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Pause for Thought with Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner appeared on BBC Radio 2 with Vanessa Feltz. You can listen to her ‘Pause for Thought’ again here at 44 minutes into the programme and the full transcript can be read here:

Last week I parked my car and jumped out as my phone took its own untimely leap out of my pocket. It dropped onto the middle of the road and smashed down into bits.

I hurried home with the parts, emptied them onto an impromptu operating table. With surgical precision, I pieced it back together, my heart skipped a beat as I pressed the ‘on’ bottom to see if there were any signs of life. It turned on. I thought everything was fine until I realised that another part was missing. The phone’s tiny memory card had popped out. I went outside to search, but it was nowhere to be seen. My most treasured selfies and snaps, from Hendon to Haifa to Llangrannog, and everywhere in between, all lost.

When I say Jews are a mobile people, I’m not only referring to my beloved phone. Almost every Jewish person’s family were immigrants. I’m a third generation immigrant. My grandfather was born in Lithuania but our family faced virulent anti-Semitism and fled to Britain, when he was a toddler. We’ve often been on the run like this, leaving our homes in search of safety. Along the way, I learned that there is one timeless possession: memory.

Our ultimate symbol of mobility and memory is the Exodus from Egypt. Just after fleeing, the Israelites hear the Ten Commandments for the first time. The fifth commandment is to ‘remember’ the Sabbath. Yet the next time we hear the commandments is forty years later as the Israelites stand on the edge of freedom in the Promised Land and this time, the fifth is to ‘keep’ the Sabbath.

The first version, “to remember”, shows that when life is disrupted and uncertain, memory becomes the most precious resource. Every moment, every joyful snapshot, serves as a source of strength. The second version, “to keep”, demands that, when we are on firmer ground, we do more than just remember. Rather than living through past memories, we must proactively guard and build on what we have now.

I wouldn’t opt for one or the other and look at my old phone, stuffed with endless work related dates and details, alongside warming photos and videos, as a symbol of both attitudes. My hardy phone may be without a memory card now, but we can take from it an 11th commandment: to live life enriched by the past, but firmly rooted in the present.

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