Let’s start at the end. Hashkivenu Adonai Eloheinu L’Shalom. Cause us, Source of Life and Peace to let this year be one of peace and reconciliation in which we in Britain and also Israelis and Israel’s neighbours wake up to peace and lie down to peace. V’ha’amideynu Malkeynu l’chaim. Enable us to get ourselves up and to carry on, appreciating the fullness of life. U’fros aleynu sukkat shelomeycha. And may You envelop us with the security of peace.
I began writing this in August, nearing the end of Operation Protective Edge. Our communities are made up of a rich robust gutsy diversity of people who passionately care about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. I have been surprised by just how extensive, vociferous (and often polarised) we are in our political opinions. But we are united in grief, mourning the loss of innocent life and we all pray for a just and lasting peace.
Our son, Natan, who spent part of the summer at RSY-Netzer Shemesh camp in mid Wales leading 14 year olds, could have been in Gaza if we had stayed in Israel where our three children were born. Those who grew up with him were in Gaza – their names are constantly on my mind: Nadav, Yoni, Itai, Barak and many more. I can envisage them being born and then being children of the Kol Haneshamah synagogue kindergarten in Jerusalem alongside our children. It’s hard to think clearly through the images of hostilities and the profound fears.
So at Rosh Hashanah 5775 how might we approach this coming year with the situation in Israel and Gaza in the background and the possible impact on our relations with other faiths and communities? When I’m befuddled, I remember the advice of one of my rabbinic colleagues: “Laura, just be the rabbi.” It might sound mundane but this realigns me and reminds me what I should try and do. Coming into 5775 “being the rabbi” reminds me that I’m not a military strategist, I don’t live in Israel now and I am acutely aware of how deeply and passionately our different members feel and that part of our task is to try to articulate that immense breadth of reactions. So as we approach 5775, I would suggest extending the same advice. Perhaps we should “just be the Jew”. What might this mean? Perhaps we should just be Jewish the way each of us knows best. Perhaps in 5775 we should let go of others expectations of what is “the Jewish way” and instead know that there are many, many ways. Perhaps “Just Be The Jew” means that each of expresses our truth with integrity, with passion, with questions and doubts. For me, “Just Be The Jew” is enter 5775 with passion, to tell our truth out aloud especially as many of us seem to feel that the truth as we experience it is not being told by other people.
The words of Anne Frank which are quoted in our High Holy Day Machzor certainly ring true at the cusp of a New Year that follows such a turbulent time: “That’s the difficulty at these times: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out… I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.” That’s the essence of Just Being A Jew – holding onto our ideals, saying our values loudly and upholding our vision day after day, year after year.
Shanah tovah – may this year bring calm, peace, health, tranquillity and shalom bayit – peace in our homes, cities and countries.