20/21 October 2023, 6 Cheshvan 5784

The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
James Baldwin, Nothing Personal 

I was reminded of this as we prepare for Parashat Noach – the story of the flood which, although our children’s favourite portion, is actually very difficult to read. For us adults, the pairs of animals living on the ark do not soften the massive loss of life. Noah’s family stays together, but there are so few of them – and presumably they witnessed the death and trauma too.

Death is around us right now and it is painful. Part of that pain is the collective amnesia that forgets and relativises the brutality of October 7th. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/13/pogrom-israel-angel-of-death-gaza-hamas-jews

Last night, I attended the memorial service held by LJY Netzer, RSY Netzer, New Israel Fund, Masorti and its youth movement Noam, Yachad and Arzeinu. The organisers reminded us that Memorial in English is for those who have died but Zicharon in Hebrew is more nuanced and full of life and possibility. It calls us to direct our thoughts and memories. In these bleak times, we are thinking of and praying for those families who have lost dear ones, as well as those families in the excruciating wait for the freedom of those captives, perhaps enduring a fate worse than death.

So what to do?

~ To show up, that is for sure, to be connected and in community. So many of you came last Shabbat for just that consolation and it helps
~ To join the collective voice to pray and hope for the safe return of captives
~ To keep our courage in holding onto our humanity in the most difficult of circumstances, to honour the sacred life of every human being, which is exactly what terrorists do not do.

Howard Jacobson in the Observer last Sunday talked of weeping, the immense amount of weeping we need to do. He called on the Yiddish word, rachmones, explaining to readers its meaning of pity. I see that as the greatest challenge for us all now – to hold onto that rachmones, even as we mourn; even as we experience the shocking surprise that those we’ve cared for repeatedly and shown up for have not reached out to us.

It has never been more painful to be a grieving Jew. As Rabbi Sharon Brous said so memorably last Shabbat, amidst this horror and grief, “we must not lose our damn minds.” We must be able to stand in the complexity of rachmones as we mourn. We know that in recognising the suffering of others, it does not diminish the enormous reality of our own pain.  We must hold onto our humanity and listen to the moral voice inside us that knows there is no context, no possible way of justifying, the brutality that Hamas wreaked. No context can ever explain such depravity – and we may find ourselves at a loss for words and perhaps it is ok not to rush past that wordlessness. Sometimes uncertainty must reign. I have been asked this week to sign seven petitions already. But as loss deepens, so does the desire to prevent further suffering and death of the innocent.

So Baldwin’s words reinforce our need for each other; to be in conversation, community and care. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

Raba Nathalie Lastreger from the north of Israel shared these powerful words: Along with needing each other we also need both oz va’anavah, that is robust strength and inner humility at this terrible time.”