As we got off the bus near to Babi Yar, it started to snow,and we realised that the birds don’t sing at Babi Yar. We recited the Kaddish for all the Jews that died there. The words of the Kaddish have a powerful resonance for all Jews, associated as they are with the mourning process.Several things combine to highlight the beauty of the prayer, not only the resonance and rhythm of the Aramaic words, but also the fact that, even in the face of the most heartbreaking tragedy, Jews memorialise the dead by praising God who created and sustained the world in which tragedy and beauty co-exist.
The Torah portion for Rosh Hashanah talks about God making a covenant not only with all those present that day, but also with those not present. That intriguing phrase is taken to mean that the relationship extends to all the Jews that will ever be born and also to those who choose to join the Jewish people via conversion. The overall sense of the portion is that God has an unbreakable relationship of care with the Jewish people that goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.