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Address by Rabbi Andrea Zanardo

This address was given by Rabbi Andrea Zanardo at a special service held at Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue marking Tisha b’Av and the anniversary of the start of the First World War. The service was attended by the Deputy Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillors,  Ministers, the Sussex Jewish Representative Council, and representatives of the Association of Jewish Ex Servicemen and Women.

This evening, 9 of Av 5774, Tisha b’Av, we commemorate, like every year, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, along with many tragedies and catastrophes fallen upon the Jewish people. Among whom, the outbreak of World War One, which was one century ago.

This evening we honour the memory of those Jewish soldiers who took part in World War One.

The names of the Jewish soldiers from Brighton who fought in such a war are inscribed in the Memorial Plaque at Middle Street Synagogue, (you can see a picture on the cover of the booklet for tonight’s service).   For such a small community, as we were those days, it is an impressive list: 138 soldiers, of which five made the ultimate sacrifice.

We think of other Jewish soldiers. Those who fought in World War One, under other banners of other nations.

When war broke out, European Jews had been recently emancipated, thus, a whole generation of European, German, Austrian, French, Russian, Italian Jews, went to the battlefields out of loyalty to their Motherland. They believed that anti-Semitic legislation had become a thing of the past. Hence, their patriotism. They believed the Emancipation was a fait accompli and would never lose their rights.  Hence, their heroism.

Sadly, history has proven they were wrong: only a few decades after World War One, they have been persecuted, discriminated, stripped of every right, sent to die in the camps.

Sons, daughters, children, grandchildren of that generation of Jewish soldiers are now members of our synagogue, of other synagogues and Jewish associations in Brighton and Hove. As the Jewish people have done generation after generation, we pay honour to the memory of those before of us. We try to learn from their lives and from their examples. And we are honoured that the civilian and religious authorities of the City of Brighton and Hove join us on such a day. We are honoured to see them tonight. To them, who are here, I address my gratitude

With your permission, I’d like to also address somebody else, someone who, most probably, is not in this room. The anonymous person, (or group of persons), who few days ago has defaced the walls of Holland Road Synagogue, spraying the words “Free Gaza”.

To the author of this graffiti, I want to tell this.

I don’t know who you are. You have strong opinions in matter of international politics. And you believe these opinions can become or be more effective, by threatening Jewish institutions and Jewish worshippers. Rest assured: this is not the case. You don’t scare us. We have no fear.

I see that Jewish buildings are for you somehow illegitimate. You feel you can take the liberty to deface them, as part of your political battle. Indeed, over the last year, no other religious building has been defaced, in Brighton. No church, no temple, no mosque. What a privilege we have. Why us? What wrong have we done? It’s nice you want freedom for the people of Gaza, which at the moment are oppressed by a terrorist, anti-Semitic organisation. But what does a religious building in England has to do with it? Are we occupying your land, my friend?

And while you care for Gaza, why don’t you spare any though to a whole generation of Israelis, Jewish children, boys and girls, that have been growing up, for a decade, under the threat of missiles, spending nights in bomb shelters, knowing that a few miles south there is an enemy, whose manifesto announces the slaughtering of the Jewish people, of their families and friends, of us? You wrote “Free Gaza” on a synagogue’s wall. But which sort of freedom are you looking for?

My friend, let me share with you a chapter of the history. In Jewish history World War One had not only been the pinnacle of Emancipation, when Jews of different nationalities forgot their common heritage and enrolled under the banners of European Countries but World War One also saw the birth of the Jewish Legion, led by a visionary man called Vladimir Jabotinsky. Five battalions of the Royal Fusiliers consisting of Jewish volunteers, from England, from Egypt, from the USA and from Russia fought with honour in Gallipoli.

And after World War One came the Sanremo Conference in 1920, and then the Declaration of Independence of Israel in 1948, etc. Out of the Jewish Legion, the Israeli Army was born. We pay honour, this evening, to the memory of these Jewish soldiers, who not only fought for England, but also for Zion.

We pay honour to all the Jewish soldiers.  To those who fought in World War One, dreaming that anti-Semitism had become a thing of  the past. They were wrong.

One hundred years ago, those Jews who enrolled in the Jewish Legion, dreamt that one day a Jewish State would be born. They were right.

May the memory of those fallen Jewish soldiers, on every front, be a blessing, may we be able to live according to their example and dedication, until time will come, according to the words of our prophet Lo yssa goi el goy herev, ve lo ilmedu od milchama

Then nation shall not lift up sword against nation; never again shall they train for war.

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