Like all of you I felt profoundly sad when I heard the news of the passing of Shimon Peres, the last of the great founding political leaders of the modern State of Israel. We had known each other for a number of years and I was privileged to join him on some of his ground breaking initiatives. Whilst I was UJIA’s chairman, he was gracious in his support both for the UJIA and the British Jewish Community and for that alone I am grateful. But more profoundly, as a Jew I am so appreciative of his drive to ensure that Israel became the prosperous and successful country we all love and appreciate today.
He was a tireless campaigner for peace in the region and an inspiration to Jewish people across the world in his pursuit of that goal. The fondness with which he is held is without peer in the Diaspora and his legacy will be felt for generations to come.
In his last interview, held with Tablet mag, Shimon Peres was quoted as saying “You have to decide either to be a giver or a taker. The biggest mistake is if you’ll use the power to take. The greatest wisdom is if you give.” This is a strong and profound statement and one which we should strive to emulate. Helping others has been the backbone of the Jewish community for generations and one that is clear to see when looking at the great work being done by organisations within the community.
World Jewish Relief are leading the way in the community’s response to disasters the world round. A current feature of their work is their campaign assisting Syrian refugees. Building on their history of helping tens of thousands of impoverished Jews in Eastern Europe, meaningful lives in the United Kingdom. World Jewish Relief are well placed to make a difference and help Syrian refugees who have been given a safe haven and a chance to start afresh in the United Kingdom. The programme they have put together which encompasses fluency in English, providing guidance on the development of CV’s and generally equipping them to enter the workforce is already paying dividends.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis, having visited India in 2015, has recently launched the Ben Azzai programme, a programme which reflects the importance of social responsibility – a core ingredient that contributes towards our Jewish identity. This trip, aimed at high calibre university students, will take participants out of their comfort zones and teach them about the impact of poverty, a lack of education and social mobility in India. This creative initiative not only reflects core Jewish thought and values but it connects the practical application of those values to an emerging generation who will be the leaders of our community going forward.
This year’s Mitzvah Day will take place on Sunday 27th November and I will be urging everybody to take part in this initiative. Young or old, in a group or by yourself, this day is a chance to give back in any way you wish. This is a brilliant example of social action and in doing so, brings those of all faiths together with the sole aim of helping others. Now is the time to start planning how you and your organisations can best make Mitzvah Day a meaningful success.
A Mitzvah, which in its classical sense is one of the 613 commandments found in Torah, today is also defined as an act of kindness and compassion. It is a word that goes hand in hand with Jewish life and is one I believe should be part of the lexicon of mainstream society. Jews have already contributed chutzpah – with our can do, out of the box, approach to meeting the challenges and opportunities that life offers – to the English language and now the word which has come to encapsulate compassion and care for ones’ fellow man (mitzvah) is also worthy of that recognition.
We must continue to focus on the values of our community; our contribution to society in general, the advancement of the poor and underprivileged; and continuously build unity of purpose and resilience in our own community going forward.
As someone who is politically engaged in mainstream conservative politics I could not help reflect on the elements of anti-Semitic rhetoric at the recent Labour party conference. Whether it be contained in leaflets or spoken in a speech, the type of language used has no place in today’s society, let alone British society. It must be a concern that many Labour leaning Jews feel that they can no longer find a political home within Labour. Adam Langleben has written a more detailed piece about the conference later in the newsletter. However, it was extremely uplifting last Sunday when I joined over 150 people in marking the 80th anniversary of the battle of Cable Street. The battle of Cable Street was a time when the Jewish Community found common cause with trade unions and those on the left of the political spectrum and resolved to stop a planned march by Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. After several blockades and many arrests, and despite the lack of assistance from those in authority, they were successful in defeating the planned march. Once again 80 years later a coalition from the same groups joined together, this time to commemorate and honour the heroic actions of that day. As I sat in the audience listening to the various speakers it gave me cause for hope that we can come through the current period anti-Semitic rhetoric and once again find shared values and a shared vision across all sectors of our society. You can read more about the Cable Street 80th anniversary in a piece written by Judith Flacks later in the newsletter.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a meaningful fast and גמר חתימה טובה.