For religion to have any meaning (and I like to substitute Judaism here) it must speak to the human condition and it must draw us towards the human project*.
I passionately believe this. Not only our own lives should be transformed by the rites, rituals and learning we commit to, but others as well. As Audre Lourde famously wrote; I am not free while any woman is unfree. The way of connection is to feel this empathy.
This week sees Human Rights Shabbat – Rene Cassin’s legacy meant the organisation in his name leads the Jewish world back to his principle: “I would happier if there were a little more justice in the world.”
So I enthusiastically endorse our community’s marking of it. And we have chosen key ways to do so.
Friday sees our first ever British Sign Language interpreted Shabbat service. This is an unusual and welcome addition and will be a poignant opportunity for some. Shabbat morning Rabbi Sybil Sheridan will speak on her connection with, and knowledge of, Beta Yisrael – the Ethiopian community and how Sigd – the Ethiopian Jewish holiday 50 days after Yom Kippur – has been marked nationally in Israel. And on Thursday at our online Beit Midrash Zarlasht Halaimzai will speak about responding to Afghanistan, the refugees here in the UK, and the cruel and inhumane life there.
Continually challenging and improving the human rights of all is a deeply humane and yet religious act. We can see the consequences of committing to the principle that all are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the Image of God. This year Rene Cassin has looked back to Jewish women of note and their words to inspire.
Ruth Bader-Ginsberg’s I am alert to discrimination. Or Helen Suzman and her anti -apartheid work, I stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights. Or Simone Weil after Auschwitz and her reflections coming out of the Holocaust, of the need for a world based on respect for man and his dignity.
*Rabbi Larry Hoffman played with a version of these words.
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