Rabbi Marc Soloway of Congregation Bonai Shalom sent the following from London just before Shabbat:
LONDON, May 28, 2021 — Shalom friends!
I am writing while on my last official day of quarantine (hopefully) from my mother’s flat in London. I feel so grateful finally to be here after so much time and distance; to be with family and to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of the son of good friends this Shabbat. So far, I have not stepped foot outside this building!
Every Friday morning, my mother gets her weekly copy of The Jewish Chronicle, delivered along with The Times and I have been reading it with considerable alarm. Almost every story is one that relates to the sharp and shocking increase in incidents of anti-Semitism since the awful escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza.
As a former British actor, the one that most caught my attention was about Equity, the actors’ union of which I am a former member, and the fear among Jewish actors that they are being blacklisted. Last week British Equity issued a statement urging its members to join a pro-Palestinian march held last Saturday in London, at which Israeli flags were burned and deeply anti-Semitic placards were prominent in the rally. Some very well known Jewish actors, including Dame Maureen Lipman, have resigned from the union in deep rage and sadness, and other members feel like they have to hide their identity for fear of repercussions. It is so upsetting to read these stories and, of course, the irony is that most of these Jewish artists are politically liberal and yet have been shamed and threatened by the woke, progressive world.
Yesterday I read a new book by the British, Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel called “Jews Don’t Count” about the way any hint of Jewish oppression and persecution has been cancelled because Jews are white, wealthy and powerful. It is a brilliant and insightful book that tells a familiar story about the hierarchy of oppression of minority groups with Jews barely making the list. Even as Jews are being attacked all over the world and synagogues and cemeteries vandalised.
There are many different opinions and perspectives within our community on Israel; many of us have a deep love and connection and longing for the Jewish State; others are very critical of government policy, with sensitivity and compassion to the realities of life for the Palestinians under the military occupation; many of us are somewhere in between – absolutely believing in Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself, and with a nuanced understanding of the complexity of competing narratives and need for change.
Whatever we believe, I hope we are all equally outraged by the unconscionable conflation of international condemnation of Israel with Jews all over the world, in this massive increase in hate crimes against us and our communities. Anti-semitism can come from Islamist extremism, from the White Nationalism of the far right and from the far left. In England right now, it is this liberal progressive intolerance for Jews that is most insidious and alarming, especially for those Jews here, which is most of my friends and family, who otherwise share so many of the same values.
This week’s parsha from the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers 8:1 – 12:16 ) is B’ha’alot’cha, which opens with the instructions to Aaron the High Priest to light the lamps of the Menorah. The Hebrew that gives its name to the portion literally means “in your causing the lamps to ascend,” which I heard interpreted by Rabbi David Levin Krus in Jerusalem, as “when you stand up!” In order for those lamps to be lit on Judaism’s most powerful symbol of spiritual resilience and presence, we have to stand up, show up and continue to be proud of our Jewish traditions and legacies, igniting those lights as a force to burn away the hatred and darkness and shine it into the world, proud of our heritage.
It is very sad for me to be so far away as the Bonai community prepares to reopen for Shabbat services, but I am with you all in spirit and will return soon. In the words of the Haftarah from Zechariah (2:14 – 4:7) this week, which contains the powerful, prophetic vision of the Menorah, echoing the parsha, “not by might, not by power, but by My spirit says G!d.” The force of our spirit can be stronger than physical presence.
As we confront the continuing, painful challenges of this world, may our inner and outer light as individuals and as a community shine brightly into the world.