18/19 November 2022, 24 Cheshvan 5783

Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” ― Naomi Shulman

It was world kindness week on 7th-13th November. And I am thinking about this audacious statement by Naomi Shulman.

She wrote it to when she was thinking about the difference between NICE and KIND. I welcome that distinction because if you are conflict averse then nice is a goal. We want our synagogues to be nice places… or do we? Don’t we instead want them to be kind? Kind is strong, principled and generous. It doesn’t run from conflict or standing up for what is right.

I often wonder if I miss opportunities to ensure we all know what being part of a kind community is. Where people feel welcome, honoured, at home and appreciated here. But I do love this portion with my namesake. Rebekah’s kindness to Eliezer, Abraham’s servant but also famously the camels. This was no mean feat and meant Rebekah was strong as well as kind.

‘Drink, my lord,’ she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her head and let him drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, ‘I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.’ Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels.” (Genesis 24:17-20)

Rebekah’s kindness to the animals is often the focus when teaching this story. However, there is more to chesed (the Hebrew term for lovingkindness) than her actions with the animals. Chesed is a brilliant word that encompasses so much-the love described of God to people and the kindness people can offer to each other. I think Gemilut Chasadim ( those kind loving deeds) often are at the heart of synagogue life; in ours I’ve seen Corinne and Jacquie calling folk in friendship. I have seen Beverley and her excellent team bake, draw and pack gift bags for the festivals and I know what a difference those presents make to peoples’ lives. I remember Deborah Laikin and Ann Pelham overseeing KT Challah baking and deliveries indeed our own Gordon Greenfield received one after recuperating from hip surgery and expressed delight at being part of our synagogue.

I welcome the challenge of Chesed as the pillar of Jewish life alongside learning Torah and prayer services Avodah.

This is the Judaism that nourishes me and sits so well in our contemporary lives and search for meaning. As we end Kindness Week do join us on Saturday for Mitzvah Day activities – see below how to join. It’s our first opportunity to build properly our relationship with the Rainbow Centre and ensure we strengthen it as we go into this harder winter.

Shabbat Shalom,