Don’t Stand By – a chant

21/04/2016

Coming into Heathrow after helping refugees in Lesvos, I’m wearing one of the fake life jackets that the refugees were sold as they made the dangerous crossing from Turkey. If the borders into Europe were open, no one would need to make that crossing. I wrote this chant when I got home. It is based on Leviticus 19:16,18.

16 Do not stand by the blood of your neighbour. I am the All That Is. 18. Love your neighbour who is like yourself. I am the All That Is.

When I open my eyes and see the suffering of my neighbour, there are times when my heart sings such a pure song of love that whatever I do is infused with joy and a sense of connectedness to the All That Is. And there are times when I see the suffering of my neighbour and I do stand by – I close my eyes. I don’t get involved. I become paralysed by feelings of overwhelment and unworthiness.

This is an all-encompassing and terribly daunting mitzvah – it governs our relationship with the All That Is, with ourselves, and with each and every one of our neighbours no matter how badly they behave and no matter how evil we believe them to be. It is not a simple thing to know how to live by this mitzvah, especially when we are bombarded by news of our neighbour’s suffering in every part of the planet as well as at home and in our families.

I wrote this chant because I need to remind myself that I am not the All That Is, that I can’t see the bigger picture, that ‘this too is for the good.’ My practice is to remember that my understanding of my neighbour’s suffering and indeed of my own is limited and subjective, a projection of my own perceptions and fears onto others.I find Rabbi Tarfon’s comment particularly reassuring: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Talmud, Pirkei Avot 2:16)

Verse 1:
Lo ta’amod al-dam re-echa x3 . Don’t stand by.

Verse 2:
See the blood of your neighbour,
Your neighbour who’s like you.
Love yourself to love your neighbour.
Ani Adonay.

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A Drop in the Ocean

19/03/2016

 

The most dangerous part of my trip to Lesvos was leafletting my neighbours in Lockleaze (my neighbourhood in Bristol). In my eagerness to put leaflets through their letter boxes requesting donations of clothes, I tripped and sprained my ankle. A week later, I showed my still hurting ankle to a volunteer paramedic from the United States in the Lighthouse Refugee Relief Camp on the north shore of Lesvos. It was a stormy day and the sea was too rough for the refugee boats to leave Turkey. So the camp was empty except for a team of volunteers working in the rain to get the camp ready the next flotilla of boats. And though a sprained ankle was inconvenient, the leafletting had resulted in a sizable donation of woolly hats, scarves, warm gloves and good wishes from my neighbours. I had wanted to involve my neighbours in my trip to give them the opportunity to be there with me in spirit, if not in person. When the doorbell rang and a neighbour I’d never met before handed me a beautiful hand-knitted hat, I knew I had succeeded.

Like many other Bristolians, I felt moved to go to Lesvos to add my drop to the ocean of compassion. I asked friends, family and neighbours for money and clothes to help the refugees and make the trip possible. Although I went as an individual, not connected to any NGO or organisation, I felt part of an international movement of people, a wave of humanity intent on offering humanitarian aid.

Before I went, I talked to Bristolians who had been to Lesvos and signed onto the invaluable Facebook page – Information Point for Lesvos Volunteers. After doing as much research as I could, I decided to offer my services to the Dirty Girls of Lesvos. Alison Terry-Evans set up Dirty Girls last summer and has devoted herself full time to fundraising, recruiting volunteers, liaising with NGOs, local people and the laundry as well as sorting the clothes and cleaning the beaches. My task was to pack the wet clothes into bags and pile them by the side of the road where they were picked up by a commercial laundry. Then bring the clean dry clothes to the clothing tents at the reception camps to be distributed to the next boatful of people. This work benefits the refugees who are at risk of hypothermia in their wet clothes, the Greek economy by giving business to a local laundry and the environment by keeping many tonnes of usable clothes out of landfill.

In January, it was colder in Lesvos than in Bristol. There was snow, torrential rain, fierce wind and an icy sea. There were also bright sunny days when the sea was calm though no warmer. On those days and nights, a steady stream of inflatable dinghies left the Turkish shore packed with people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Morrocco. Boat after boat after boat. An unstoppable flow of humanity, of people just like you and me.

Among the volunteers, everyone I met was doing the best they could. It wasn’t always efficient but it was effective in what we set out to do – offering dry clothes, a hot meal and a warm welcome to people in need of kindness. While kindness is what citizens of the world can offer, the refugees need something only world leaders acting co-operatively can offer – safe passage, settlement in a country with opportunities for jobs, housing and education, acknowledgement of the threat felt by many Europeans at the influx of refugees into their already divided societies and a ‘Global Marshall Plan  (The Global Marshall Plan: A National Security Strategy of Generosity and Care, Network of Spiritual Progressives) to bring peace and justice to the Middle East.

I can’t imagine that anyone who’s been to Lesvos would advocate anything other than a loving, compassionate, generous, humanitarian response to this crisis. With that in mind, I went to speak to my MP for Bristol North West, Charlotte Leslie. My hope was that her drop in the ocean would be a bit bigger than mine alone and being a Conservative MP, she might be closer to the seat of power than I will ever be. I was pleased to discover that Ms Leslie is well informed and passionate about this issue. She listened respectfully to my story and reassured me that she is personally committed to “ensure that Britain continues to be at the forefront of helping relieve this terrible humanitarian crisis.” I could see that these are not just hollow words – Ms Leslie has been to Sicily distributing basic essentials to people arriving by boat from North Africa, she went to Syria in 2011 and has visited refugee camps in Turkey. She described what Britain has been doing in both spending and in action to help these refugees, much of which was news to me. She confirmed that Britain has “a duty to care for and accommodate refugees as far as we are possibly able.” At this point I had a sinking feeling in my heart. Apparently we are able to accept only 20,000 refugees by 2020, not including any of those who have made or are still making the perilous journey to Lesvos. Her drop in the ocean, it turns out, is not very big after all.

As Ms Leslie pointed out to me, “this is a tragedy on a global scale and demands a multi-national global response.” True indeed but until world leaders awaken and start responding with compassion, it is the responsibility of individual citizens to add our own unique drops to the ocean of compassion and not sink into despair and cynicism. I take comfort from the words of Rabbi Tarfon, a second century rabbi, who taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it.” My task is to remind those of us living in safety and comfort that we are one humanity.

Happy Am I – inspired by a visit to Majorca

16/03/2016

Click to listen to the poem

Happy are you and happy you alone. You who can call today your own.  You who, secure within, can say –  tomorrow do thy worst for I have lived today.  Be fair or foul or rain or shine,  the joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.  Not heaven itself upon the past has power.  But what has been, has been and I have had my hour.

(‘Happy is the Man’ by Horace (65 – 8 BCE) Translated by John Dryden in the 17th century, de-gendered by me)

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This is my response:

Happy am I for I have lived today.  

I have had a glimpse of the place to whom I pray.

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I have drunk the nectar from the oranges I did pluck.

And I have felt my spirit from its sorrows come unstuck.

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I have heard the birds burst out in bawdy din.

And I have danced a salsa with the sunlight on my skin.

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I have touched my roots in the ancient olive trees.

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And I have tasted heaven in a chunk of cabra cheese.

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I have skipped on rocks climbing up on stony stairs.

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And I have waltzed through olive groves and left behind my cares.

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I have walked in mountains, jagged peaks up high above.

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And I have joined my soul to the woman who I love.

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I have caught the scented joy from a purple flower.

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Now all of that has been and gone but I have had my hour.

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Volunteering in Lesvos

11/02/2016

In January 2016 I spent two weeks in the Greek island of Lesvos as part of the international humanitarian solidarity movement responding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East.

With the support of you – my friends, family, neighbours and communities – I was able to join the international humanitarian solidarity movement supporting refugees fleeing violence and war in the Middle East. I raised £1484, collected 10 kg of hats, gloves and scarves and received an unmeasurable amount of love and hope from you. It is only a drop in the ocean but I believe that each contribution we made, whether of money, clothes, concern, time or prayers, was valuable. Together, we made a small but significant difference to the people on their way to a new life. 

(I raised more money than I expected so I’ve donated £650 to the projects described below.)

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People from all over the world converged on the Greek island of Lesvos.

maprefugeeflowMost of the refugees came from Syria and Afghanistan but I also met people from Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.

DIRTY GIRLS OF LESVOS

Many of you donated money directly to the Dirty Girls of Lesvos. I donated £50 and two weeks of my time and effort. Alison Terry-Evans set up Dirty Girls last summer and has devoted herself full time to fundraising, recruiting volunteers, liaising with NGOs, local people and the laundry as well as sorting the clothes and cleaning the beaches. My task was to pack the wet clothes into bags and pile them by the side of the road where they were picked up by the laundry. Then bring the clean dry clothes to the clothing tents at the reception camps to be distributed to the next boatful of people. This work benefited the refugees who were at risk of hypothermia in their wet clothes, the local economy by giving business to a commercial laundry and the environment by keeping many tonnes of usable clothes out of landfill.

IMG_20160110_121552This is my Dirty Girl mate, Carol from Chicago, pointing out the results of our hard work.

Notes from my journal: This is hard physical work and doesn’t involve much contact with refugees but I feel I’m doing my bit behind the scenes. Often people join us so I’ve had a chance to meet other volunteers from all over the world. I feel humbled by the willingness of ordinary people to leave their comfortable lives and come here to help the refugees. Today I worked with Eddy, a paramedic from the US, finding mates for socks. He’s willing to do anything that helps.

IMG_20160118_094745Volunteers from Sweden, Germany New Orleans, and England at a sock pinning party

Notes from my journal: I’ve noticed some frustration among the volunteers I’ve talked to, people feeling that we’re not doing anything useful, that our time is being wasted, that we can’t figure out how things work. Then I read a page of tips posted on the Facebook page Information Point for Lesvos Volunteers – “do not assume you have a better solution or system especially if you have recently arrived. Often things are done in a particular way for a reason which has been worked out by many people before you. Inefficient does not necessarily mean ineffective.” OK, let’s wait and see.

LIGHTHOUSE RELIEF REFUGEE CAMP

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I donated £300 to the Lighthouse Camp, a Swedish charity. They meet the boats, offer tea and soup, provide dry clothes and medical facilities. They need funds for running costs – gas for the generator, firewood, gravel for the paths, latrine maintenance and food. With more money coming in, they could pay salaries, accommodation and flights for staff so that people could stay long term. Right now, all are short term unpaid volunteers.

IMG_20160114_170505That’s Turkey where the boats come from. It’s only a few miles from the coast of Lesvos.

Notes from my journal: 

Although bright and sunny, no boats today as it’s very very windy, the wind blowing towards Turkey, the sea with whitecaps and spray. The water ripples as if being chased by invisible forces. Cumulus clouds are piled up against the blue sky, thunder and lightning streaks in the dark clouds over the mountains in Turkey.

Long talk with Father Christoforos Schuff, a Greek Orthodox priest with long experience helping refugees on Lesvos. He explained the smuggling operation on the Turkish side. Syrians pay 950 – 1500 euros per person. Afghanis pay 300 euros per person. Middlemen arrange everything. Refugees stay in town, get a call to go to a designated meeting place. They’re put in a minibus and driven to a place where they join other refugees. The larger group is loaded into buses or vans and driven for hours to another meeting place where there are even more refugees assembling. The people are transferred to lorries, standing room only, and driven to a forest by the shore. Cardboard boxes containing inflatable boats, engines and pumps are waiting for them. The smugglers sell fake life jackets, instruct the refugees how to inflate the boats and give a 5 minute lesson in piloting a boat to one of the refugees. None of the smugglers get arrested by either the Turkish or Greek Coast Guard. Everyone assumes the Turkish authorities are corrupt and are making big money out of these operations. 

I was told that boats often get only halfway across and run out of petrol because the smugglers don’t fill them up. If they’re lucky, they’re towed by rescue boats the rest of the way. Otherwise they have to paddle.

DSC_0090There were often so many volunteers eager to help that I stayed out of the way. This photo was taken by Alison Terry-Evans in the summer of 2015. 

Notes from my journal: 

Two boats came in this morning to the beach at Skala. There were lots of children running around, ever so cheerful – they are incredibly resilient. I offered to take a photo of a woman and man from Afghanistan who’d just got off the boat. The woman’s mother appeared and insisted on taking a picture of me with them. They had basic English and could say ‘nice to meet you’ which they said several times. 

Several boats arrived at once – frenetic activity while everyone got sorted with dry clothes, hot cups of chai, and whatever medical attention was needed. Then they were all driven away in minibuses and the camp was nearly empty except for one young woman who came to me pointing to a small rip in the pair of jeans she’d been given. I went in to the women’s clothing tent and pleaded on her behalf for another pair though I wasn’t completely sure if she wanted unripped jeans or jeans with a bigger rip. The volunteer who was frantically getting ready for the next onslaught was not sympathetic. “No way. A small rip is the least of her problems.’

Today in Lighthouse Camp, boat after boat arrives. I go back and forth, back and forth, carrying men’s trousers, shoes, socks to the men’s tent. At a volunteer briefing meeting the other day, the volunteers were reminded that we’re there to make the refugees feel safe and welcome so I stop often to smile and talk. Language is a problem as I don’t speak Arabic or Farsi. 

A woman outside the women’s clothing tent points to herself: ‘From Syria. Mother, sister in Syria. Leave Syria. Daesh (she mimes beheading). Dubai – no take Syrians. Saudi Arabia – no Syrians.’  Me: ‘Jordan? Lebanon?’  Woman, looking disgusted. ‘No.’

IMG_20160111_090954The remains of an inflatable rubber dinghy that carried up to 50 people.

Notes from my journal: One morning at 7 a.m. on the way to help set up the Platanos Camp, I passed one of the tavernas and noticed it was full of people, all silent, sitting in the dark. Later that day I learned that a large group of refugees had arrived in the night and with the help of some villagers had broken into the taverna seeking warmth and medical attention. They weren’t in time – a 4 year old boy and a 42 year old woman had died of hypothermia. 


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Getting the camp ready for the arrival of the boats.

MORIA CAMP ()

I donated £300 to the independent voluntary group providing support for refugees in Moria Camp – Better Days for Moria This is the centre where the Greek authorities register all the refugees who arrive on Lesvos. Once registered, they can travel on to the Greek mainland and continue their journey into Europe. Refugees stay in Moria for a day up to several weeks.

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IMG_20160115_141801Afghan Hill where non-priority refugees waited for registration


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The children’s play area

IMG_20160115_133504Clothing tent in Moria

SKALA SIKAMINEAS

I stayed in this beautiful little fishing village – population about 200. The villagers have suffered from the flood of refugees arriving in their space, both emotionally and economically. I was told about the trauma they’ve been experiencing as they’ve tried to rescue distressed and dying people over the last year without any help from the Greek authorities. As they rely on tourism, the fact that summer bookings are down by 80% is a catastrophe for them. I contributed to their economy by staying in a local guest house and eating at the tavernas. 

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Notes from my journal: 

Such a busy day. My prayers to be useful were answered. As we were eating breakfast at a taverna on the harbour, a boat was towed in by one of the rescue teams. It’s unbelievable that so many people could fit into such a small boat. None had luggage or bags. They’d had to leave them behind as the smugglers crammed more and more people into the dinghy. I escorted a soaking wet, shivering family with two babies to one of the reception camps down the road.

Went to clean up harbour area, littered with life jackets and rubber dinghies. Found a soaked and discarded backpack. Opened it to see what could be salvaged. Found Syrian money (100 Syrian pounds is worth 42 pence), nappies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, haircutting scissors, bottle of eau d’cologne, thermos bottle, packets of cookies, large metal coffee jug, neatly folded baby clothes. 

HOPE CENTRE, ELPIS 

I gave all the clothes you donated to this project – a derelict hotel in the north of the island that is being renovated to become an emergency short term (few hours to overnight) support space for people landing on the nearby beach. Although not yet completed, they have already begun receiving people and offering them dry clothes, hot drinks, showers, shelter and lifts to the registration camp in the south of the island.

IMG_20160121_233241At Heathrow Airport wearing one of the fake lifejackets sold to the refugees

Reflections on volunteering in Lesvos

10/02/2016

That woman,
the one climbing out of the sinking boat
the one with blue lips in a light summer coat
the one whose life jacket does not even float.
That woman could be me.

That man,
the one with holes in his worn out shoes
the one who has nothing left to lose
the one you saw on the six o’clock news.
That man could be you.

That elder,
the one so weak she can barely stand
the one clutching grandchildren in each hand
the one uprooted from her ancestral land.
That elder could be my mother.

That little girl,
the one too dazed to take sweets or fruit
the one not crying, the one who’s mute
the one the Taliban didn’t shoot.
That girl could be your daughter.

That toddler,
the one who arrived sick and damp
the one who was crying and suffering from cramp
the one playing happily in the refugee camp.
That boy could be our grandson.

That fisherman,
the one overwhelmed by the thousands who flee
the one fishing bodies out of the sea
the one abandoned by the powers that be.
That man could be our brother.

Those people,
the ones selling life jackets – useless and fake
the ones smuggling people in boats at daybreak
the ones who are desperate for money to make.
Those people could be us.

Those people,
the ones on the shore offering sweet cups of chai
the ones handing out clean clothes that are dry
the ones who can’t bear just to stand by.
Those people could be us.

And friends, those people are us.
We are those people.

Response to William Wordsworth

26/10/2015

To William Wordsworth who wrote a poem in 1798 after visiting the River Wye:

On the steep and lofty cliffs, reaching for the sky
above Tintern Abbey, along the River Wye
you composed a poem, that sweetly tells me why
it’s in Nature where I walk.

O sylvan Wye. My spirit turned to thee!
These are your words and they have set me free.
Your elevated thoughts have taught me how to be
in Nature where I walk.

I too have felt the Presence,
the sublime and deepening sense,
of joy, of light, not dark or dense,
in Nature where I walk.

I sense it by the River Wye,
in the setting sun, the cloud-covered sky,
in the woods, the meadows, the herons that fly
in Nature where I walk.

All that I behold on this green earth
lifts me from gloom to a sense of worth.
This my home, my dwelling, my berth,
is in Nature where I walk.

I’ve found the guardian of my heart,
the anchor where pure thoughts do start,
the nurse of my most inspired art
in Nature where I walk.

When in fear or pain or grief I’ve drowned,
in my mind I remember the harmonious sound,
and the beautiful forms that I have found
in Nature where I walk.

I won’t forget that we stood together
on the banks of this stream amidst the heather.
With deepest zeal, we worship forever
in Nature where we walk.

Response to William Wordsworth

Beyond Right and Wrong – Stories of Justice and Forgiveness

05/02/2015

Film – 17 February 8 pm and Workshop – 24 February 7-9 pm

As part of the 2015 Holocaust Memorial Day events, people who are passionate about peace and reconciliation are invited to a showing of the film Beyond Right & Wrong and to a workshop based on the film.

The Film (17 February, 8 pm) is a powerful documentary. Filmmaker Lekha Singh presents the stories of people who have experienced loss and of people who have caused that loss. From the Rwandan genocide to fighting in Northern Ireland to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people from different sides of the violence have entrusted us with their stories—their anger, their remorse, their pain, their paths to recovery.

The workshop (24 February, 7 to 9 pm. Book by emailing lisagsaffron@gmail.com) uses the film as a jumping-off point for thinking about the issues of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness in our own lives – in our relationships at work, in politics, at school, in our communities and our families. While the stories shared in the film may be much more extreme than what we experience in our lives, mistreatment, blaming and self-justifying are everyday occurrences even in societies without overt violent conflict. Using the approach in the book, The Anatomy of Peace (by the Arbinger Institute), we will explore how we can get to a place where we see people as people instead of objects, where we recognise their humanity as well as our own.

Cost: There is no charge but a donation towards the cost of the room hire will be appreciated. Suggested donation £5 – £10. Any excess will be donated to The Forgiveness Project.

Venue: Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY – 10 minutes walk from Bristol City centre, opposite Turbo Island, on the junction of Stokes Croft, Jamaica Street and City Road. www.hamiltonhouse.org Google map link here

Beyond Right and Wrong – Stories of Justice and Forgiveness

05/02/2015

Film – 17 February 2015 at 8 pm and Workshop – 24 February 7-9 pm

As part of the 2015 Holocaust Memorial Day events, people who are passionate about peace and reconciliation are invited to a showing of the film Beyond Right & Wrong and to a workshop based on the film. The Film (17 February, 8 pm) is a powerful documentary. Filmmaker Lekha Singh presents the stories of people who have experienced loss and of people who have caused that loss. From the Rwandan genocide to fighting in Northern Ireland to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people from different sides of the violence have entrusted us with their stories—their anger, their remorse, their pain, their paths to recovery. The workshop (24 February, 7 to 9 pm. Book by emailing lisagsaffron@gmail.com) uses the film as a jumping-off point for thinking about the issues of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness in our own lives – in our relationships at work, in politics, at school, in our communities and our families. While the stories shared in the film may be much more extreme than what we experience in our lives, mistreatment, blaming and self-justifying are everyday occurrences even in societies without overt violent conflict. Using the approach in the book, The Anatomy of Peace (by the Arbinger Institute), we will explore how we can get to a place where we see people as people instead of objects, where we recognise their humanity as well as our own. Cost: There is no charge but a donation towards the cost of the room hire will be appreciated. Suggested donation £5 – £10. Any excess will be donated to The Forgiveness Project. Venue: Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY – 10 minutes walk from Bristol City centre, opposite Turbo Island, on the junction of Stokes Croft, Jamaica Street and City Road. www.hamiltonhouse.org Google map link here

Tisha B’Av 2014 – naming the dead of Gaza

08/08/2014

On Tish’ah b’Av 2014, Jews for Justice for Palestinians organised a vigil in the centre of Bristol, which attracted more than 100 people. Our aim was to name all the people killed in Gaza and say Kaddish for them. As people joined us, they were given a section of the list of 1400 people killed and asked to choose one name to write on a placard. Before saying Kaddish, we held up our placards and in unison, read out the names of the dead, each person from their list.This is my introduction: Today is Tish’ah b’Av, the Jewish festival of mourning. From our Liberal prayer book: “On this day, Jews think of all people who have suffered and perished because of the cruelty of their fellow human beings. But we think especially of the agonies inflicted on our own people, the House of Israel, ever and again, from earliest until recent times. Some we have forgotten; others are sealed into our memory, a wound that does not heal. We mourn a hundred generations of victims and martyrs whose blood still cries out from the earth. Exile and persecution: how often that has been the Jewish fate! Whole communities were destroyed during the Crusades. We were held responsible for the Black Death. Jews were banished from almost every kingdom in Europe until, in 1492, the fateful expulsion from Spain was ordered by royal decree. In Poland, in the Ukraine, in Russia, anonymous thousands suffered pogroms and death for being Jewish. And only recently we drank more deeply than ever from the cup of sorrow. A world without Jews: that was the intent of Hitler and the Nazis.”Today on Tish’ah b’Av, I am fasting. I am mourning not just for the suffering of the Jewish people throughout history but for something even more heart-breaking, even more devastating – the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Jewish people. And I am mourning for Judaism because it is Judaism itself that is being murdered by Israel – the Judaism of compassion, loving-kindness, justice and peace. The traumas of the past still shape the consciousness of many Jews and influence the behaviour of the State of Israel today. These traumatised people deserve compassion and need healing. But trauma does not exonerate Israel’s behaviour.May our people’s long history of persecution, especially from the Nazi Holocaust, open our hearts to passionately value all life equally and to abhor dehumanising and murdering any group of people, including Hamas, including Palestinians.(Quote from Rabbi Michael Lerner) “Above all else, I grieve for all the unnecessary suffering on this planet, including the Israeli victims of terrorism, the Palestinian victims of Israeli terror and repression.  And yet I affirm that there is still the possibility of a different kind of world, if only enough of us would believe in it and then work together to create it.”(Quote by Sheila Yeger) Remember the nir tamid, the divine spark within each of us, that we all bear both the responsibilty and the privilege of being human beings. That what unites us is so much more than what divides us. That being peace is the only way forward.

Regret for the loss of innocent lives in Gaza

03/08/2014

In these painful times we regret the loss of all innocent life. Our thoughts are with all those who grieve and we fervently pray that we soon see a just and lasting peace for all in the region.” This was the statement made recently by representatives of different denominations within the British Jewish community, including the community I belong to.

2014PhotoYasmeen Nayef al-Yazji 4 Hatem Zain Nayef al-Yazji3

On the 21st July, Israeli warplanes bombarded a house belonging to the al-Yazji family west of Jabalya in Gaza. As a result, Wajdi Mahmoud ‘Ali al-Yazji, 54; his wife Safinaz Nabil al-Yazji, 50; and his grandchildren, Yasmeen Nayef al-Yazji, 4, and Hatem Zain Nayef al-Yazji, 3, were killed. Four members of the family were also wounded and the house was heavily damaged. (Source: PCHR) A photo of the children was on the website humanizepalestine.com. When I saw the smiling, happy faces of Yasmeen and Hatem, I didn’t feel regret. I felt nauseous. I felt torn apart. I felt grief-stricken. I felt guilt. I felt despair. I saw my own precious grandchildren, Shanteya, 4, and Riley, 2, looking at me for protection. Even if Wajdi Mahmoud ‘Ali al-Yazji and Safinaz Nabil al-Yazji are not innocent, even if they deserved to die, I don’t feel safer as a Jew knowing that an Israeli warplane dropped a bomb on their house without even knowing their names.

I don’t feel regret but I can fervently pray and this is my prayer:

May our people’s long history of persecution, especially from the Nazi Holocaust, open our hearts to passionately value all life equally and to abhor generalising and dehumanising any group of people, including Hamas.

May Israeli policy makers come to their senses and realise that their policy of seeking security through domination is inhumane and ultimately ineffective. May the State of Israel cease Operation Protective Edge, bring an end to the 7 year siege of Gaza, end the 47 year long military occupation of the Palestinian people, acknowledge the unity government of Hamas and Fatah as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, and negotiate to find a just and lasting peace for all in the region.

May the US and UK governments stop providing military aid to Israel and start exerting meaningful and serious pressure on the Israeli government to work towards a just and lasting peace for all.

May Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other Palestinian militias stop firing rockets into Israel and stop talking about ‘obliterating the Zionist entity’.

May the Israeli and Palestinian people join together to formulate the only workable, just and lasting way out – a single democratic state which guarantees individual and collective rights for all.

In Hebrew, the word for prayer is l’hitpallel which means to fill our hearts and minds with the vision of what we want to see. I visualise Yasmeen and Shanteya, Hatem and Riley together with their parents and grandparents playing, laughing, running around, dancing, singing and eating. All together in peace, love and harmony.

As Martin Luther King said of another apparently intractable conflict, “Out of the mountain of despair, comes the stone of hope.”