Together with the joys of being with a community as their Rabbi, it is inevitable that you will go through times of trauma such as times when terrorism strikes near at hand or communities we feel affinity for are in the grip of war. When this happens community members expect their congregation to be a place of refuge where people can be with each other to make sense of the trauma. More people come to worship services than on a regular week, Rabbis find themselves in conversations about the attacks or the war at Kiddush and in the Synagogue corridors. All the media outlets, digital and broadcast are alive with pundits giving opinions and reports from various perspectives. Rabbis might be tempted to join them since we have a virtually unrestricted opportunity to speak and write given by sermons, Synagogue weekly e-mails and monthly newsletters, for example.
The role of a Rabbi when the congregation is going through a traumatic time cannot be to add to the speculation about what is happening. Nor can it be to offer solutions, however much members of the congregation may ask the Rabbi what he or she thinks this or that party to the conflict should do. Rabbis do not have a foreign policy. Rather a Rabbi’s role is to help to create a safe space where congregants can voice their concerns and feel comforted by the support of others. In their writings and speaking a Rabbi can help to distil meaning, in Jewish terms, in amongst the troubles that all are going through or witnessing. This past year has been burdened with tragedy close to home in, for example the Nice attacks over the summer, and far away, such as in Syria and Iraq where every day brings terror and murder to marketplace and home for countless people. In the year ahead our communities should be a place where we care about how each other feels when we are all recoiling from terror, a place of action in support of victims and of work for understanding between peoples.
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.