Friday, 7 December 2012


Hanukkah contains so many ideas and is open to so many interpretations and modern re-imaginings that it's difficult to know where to start.

Is it about muscular Maccabean Judaism with heroic battles fought with God on our side? Or is about miracles in the Temple that prove that God never abandons His people? Has it become the Jewish answer to (secular) Christmas celebrations, a way to make sure the children don't feel left out of the present buying frenzy? Perhaps the real miracle (as the Rugrats Hanukkah special told us) is that we have spent more than two thousand years eating grated fried potatoes and donuts - and yet we have survived!

This year, I'm thinking about Hanukkah just in terms of light and darkness.

Each night, for eight days, we kindle one more tiny, fragile candle that burns gently for no more than twenty minutes.  And each night a little more darkness becomes illuminated. Slowly we light the way ahead and rededicate not an ancient temple but ourselves.

When it comes to Israel/Palestine we need all the light we can find and all of the rededication we can muster in our pursuit of peace with justice.   

For those readers not onboard for my first Hanukkah as a blogger, here's last year's reflections -

Maccabees, Miracles and Zionists...and how to get the balance right

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Now is the time! - A prophetic call to action

To the Assembly of Reform Rabbis in the United Kingdom,

I believe we are reaching a defining moment in the history of the State of Israel and your collective voice might just make a difference.

I call on you because it was from within the Reform Movement that my Judaism was nurtured and encouraged and from where I continue to take inspiration.

I call on you because I see an ethical hesitancy born of political expediency that brings you no merit and that must be challenged.  

I call on you because you taught me to honour the Hebrew prophets

I call on you because now is the time.

Last week we witnessed the almost total isolation of the Jewish State in the United Nations General Assembly. The United States was the only country of significance to back Israel. Even Germany chose to abstain. 

Government after government rejected the idea that a make believe peace process would somehow be jeopardised by giving the Palestinians upgraded observer status in the General Assembly. 

The very next day, the Israeli government carried out its threat to punish the Palestinians for their audacity in appealing to the international community for the most modest of support. A West Bank zone, known as E1, is to have 3,000 homes built for Jewish settlers. 

Rabbis of the Reform Assembly, you know that these new homes will have Jewish only roads connecting them and Jewish only buses and cars driving to and from them. You know that these homes, when joined to the existing settlement blocs, will cut the West Bank in two and prevent East Jerusalem from ever becoming the capital of a Palestinian State. You know these homes will be built on land that is, at the very least, disputed territory, land that the international community believes belongs to the Palestinian people. 

Now is the time for you to take courage and to speak out. 

Not only is Israel on the brink of ending all possibility of a just resolution to a 100 year old conflict, it is also committing itself to Jewish hegemony in preference to Jewish democracy. 

Now is the time for you to take action.

There can be little doubt that we are looking at the first moves towards the unilateral annexation of Area C of the West Bank - approximately 60% of the territory that the Oslo Accords earmarked for a Palestinian State. 

If Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu party wins the Israeli election on January 22nd with a secure majority (and that’s looking by far the most likely outcome) this is the course they will set for themselves.   

Now is the time for you to move beyond calls for mutual understanding and respect and beyond a theology that elevates ‘balance’ to a religious virtue.  

On Tuesday 20 November 2012, as the death toll in Gaza continued to rise, you issued a statement on the Reform Judaism’s website. This is what you said:

“Torah commands us 'do not stand idly by while the blood of your neighbour is being shed' and two verses later 'love your neighbour as yourself'. These verses apply to everyone in this fearful situation, both Israelis and Gazans, however hard this is to recognise in a time of war.” 

Empathy for ‘the other’ is vital and much welcome - especially when it is in such short supply elsewhere in the Jewish community. 

But if the religious thought process stops there, it fails the test of the Jewish prophetic. It ignores where the real power lies and where the real oppression falls.

Undoubtedly, there is pain and suffering to be found on both sides. But let us be honest with ourselves, and others. 

There is no balance. 

Acknowledging this is the next important step that takes us beyond empathy and towards the moral and redemptive power of the Hebrew prophets. 

Now is the time to make an unequivocal statement that draws on our ethical heritage and says to the State of Israel, in a word borrowed from our annual liturgy of freedom: ‘DAYENU!’ Enough! 

May these words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who put righteousness, not tribal solidarity, at the heart of Judaism, ring in your ears: “In a democracy some are guilty but all are responsible.”

Now is the time to be brave and to be bold.

Now is the time to speak truth unto power. 

Now is the time.