Friday, 10 June 2011

What is important to you as a Jew?

We have a wonderful little tradition that has developed over the past few years in my Shul, and this is that every few months or so we invite school children from the local non Jewish schools to come and look around the Shul.

It really is something I enjoy doing.

It creates a bond with the local wider community. The children get to meet me and see that the Rabbi is a half-normal human being and we really have fun. They get to see the Aron Hakodesh and the Sifrei Torah close up and they get to learn about the lay out of the Shul and they even get the opportunity to blow the Shofar.

One other thing they do is towards the end of the visit they ask me questions. Any question you can think of about Judaism. It’s something I really enjoy. Some of the questions can be quite funny like Rabbi Black – where is the statue of Jesus? But others are quite profound and can really catch me off guard, like what is the symbolism of the Magen David- or why do men and women sit separately in the Synagogue?

Recently I had the St Bernadette Primary School from Kenton. These children are really good and excellently behaved, and are a credit to their school. You’ve got to listen to the question this young girl-ten years old asked me about Judaism.

“What Rabbi Black”- she asked, “is the most important thing to you as a Jew?”

Now- that in the words of my Yeshiva Bachur son is a bomber kasha-an excellent question- and it caught me quite off guard. Within a few seconds I gave her an answer which I will share with you at the end of this article.

But it actually got me thinking.. If I were to ask you what is the most important thing to you as a Jew? What would you answer me? What are the things that make you tick? What are the things that move you as a Jew?

There is a famous Medrash that describes the morning when the Torah was given at Har Sinai.

The Medrash explains that G-d was about to give the Torah at Har Sinai and expecting to find all the B’nei yisrael waiting with preparation and anticipation for G-d to give them the Torah. Instead he found them geschloffen- fast asleep. Here the Torah is about to be given- the greatest event of all- Yet B’nei Yisrael are asleep-

So what does G-d do? He rudely wakes them up with the Kol Shofar Chazak Me-od the very strong sound of the shofar and with the Kolot uverakim- the thunder and lightning.

Now is not the time to be sleeping. Now is the time to be awake and alive to accept the words of the Torah and the covenant with G-d.

For this reason the Minhag has developed that many stay up the night of Shavuot studying Torah in what has become known as the Tikun Leil Shavuot- which literally means-the Fixing of the night of Shavuot. That one time when we were supposed to be up ready and early to receive the Torah but we were not – we blew it, and therefore we stay up to make amends for that one time.

But I think there is a deeper message here, and that is... sleep symbolises our apathy, indifference – our own sluggishness when it comes to Judaism. Things are going on around us and we’re fast asleep. Yet we’ve really got to be awake. Sometimes we’ve got to act in response. What does it take to be revived from our spiritual inertia?

Judaism can sometimes be under attack. What does it take to awaken me from my lethargy to react in some way? Or is the issue at hand really not that important enough for me to do anything about it?

I think of that heart wrenching scene from Fiddler on the roof. When Tevye’s daughter Chava comes and tells her father that she wants to marry the Polish peasant Perchik and he is incensed. The camera zooms in on his thoughts. Sometimes he says if I bend too far – I just might crack.

What are the cracking points for us?

Shechita in the past few months has been under threat in Brussels. They want to label Shechita products by saying that these are killed from animals that haven’t been stunned. It seems at first glance a reasonable request. However, I just want to tell you that if legislation would have gone through it would literally shecht the kosher meat market in the UK. Indeed in the whole of Europe.

Yet – as Henry Grunewald said it didn’t go through this time but, they will try again.

But how many people were moved enough during the recent Shechita crisis to write a letter to their local MEP? Or does Shechita not matter that much? After all there’s nothing stopping us from becoming Vegetarians? Or is this an attack on my religious rights to practice as a Jew in freedom in this country?

Am I moved enough to act?

What about Israel? I think of the recent trouble on Israel’s Northern border when Syrians were trying to break through the fence to the Golan. It was this past Sunday and the eyes of the world were trained on Israel to watch how they reacted in light of the infiltrations on the border. Ten people were allegedly killed by the Israelis. The Israelis say that it was a land mine on the Syrian side of the border.

At the very same time, sixty people were being gunned down in Syria in two northern cities by that oppressive regime which has been the ruling power for the past four decades, yet there was no television coverage and almost silence in the media about a major news item. You see the media bias? Did anybody contact the BBC to complain about the disparity of coverage? Or is Israel not that important enough an issue for us to be up in arms about? After all we’re living in our comfortable homes and driving our fast cars –what difference does it make to me what happens in Israel?

I remember when I was in IJPS – Ilford Jewish Primary School and in 1973, the Yom Kippur war, there was one teacher who was so incensed about what was going on, he got up and left and went to Israel to volunteer for the army.

How many of us are moved about Israel to the extent that we would act on our thoughts?

And there are other issues. The threat to Brit Milah in San Francisco and Santa Monica for any child under the age of eighteen- not to be taken lightly, because if it passed it could threaten circumcision in the United states- full stop!

Or what about the demolishing of our Jewish values as witnessed in a Liberal synagogue in Manchester last week?- (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about just read the JC from last week, I don’t need to spell it out)

It reminds me of the story illustrated by Rabbi Twersky in his book Generation to Generation where he tells the story of a very frum sick girl in a shtetl in Europe who was told by her doctors that in order to get better she would have to eat pig. So she goes to the local Rabbi who tells her that of course- it’s Treif –it’s not kosher but for purposes of pikuach nefesh she should eat. And she says that she agreed to eat it but only if it was Shechted and salted first.

The end of the day the Rabbi said to her- a pig is treif and you can’t make something treif kosher!!

So - we know the issues-what concerns affect you enough about Judaism-to make you respond?

I now return to my response to the young girl to her question.. What is the most important thing to you as a Jew?

My answer to her was as follows that my children will be brought up to love their Judaism and that they will share and inherit my values and I will be able to transmit those ethics and values to them. To me that is more important than anything!

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