies. But, on the other hand, Israeli reality often felt heavy and tense, and this visit was not an exception. You can feel great tensions in Israeli society today more than ever – religious vs secular, West Bank settlers vs anti-occupation activists, those who are pro-judicial reforms vs those who are against them.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another long-standing source of tension in Israeli society. It is a dispute over land with deep political and religious ties. It began in the late 19th century when Jewish immigrants settled in Palestine, leading to a war in 1948. Several Arab-Israeli wars followed, and eventually, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Days War. The conflict remains unresolved, with both sides deeply entrenched in their positions.

Perhaps Leo Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace, could provide a valuable perspective on this conflict. One of the messages of War and Peace is a critique of war and the aristocratic society of the 19th-century Russian Empire. Tolstoy presents war as a senseless and brutal activity that destroys lives and families. In addition, he portrays the aristocracy as a corrupt and self-serving group that is out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

Tolstoy writes: "Power is the collective will of the people transferred, by expressed or tacit consent, to their leaders. But that transfer can be neither intentional nor definite when the people's will is unknown, and a people's will can be known only by a meeting of the people." (Book One, Chapter 10)

In the context of the novel, the aristocracy holds much of the power, but Tolstoy suggests that this power is illegitimate without the consent of the people. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today, the leadership on both sides has often been rightly accused of being out of touch with their people's needs and desires, more focused on maintaining their power than on finding ways to establish lasting peace. 

Tolstoy also suggests that a deep commitment to empathy and understanding can transcend even the most profound differences between people. Genuine understanding and mutual recognition of each other’s pain can be the first step towards peace and harmony.

This week we read the news about yet another escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I hope that one day we will see its leaders not launching rockets at one another, but apologising and taking responsibility for the pain and suffering they have caused each other. May this be God’s will and may it happen soon, in our days! 

Shabbat Shalom,
Igor

 


Shabbat B'Midbar


19 May 2023
 

Dear Members and Friends,


Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim – ‘Jerusalem Day’, the day which commemorates the 1967 reunification of the eastern and western parts of the divided city; the former having been under Jordanian rule since 1948, the latter under Israeli rule.

It was on the third day of the Six Day War in 1967, that the Israeli army captured the ancient, eastern part of the city, the first time in thousands of years that Jerusalem had come under Jewish sovereignty. 

It is the newest of all holidays in the calendar, although scarcely acknowledged outside Israel, and representing a deeply polarising day for many Israelis, who see it as a cruel opportunity for ultra-nationalists to demonstrate their triumph over Palestinian Arabs. For many years, the so-called March of the Flags through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City has created flashpoints of violence and conflict between Jews and Arabs. And sadly, it is this that marks out the day’s events rather than anything else.

In a podcast made by the Hartman Institute, Donniel Hartman recalls the moment in 1967 when young paratroopers stood in awe at the Western Wall – ‘one of the most indelible scenes of modern Jewish history.’ And yet, it was a moment, he said, that changed the State of Israel. 


‘Yom Yerushalayim was intended to be the culmination of the Israeli high holiday season, the crowning moment of the Jewish people’s transition from destruction to rebirth and yet, rather than a moment of culmination, Yom Yerushalayim leaves much of Israeli society indifferent, and often indignant, about the questions it raises about the nation’s direction.’


Veterans of Israel’s Six Day War recall that moment of unification with the same awe and gratitude, and yet there is also a deep ambivalence.  For they cannot help but acknowledge the ultra-nationalism that has led to a continuous 56-year-old occupation of the Palestinian Territories and, as Hartman says, the reality of Israel’s occupation has shattered any meaning or significance of the day: ‘I believe that in many ways, the story of Israel is going to depend on the way we change, if and how we change this day, because it’s expressive in my mind of the worst of what we can do.’

It must be incredibly difficult for Israelis to hear words such as these, and yet, tragically, Hartman speaks the truth.  I have a day, he says, when I can celebrate the freedom and independence of the Jewish people, and that is Yom Ha-Atzma’ut (Israel’s Independence Day).  We don’t need a second day, he adds, and definitely not a second day that ‘celebrates our dominance over others.’

In the weekday Amidah, the fourteenth blessing alludes to verses from Isaiah and Psalm 122, asking that God’s presence may dwell in Jerusalem, ‘and Zion be filled with justice and righteousness. May peace be in her gates and quietness in the hearts of her inhabitants.  Let Your Teaching go forth from Zion, Your word from Jerusalem’ (Siddur Lev Chadash, pp. 57-58).

Of all the petitionary prayers that occur here, this is the blessing that fills me, too often, with a sense of foreboding and hopelessness.  Because ultra-nationalism, in its extreme form, extracts justice and righteousness from the city, and what is left is the very reverse – hatred and triumphalism by a vociferous minority against Palestinian Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem, against women who wish to pray at the Kotel, against those who in the eyes of the ultra-orthodox are dressed immodestly, against progressive Jews and the LGBT+ community, anyone who does not conform to the attitudes and beliefs of its leaders.

How can we pray for peace and quietness in Jerusalem’s gates knowing that nearly 40% of Jerusalem’s inhabitants are not citizens of Israel but designated ‘permanent residents.’  How can we pray for God’s teaching to go forth from Zion, when we know that Jerusalem’s Arab residents have fewer rights, when they suffer from socio-economic deprivation, when they live without hope of a land of their own?

B’Midbar (The Book of Numbers), which we begin reading this week, describes each clan of the Israelites encamped in the wilderness, each unit under its own degel (flag or standard). The description is military, the banners representing the force of the men in each tribal group. A midrash plays on this word degel – the flags (degalim) were grandeur (gedulah) and separation (geder) for Israel.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine will only be resolved when it is possible for all Jerusalem’s residents to become citizens, fully recognised without grandeur or triumph of one over another, without separation, and when all can celebrate the beauty of this ancient city which has been home to many people of diverse faiths, races and nationalities over the millennia.

Shabbat Shalom,

Alexandra Wright

 



Listening in a World of Many Opinions. Patience in a World of Quick Solutions.

25 May 2023
 

Dear Members and Friends,

This week we celebrate Shavuot. One of the traditions of Shavuot is to study all night long. This year, the LJS follows this tradition and has organised an all-night event, but please feel free to join or leave at any point during the programme. We will begin with a service at 6.45pm on Friday 26 May, followed by a buffet supper during which we will hold our annual cheesecake competition. Please prepare your best recipes or come to be a judge.

The intellectual theme of the night is "Listen! שמע” It will include conversations about the following topics:
• Listening in a world of many opinions 
• Israel and its current crisis of democracy 
• The climate emergency

After supper, there will be a performance of Maya Goldstein’s remarkable one-woman show, Za’atar Rain, which has had fantastic reviews. The programme will also include guests from 'Oasis of Peace' - the Israeli village where Palestinians and Israelis live together; the premiere and a discussion of the photo exhibition 'Queer Religion', a Q&A on 'Za'atar Rain’, a discussion about Jewish values considering climate change, an ice-cream making workshop and much more.

To see the full programme and register, please click here. (If you are a member or friend of the LJS, please log in to ensure you do not pay for tickets.) 

There is a strong link between Pesach – the festival of Exodus and liberation - and Shavuot – the celebration of receiving the Torah. 

On a ceremonial level, this connection is reflected in the counting of Omer, 49 days from the second day of Pesach to Shavuot. 

How is the Festival of Freedom connected to the Festival of Receiving the Torah? Jewish scholars linked the main ideas of these festivals. They concluded that the liberation from Egypt became purposeful only after the Israelites took responsibility for their own Law at Sinai. 

We live in a world of quick solutions and short attention spans. Prompt delivery of goods brings much comfort to our lives. But many things in human life cannot be delivered or fixed quickly. The Jewish calendar has a vital message built-in in the period between Pesach and Shavuot. Sometimes potential can only be realised with time. The festival of liberation is not complete until the festival of law and teaching. The world can, should and must change and improve, but it is important to remember that any improvement takes time. True and holistic freedom can only come with taking the time to be patient, learn, and listen.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach! 

Rabbi Igor Zinkov

Wed, 17 July 2024 11 Tammuz 5784