Thursday, 11 August 2011

A picture speaks a thousand words

It’s a crazy sort of world we live in.

Last night I was in Tottenham to celebrate a friend’s simcha, not too far from the place that the riots had taken place only a few nights earlier. Somebody suggested I take a ride to witness first hand the devastation left by those riots.I declined, since I was with my wife and three kids in the car- it wasn’t a risk worth taking.

But what really gets me is the picture I have posted above. You can follow the link and watch the You Tube video of Chassidim running desperately from a police charge.

The question is what were they doing there to begin with?

I spoke to a member of the Stamford Hill/ Tottenham Jewish community police liaison who told me that as he stood on the police side of the riot he did notice a number of Chassidim in the crowd.

What were they doing there?

“Beats me”

Here are two theories:

  1. They were joining the hooligans and thugs in their riot and looting of the nearby shops- and like many they were taking advantage of the situation.
  2. They wanted a piece of the action. And what better place to witness it than from the front row seats down the road. After all they don’t have their own Televisions from which to view the riots.

I think it was the second reason. Whatever it is they should not have been there and brings our community (the entire Jewish community) into disrepute through their actions. It should be condemned by their leaders in the strongest possible terms!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hope on the darkest of days

The truth about Tisha B’Av is as follows: for many people there is a difficulty. We live in times of relative peace and prosperity. We are not at war. Anti Semitism is on the wane. Jews live at relative peace with their neighbours. And we have Israel which is our homeland. The place for which we have yearned for 1900 years

Tisha B’Av – when we mourn and wail about the tragedies of yesteryear, seems al right for the shtetl- when the Jews lived in a climate of fear and persecution. We had good reason it seems, to be depressed about our lot in life. But for today it seems an anachronism- a relic of the past.

What are we mourning about? Have we any reason to mourn if things are not so bad in contemporary Jewish life? I’m not the only one who expresses these sentiments. On a number of occasions I have been approached by individuals who tell me the following. “Rabbi, Yom Kippur and all the other Jewish festivals I have no problem about it’s just Tisha B’Av it all seems so superfluous today”.

There’s a scene in Fiddler on the Roof which whenever I see it wrenches my heart. In the little village of Anatekva, the Russians decide to wage a pogrom against the Jewish community. We see all the Jews of Anatekva in the Wedding Hall enjoying and partaking of the simcha. All of a sudden you hear the sound of crashing glass, and the looting and burning of Jewish shops. The cossacks ride into the wedding hall and overturn all the tables.

The Russian captain looks at Tevye and says: “Orders is orders see.”

The camera Looks down from above at Tevye. He is holding some pieces of challah he has picked up from the floor and he glances up – and looking upwards he puts his hands together. He says nothing as if he is asking Hashem, as Jews have done for many years. “Why is this happening to us?”

O.K -you say-it’s only a film – part of a fictional novel by Shalom Aleichem. The story and characters might not have been true, but the story encapsulates that of the Jewish people

My paternal grandparents –The Schwartzbards came to Newcastle in 1913- they were running away from the pogroms that had plagued the Jewish communities in North west Poland in Kalisch.

My maternal grandparents-The Garbacz’s came to London from Rovna in White Russia, escaping the persecution and degradation of life for the Jews in Poland and Russia at that time.

For most of us the story is the same. You go back one or two generations and we were most probably running away from something.

So they had good reason to sit on the floor on Tisha B’av to wail and bemoan their fate. If you’re suffering or you have suffered persecution there’s every inclination to mourn.

But today in 21st century- You must be joking.

So what’s it all about?

Central to Tisha B’Av is the churban Habayit- the Destruction of the first and second Beit Hamikdash the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem, and on Tisha B’Av was destroyed by the Romans.

So what? What difference does that make to me living in 21st century Britain?

The answer is that it is not the destruction itself that we mourn- yes that was a great tragedy, but it is the consequences and result of that catastrophe that we lament.

We lost our national identity, we lost our homeland. No longer were we in the presence of the Shechina. We went into gallut/ exile. The Beit Hamikdash had been the centre for all Jews. We lost our anchor and focal point. Everything that has happened to the Jews since that catastrophe has been the corollary of that event. All the persecution and degradation over hundreds of years can be traced to that one off event that led to our people being dispossessed of its land and having to live in a harsh and hateful gentile world.

So we cry. We cry, not only for the fact that we mourn the Churban Habayit and the persecutions of the Jews throughout the ages, but we weep for the fact that there are so many Jews out there who don’t even recognise the beauty of Torah. The Jews who are no longer sitting on the floor on Tisha B’av, who have got up, dusted themselves off, and abandoned their faith for the pleasures and freedoms of the world.

We cry for the fact that even though we have Baruch Hashem the Land of Israel, about which is said- “The eyes of the Lord Your G-d are constantly in it from the beginning to the end of the year”- Yet there are Jews who are living in this beautiful land of ours yet refuse to acknowledge their G-d given connection with God and His Torah.

We cry for the Jews who never knew to sit on the floor in the first place on Tisha B’Av because their grandparents threw their Tefillin overboard on their way to this country, whose connection to Judaism is so tenuous it would take moschiach to bring them back.

We cry also for ourselves. For those who are committed to Judaism- are we really living the way G-d has intended us to? Are we doing enough for our fellow Jews who feel disconnected with their Judaism? Have we done enough to stem the outflow of young Jews away from our heritage?

Al Eleh ani bochiya- For these we cry.

The Talmud says that on the very saddest day of the year Tisha B’Av Moschiach will be born. We look forward to the time when we will merit the transformation of Tisha B’Av to a day of Joy and Simcha with the coming of Moschiach Speedily in our Days. Amen