17/18 November 2023, 5 Kislev 5784

I am wondering a great deal about what makes us Jewish. What is it that calls us to our Jewish lives? There are many answers, I am sure. One that speaks to me is being responsive to each other. Our prayer for peace adds on the words, grant peace to us, to all Israel and to all humanity.

As Edmund Flegg reminded us:

I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears and suffering the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes.

Bearing witness is what we do. We do it here in our congregation to each other, we do it beyond and as a very Jewish obligation, we take it seriously. We have raised our children and all those grown in LJY Netzer to feel deeply the suffering of others. We are compelled to look and see within our families and beyond. Isaac’s wife Rebekah is troubled and says Kazti bchayei – my life is bitter. (Genesis 27:46) That is what has characterised these last five weeks for everyone and none more so than those there – watching and standing as we grieve in the Jewish community and alongside all who are suffering. Being broken hearted by what we see and, frankly cannot un-see, is the right response. That’s why the image of Isaac in this week’s portion is moving when he loses his ability to see:

It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and he said to him, “My son?” and Esau said to him, “Here I am.”

I read this week that activist writers around Israel have volunteered to write eulogies for the almost ninety dead on Kibbutz Be’eri, a task that usually falls to fellow residents but now is way too much for the grieving survivors. This act of bearing witness, capturing the legacy of each person and their lives, is intensely moving. All that bearing witness to each precious life. On Tuesday, I read that the family of peace activist, Vivian Silver, was informed she had been murdered on 7th October, not taken captive. It took this many days to discover. Her own words, offered in 2018, have become her eulogy and her legacy:

‘I have basically lived and breathed the [Peace] movement day and night. Living on the border of the Gaza Strip is a compelling factor for me. I am driven by the intense desire for security and a life of mutual respect and freedom for both our peoples.

I cannot begin to imagine the enormous pain of grief for those able to mourn and those who simply can’t. Our role continues to be to bear witness to as much as we can. It is the least and sometimes the most we can do right now. It calls on our Jewishness and our humanity and, I hope, may offer both strength and consolation as we bear witness.

Shabbat Shalom,