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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
Auf Ruf of Matt Leventhal and Mirka Rakousova
“Blow a horn in Zion, solemnize a fast, proclaim an assembly! Gather the people, bid the congregation purify themselves. Bring together the old, gather the babes and the suckling at the breast; Let the bridegroom come out of his chamber, the bride from her canopied couch. (Joel 2:15-16)”
This beautiful poetry ascribed to Joel and indeed the whole book, is somewhat unclear: prophecy or apocalypse? Both are easily interpreted from these words but do nothing to dull the soaring verse. What is rather clearer is the concern that a nation without the presence or influence of a Deity, is materially and spiritually bereft.
Last week at our Human Rights Shabbat, I focused on the need for us in this country, to remain focused on the fundamentals of human rights, even when the individuals in focus are undoubtedly bent on doing us harm. It is a serious problem for us. How do we treat those human beings who, for whatever reason, have minds so warped that they can behave little better than the baseness of animals? I argued that, whilst others might rather be rid of the problem, our consideration of their rights as with those of everyone else, is at the heart of a civilized, moral society.
I wish to draw attention this week to an issue that is blighting Israeli society. That is of the children of migrant workers who are being threatened with deportation at the end of this school year. These children were born in Israel. Their first language is Hebrew and their mannerisms reflect those of their Jewish peers. Many follow the ‘Jewish’ practices of the chilonim, the secular Israeli. Some are teenagers hoping to do army service, others are babes and sucklings. Their parents entered Israel legally, brought to serve, mainly the agricultural sector and jobs previously held by Palestinians from the West Bank until it was cut off. Their children are to be deported as a deterrent against other migrant workers brought here legally overstaying their visas.
This issue highlights a number of concerns in Israeli society.
There is a dire need for clarity concerning Israel’s future identity. The vision of Israel as a land only of Jews has long been overturned for all rational minds. However, the rapid economic development of the country has led to a need for employment in areas that many in Israeli society will not accept. Israel now needs a mature recognition that the Jewish nature of the State will be defined, not by a numbers game of Jews versus non-Jews but by its moral fibre.
Clarity over the structure of the economy and a sensible policy on employment is also needed. Israel has an embarrassing number of citizens living in poverty; and this is excluding those whose religious choices have see their balance between Torah and kemach, study and earning a living, place them and their families in hardship. A sensible scheme to encourage those who are destitute and willing to work into properly remunerated jobs in the fields and factories would once more make Israel a pioneer state.
Finally, the prophecy of Joel, suggests that a nation without the presence or influence of a Deity, is materially and spiritually bereft; But there is a right way that religion should influence the ethic of the State. The irony of the modern State of Israel is the necessity to divorce religion from state. The Minister for the Interior Affairs within whose fate the children of migrant workers lies, is Shas Party Chairman, Eli Yishai. This Religious Party - conservative in politics and by definition, society - should never have been given a sniff at controlling the fates of citizens, Jewish or otherwise. It is at times as xenophobic as the BNP. Yishai recently said:
“I want to make it clear – we have postponed their deportation, but we have not changed our minds. These children are the tip of the iceberg – of we allow them to stay, we are diminishing the Jewish character of our country. It is enough that we have other minorities living here, in the Jewish state – we cannot tolerate more. The foreign workers are using their children as charms so they can stay in the country,” Yishai continued, "They will learn to take advantage of our kindness and generosity and that will be our undoing. They pose a danger to the Jewish state.”
So far a final decision has not been made but the very fact that there is an intention to deport these children is abhorrent to the soul of Judaism. In our passage, the prophet, Joel, calls for all to assemble at the Temple to appeal to God to be with them, lest others continue to mock them for their lack of Divine foundation. In Israel today, those who suppose to speak for God’s Will are inciting mockery from the nations.
At a time when a flotilla of supposed ‘peace activists’ are cajoling Israel, playing games to make a mockery of Israel and any hopes of a renewed peace process, of which there are dim glimmers of hope, we would wish to wholeheartedly support Israel in its efforts towards peace. As in this country, are we best served by the baseness of instinct, or can we rise above it to prove that humanity can continue in its quest to forever improve on its moral nature from generation to generation?
Joel continues from our Haftarah: “After that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; Yours sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old shall dream dreams and your young shall see visions. I will even pour out My spirit upon male and female slaves in those days.”
Despite the proclamation of a fast and the seriousness of the occasion defined through ritual purity, the Israelites are to joyously praise their God, be glad and rejoice in God’s Presence. They are heralded by the sound of a trumpet blast. In the portion that Matt, our bridegroom read today, chatsotserot, trumpets, sounds herald movement: A move to war but also moves to assembly and for celebration.
May the time of rejoicing be near to us always, just as we celebrate now with bride and groom - Mirka and Matt. Yet may there also be a time in our days, when we can proclaim that the universal right to freedom is heard throughout the world, when God’s spirit rests upon us all. May we be busy in motion, working towards that day. That is the universal message of the Tanakh, the prophetic vision that is the pride of Judaism.
Bimheira v’yameinu, speedily in our days.
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