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Cain and Abel and Candles of Hope

Cain and Abel, and candles of hope

Written on: 14 October 23

Written by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers

I won’t lie, I have spent this week wondering what on earth I am going to say this morning. I have, in fact, felt lost for words a lot of the time this week. I have felt like I might snap in half at any minute. On Monday, I tried to explain to my 8 year old son why security measures were adjusting slightly at their Jewish school, and we needed to alter our routine just a little. He loves his routine. Why can’t we queue outside the school Mummy? He asked. I explained that we might be a target if we are just standing around outside the school. Why would we be a target mummy? Because of what’s happening in Israel, I said. ‘But why would they want to hurt us because of what’s happening in Israel?’ asked my sweet little boy. And I was lost for words.

 I know you (bnei mitzvah) and your friends have also been asked to take precautions this week. In fact the JFS decision to ask students to remove their blazers and kippot so they would be less identifiable on the streets became this moving cartoon in the Evening Standard.. You spoke so beautifully about anger this morning, and it is easy to allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the anger we feel this week. Anger at the brutality of what we have witnessed in Israel, anger that we have to be afraid of reprisals here, anger at our sense of helplessness. Like God in the portion you read to us so proficiently, ‘your brothers blood cries out to me from the land’, except they are our brothers and sisters and families and friends and colleagues.

Cain’s anger led him to a very dark and violent place. And I know many of us will be battling that this week too. So I want to try and think about some of the candles – even if small, that have been lit this week, and I’d like you to share with one another at Kiddush what candles of hope you’ve seen lit this week, what acts have added a little light?

Yesterday, outside Brighton and Hove’s Holland Road synagogue, 4 bunches of flowers were anonymously left by the front door. A small act that they said made them feel welcomed and safe in their city.

Throughout this week, I have received messages of support and sympathy from many many places, including over a dozen Christian clergy, some of whom are not known for their support of Israel. One, whose anonymity I will preserve, wrote ‘I’m surprised how untorn I feel to be honest. […] I think it’s the first time I’ve felt the real vulnerability [Israel] feels for itself in a real way. It’s been a knowledge in my head but not an understanding in my heart. I’m trying to work out ways of expressing that publicly’. Messages have also come from non Jewish celebrities I’ve met on radio shows, and an Imam I’ve worked with for some years, who wished there were more people working to bring us all together. He also publicly stood at an event organized by the city of London and lit a candle alongside my Sephardi colleague Rabbi Jeff Berger, a difficult thing for them to do publicly at a time like this. I would also argue that the printing of the Evening Standard cartoon is a level of compassion and understanding of our fears that the Jewish community hasn’t often been afforded.

In the last week, 4 babies have been born in our EHRS community, including a pair of twins. 4 new Jewish lives. 4 bundles of light, who remind me of the famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who wrote that each child born is a reminder that God has not given up on humanity. Reading this week’s torah portion we know that God has had plenty of opportunities to give up on us, but perhaps we also need to believe that we can do and be better.

Believe it or not, Israelis have also found opportunities to share some light and humour. An amazing Grandma, Rachel Edri, who was taken captive by Hamas and held in her home with her husband David for 20 hours is a great example. She noticed her captors looked hungry, and understanding that a hangry captor wasn’t a good thing, she started cooking for them, making cookies and serving them coffee. When she was released, having helped the Israeli rescue team by indicating with her fingers on her face that there were 5 captors in the home, she quickly became an online sensation, an example of how to handle the most terrifying situations. If you google Rachel Edri you will see her compared to the Biblical Yael who seduced a general with cheese and wine and then dispatched him, and other memes showing hamas being defeated by cookie baking grandmas.

The FA may have resisted but just as Ukrainian flags were flown last year, buildings around the word have been adorned in the blue and white of Israel’s flag, and I was astonished at a meeting in Westminster on Thursday to see 3 union jacks flying next to one Israeli flag outside one of the government buildings on Great Smith Street. We have been unequivocally supported by politicians from across the party divides.

And even though we may feel helpless, we are a community making a difference, we are sending money for resources direct to where it is needed in Israel, and today we are hosting a large number of Israeli’s in the community centre who have been evacuated by the Australian Government. The Jewish mental health charity JAMI will be there to support and help them, and in less that 24 hours our amazing Kiddush provider Michael has arranged for them to all be fed and hosted as they should be. We can make a difference when we come together.

And today, we are celebrating not only Shabbat, but the magnificent b’mitzvah, someone whose smile can light up a room, and who despite the trials of the week, dug deep and found the courage to allow us all to delight in your growth and maturity today. For me, this is one of the most important things we could do this week – ensure that our Judaism lives and flourishes, despite those who would extinguish our flame.

In the section of the parashah that I read we heard that after the terrible events of Abel’s murder, Cain built a city (one wonders if he perhaps felt driven to create a legacy that changed the story he had begun to write). The building of this city is an offering of hope in the future, and a sign that from destruction, there can be rebuilding. We need to rebuild and we know that there are innocent Palestinians who will also have lives to rebuild after this week. We are permanently changed by the tragedies and brutality of the last 7 days. But perhaps our super power as a people is resilience.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote in his book Future Tense “The Jewish way is to rescue hope from tragedy. However dark the world, love still heals. Goodness still redeems. Terror, by defeating others, ultimately defeats itself, while the memory of those who offered kindness to strangers lives on”. Let us be the ones bringing light, offering comfort and kindness, and coming together to support one another and to keep ensuring that Judaism is a force for light in the world.

Cain Yehi Ratson – may this be God’s will…   Rabbi Debbie Young Somers


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