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This isn’t an excuse to hibernate


Written by Rabbi Miriam Berger

I wanted to use this space to say thank you. Thank you to those communal organisations that are tempting us out from behind the sofa. The more news we watch, the more social media we doomscroll, the more tempted we are to sneak further under our duvet into hibernation mode and refuse to come out. Like the child in class who keeps extra quiet and hopes if they keep their head down then the bullies won’t turn on them.

What a moment for a Jewish Film Festival or to book your skating session at JW3 for a bit of frivolous fun. What perfect timing for Contemporary Judaica to have a pop-up shop in the heart of Hampstead. All simple ways to remind ourselves that we are an important part of British society and we cannot be made to feel like a guilty villain. 

Those organisations, along with countless others, encourage us to live full Jewish lives. No, it doesn’t take away the pain of what’s going on in Israel and Gaza, nor stop us from asking “what’s next? “and doesn’t lessen the grief for all the lives lost. However, it does allow two crucial things: stand us amongst our community and remind us that our Jewish identity is something to be proud of.

We are in the Hebrew month of Kislev, the month that will bring Chanukah. The festival which reminds us to put our chanukiot in the windows and be proudly Jewish. This takes on a new – or perhaps a sadly old – defiance which I will be embracing wholeheartedly this year. 

I know, like many of you, I’ve been living with sad, anxious and tired as a backdrop to everything since October 7th. However, I realise two moments have particularly lifted me. One was last Sunday’s Mitzvah Day – perfectly timed for a much needed boost. Our synagogue was filled with the sound of happy children cooking, playing sport, drama and art while their parents sat chatting, eating and even at one point breaking into spontaneous song and dance. It was a large group of asylum seekers from the hotel near the synagogue being given a break from their own 4 walls. We were Jews, Christians and Muslims all refusing to be enemies.

The second moment is one which is happening week in week out. Every Shabbat since Simchat Torah we have had at least one additional simcha in our services. Bnei Mitzvah, baby blessings and aufrufs remind us that we have to keep celebrating. But even more significantly, coming together holding joy and pain reminds us how much easier that weight is to bear in community.

This month of Kislev, be a proud Jew in community. It’s the way to be mindful of our mental health and to strengthen ourselves as individuals and each other at this desperate time

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