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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
The month of Adar Rishon that begins tonight and continues this year through the rest of February, was designated by Liberal Judaism as a time to focus on our relationship with Israel. Adar Rishon is an additional month in a lunar leap year and therefore we are not distracted by any Jewish festivals. However, the world does not stand still just because the Jews have a leap year and world events mean that I could not focus solely on Israel tonight. Events are of course on Israel’s doorstep and so we need not ignore Israel from our thoughts, in fact I think it is rather pertinent.
Today, Egypt is experiencing a ‘day of departure,’ a rally attempting to oust Hosni Mubarak from power. The scenes in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Syria over the past weeks from the moment that we realised that the events in Tunisia were not isolated have captivated us. Individuals have realised that the power they felt exerted upon them was no longer a match for the power of individuals. Tahrir Square was not going to be Egypt’s Tiananmen Square. It seems that the military, after wavering at one moment are now ensuring the right to peaceful protest. May this atmosphere remain through to the end of the protest.
The other book was ‘Peace,’ an account of the remarkable process from the signing of the cease-fire agreement between Egypt and Israel at kilometre 101 on the Suez-Cairo road in 1973 to the signing of the Peace Treaty in Washington on 26th March 1979. The bold words on the spine, Peace, שָׁלוֹם , السلام written in their respective languages, drew me to the story within. An episode of history, full of despair and hope, trust and anger ended with a peace that has held despite the attempts by a few do derail it.
These books significantly shaped my relationship with Israel. I grew-up in love with Israel and the Peoples of Israel and I grew-up in love with Peace, שָׁלוֹם , السلام and the belief that it is possible to make this dream real. The ensuing years since 1979 have certainly been rocky and at times my faith has been shaken but I have never fallen out of love with Israel, the Peoples of Israel, or with Peace, שָׁלוֹם , السلام . Such a love is active and the knowledge that there will be peace for all the Peoples of Israel, those who will be the Peoples of Palestine and indeed the Peoples who will be their neighbours, is a constant motivation to bring such a time nearer.
Liberal Judaism passionately upholds the value and right of individual autonomy; to be a guide to individuals endeavouring to reconcile tradition with modernity; and to inspire lives actively lived according to the prophetic ideal of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. This is why in Israel, we channel our efforts to key partners, especially the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, its social action arm, the Israel Religious Action Centre, and the Leo Baeck Education Centre in Haifa; organisations that at their core work to create an environment in which every individual citizen of the State of Israel is accorded their full rights and are nurtured to be active participants in furthering goodness.
On the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and every city, town and village of Egypt, there are individuals who make up the Peoples of Egypt. Democracy allows the individuals their voice. Shame on those whose only desire is to see it and the individuals who will create it fail. I do not believe that there are democratic nations that seek war for its peoples. There are nations with failed democracies who slide into war and conflict, often civil war, but that is only when individuals or small groupings seek to cease power from the people, denying pluralism and individuality. Otherwise, economic and social sense provides a simple logic that says that we will do better at peace with our neighbours than at war.
Do not fear democracy in Egypt, only those who seek to pervert it - and they are few. Believe as Mahatma Gandhi did that, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Now is a time to acknowledge that those who are good utterly outnumber those who are evil. Let us come out and support them. Let us take the risk to be active and joyful in our support of humanity. The Psalmist warned of putting trust in humanity. Yes be warned when we don’t have the humility of trust in God, a belief that urges us to create a humanity that celebrates is diversity and thus is a humanity to trust.
May we live to recite in our lifetimes, as Menachem Begin did on the north lawn of the White House, the words of Psalm 126. And may all Peoples of Israel, Egypt, Palestine and the nations of the world recite in their own particular words its spirit:
A song of ascents
When the Eternal One restores the fortunes of Zion
Restore our fortunes, O God,
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