Tomorrow, 8 May, marks the 75 anniversary of so called V-E-Day (Victory in Europe Day), Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. For Jews all over Europe this day meant a final liberation from state organized terror and murder, but not from the suffering and finding ways to cope with enduring persecution and wounds.
Seventy five years later, there is still no “new normal”, no final stroke, only the reminder to not allow anti-Semitism or any form of baseless hate to rise up again, so that they can’t show their ugly faces and deprive humans from their dignity or even worse take human lives again. The world is still waiting for a V-Day, when we all can celebrate the defeat of anti-Semitism. Until then, 8 May is a memorial day, reminding us to stand against all forms of discrimination and suppression.
Once again we are mourning and raging after an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue over the weekend. I have been and remain determined not to give any anti-Semite the victory they want in any way. Whenever they want to push us out of society, whenever they want us to be too afraid to gather in our places, or to live our lives as Jews out in the open, whenever they want us to feel that we do not belong, we say that is they who do not belong. It is they who are doing wrong and evil. Our place is wherever we chose to live, in South Africa, in Germany, in Australia … and in Israel. Every time an anti-Semite shows his or her face, we and ten or a hundred or a thousand of our friends and allies come to counter them.
Last week and the upcoming week are dedicated to the memory of those of our people who perished in the Shoah, and who fought in the many wars to establish and protect the modern state of Israel. We restore the dignity of those who have been dehumanised by the Nazis and we honour those who stood up to protect our Jewish values and heritage. BUT, most important, we keep the promise given to them, to never forget.
Our Torah portion for this week opens with the following, beautiful words: “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy (Lev. 19.2)”. What follows is not only a set of ritual obligations or ceremonies, but mainly a codex of ethical guidelines. Being holy means to be conscious of what we do and how we do things. This is even more important in times when the world seems to lose its own compass, when terror, fundamentalism and populism is shaping the reality in which we are living.
Friends, this must not be our future—you—we have it in our hands to counter this: it is our obligation to bring holiness into our world and to create a future that is less frightening. Please vote on Wednesday, strengthen our democracy by making your voice heard, and continue to stand with us when evil shows its ugly face.
Our Torah portion mentions love several times. So, let love be our answer.
May this Shabbat be filled with love, for you, our people and the whole world.
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell
Yom HaShoah Ceremony @ West Park Cemetery 2 May 2019
Water is life. Our bodies are mostly water. Our planet is able to sustain life largely due to its abundant supply of water. The symbolism of water flowing and nourishing the thirsty land is easily understandable, even by those who have never lacked rain. So, what can we learn from the image of a well, that has been intentionally filled with earth so that it no longer functions as a well? If water is life-giving, then a stopped-up well is the opposite. Why, then, did the Philistines, as we read in this week’s parashah, Toledot, fill up the wells that had been dug in the days of Abraham and tell Isaac to leave the region? Why were they ready to make the land uninhabitable?
I interpret it as an early attempt to stop Jewish life, one of many that we Jews have had to endure over history. The Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Pogroms in eastern Europe, Nazi-Germany, and even this horrific attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, they all shared one goal, making Jewish life unbearable; from preventing Jews to study Torah to forbidding Jewish rituals, from expelling Jews to physical prosecution and then to annihilation. Jewish history is full of stopped-up wells.
However, our Jewish history is also full of re-opened wells. Isaac’s digging the same wells that his father dug shows us how he reclaims his father’s traditions and ensures Jewish survival. I identify with Isaac’s actions: I have learnt to seek to reclaim the traditions handed down to us by our ancestors. I have seen how Jewish life has put out new roots in Germany. We all witnessed how Jews all over the world, us included, came together last Shabbat, mourning the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, but more importantly, we celebrated Jewish life, too, affirming our commitment to never allow any anti-Semites to fill up our wells.
We are saddened and horrified by the hate crime and act of terrorism which happened yesterday at the Eitz Chayim – Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, USA.
Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims, the staff and members of the Synagogue, the Jewish Community, and all who mourn. We are grateful for the first responders and the police, whose actions saved lives. Our grief at the deaths of eleven people and the wounding of six more is palpable. We can see ourselves in them and in the pained faces of their surviving family members. We pray for the well-being of those who mourn their loss, and for the recovery of those who suffered terrible wounds.
Our immediate reaction is simple. We urge all of you to be more vigilant and aware of any potential dangers. Speak up if you see anything suspicious around the synagogue. Together with CSO, we are reviewing and meeting about security plans currently in place for Bet David. Your security is of utmost and critical importance for us.
We have had no threats made against us, nor do we have any concrete reasons for fear. Our synagogue leadership is reacting in a measured and responsible fashion, and we urge all of us to do likewise.
Nearly 80 years after the Kristallnacht Pogrom in Nazi Germany we are once again reminded of the hideous evil face of anti-Semitism, and the murderous force that comes with it.
Each of us has the power to be an agent of change – to promote love, respect and understanding in a world that seems to be feeding off of hatred and bigotry. Don’t keep silent, speak out, do what you can to eradicate hate, and respond to those who perpetrate it – and show people another way – a way of inclusion, love and fellowship.
As a response to the rise of neo-Nazi organisations in Europe, people have joined together under a banner saying “We are more“.
Yes, we are more. More than all who hate us. More than those who try to limit our freedom of self-expression. More than those who try to kill us.
May God who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace to us, to Israel and all the world.