Rabbi Albert Friedlander z’l used to talk of the brutal events of 9 November 1938 known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass or as we prefer now the November progrom, a name that does not sentimentalise what happened that night across Germany. Rabbi Friedlander said it made him a super Jew determined to not just remember but be all the more Jewish because of it. His family fled to Cuba initially the day after, when on returning to their apartment they heard Nazi guards still there. That night is remembered as the beginning of the end, or perhaps the end of the beginning of brutality towards the Jews and then towards others as well.
My partner Anthony’s great aunt was murdered that night in the street, beaten to death by Nazis in Neuss. She was a young woman in her twenties. I associate this anniversary as the critical call for ZACHOR-Remembering. And what that remembering and honouring has passed on to us. It informs our backward glance to the past as well as our attitude to the present and our future. Twitter, one of our platforms of communication, is now permeated with more free hate speech than ever before and much is familiar. We are all considering our presence on its platform. Offensive terms for people have colour have increased by 500% as has reference to ‘the Jews’ a phrase as Hugo Rifkind writes ‘ that does not bode well’. Our task was ever thus to be vigilant about and sensitive towards hatred everywhere. Join me if you can at the UK Jewish Film’s showing of the film A Tree of Life about the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. It is a beautifully made and moving film and I will facilitate a discussion afterwards with Lord Mann, UK Government’s ‘anti semitism tsar’ and Mark Gardner CEO of the CST.
Sensitivity and vigilance in that synagogue community and still in every institution informs our behaviour. I love to think of this with the backdrop of this week’s portion Parashat Vayeira in the book of Genesis, Bereshit. The first time we are taught the power of hospitality and welcome, one that permeates our Jewish sensibility alongside caution.
Abraham is recovering from his circumcision, sitting in the opening of his tent at the hottest time of the day when he sees three strangers approach;
” he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.He said, “If I have found favour in your eyes, my lords do not pass your servant by. 4 Let me bring water to wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed..”(18:3-5)
That balance is one I speak of a great deal. Consider joining me on Monday night.
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