5/6 February 2021, 23/24 Shevat 5781

I met the Conservative former immigration minister Caroline Nokes with a group of rabbis two years ago. Mike Freer MP set up the meeting for us to talk about settling refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. He knew we cared about it deeply.

Now a back bencher Nokes has accused the Home Office of trying to make our country seem as “difficult and inhospitable as possible”. She says by using inhumane accommodation like the Napier Barracks in Kent or a new barracks style unit close to Yarl’s Wood; we are causing immense suffering. There is often no running water, food so bad no-one can eat, and obviously huge outbreaks of Covid. In isolated spots the residents have no access to support or connection. Instead they are living in ghetto-like settings where previous trauma is relived and renewed daily.

Why do I write of this in a weekly synagogue message? Our Judaism rests on the pillar of engagement with the world we live in, not separation from it. Lo Tuchal L’hitalem -You cannot be indifferent – Deuteronomy chides us from the archaic conversation of lost oxen, but the challenge has survived. Lily Montagu’s legacy informs and inspires the heart beat of Liberal Judaism, the young women known as her girls who flocked to the afternoon service at West Central. A service she fought to provide for them.

Caroline Nokes is quoted this week saying of her government, “We as a nation can do better than this.” It is true. And calling out is important.

This week in Parashat Yitro the Ten Commandments are given. The rules that guide us as Jews and indeed most people in living a just and safe life, certainly the last five of them speak particularly to this. The portion contains the covenant moment at Sinai and the enthusiastic commitment by Israel to take the commandments on; “naaseh v’nishmah” we will do it and then understand it…

The name is taken from Moses’ father-in-law Yitro, an outsider, a Midianite Priest. Yet he’s the one to feedback to Moses about the congregation and about God “Blessed be the Eternal”.

May we never stop working towards that.

Shabbat Shalom,

You can’t do it all yourself . Italian commentator Sforno c.15th paraphrases Yitro’s advice to Moses. Lo tov hadavar asher ahah oseh, he tells him. Create, he suggests, a team of reliable people anshei chayl to share the leading, the judging and the listening. This must be the favourite parasha for rabbis and synagogue councils. How to create engaged and expansive shared leadership in our congregations, so all are invested and part of the work. Yitro was surely the first management consultant of ancient times, and in ‘not for profit’ religious communities. I intend to open Yitro’s conversation this week and beyond!