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Could an Ethiopian Jewish festival point the way to a new model of Jewish pluralism?

"Sigd-27.11.08" by האגודה הישראלית למען יהודי אתיופיה - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Does the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd help us build a new model of pluralism?

Judaism has a history of diversity whilst promoting unity. Modern questions of religious pluralism echo those of previous generations: some differences are accepted, some are tolerated and some are seen as heresy. Even in the latter case, the heresy and the heretics can be sometimes be separated. In this respect the Jewish faith does not differ to others. (more…)

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Where a picture does not say 1000 words. The courageous story behind this photo.

1368778494-635x357The Times of Israel article on the issuing of this postal stamp in Belgium does not do this picture justice. Let me tell you the real story… Or the one that I know anyway.

Chief Rabbi Guigui (the man on the left) told me his story last year and I shall repeat it here.

In 2001, he was walking through Anderlecht and was attacked by a gang: he was badly hit and the youths hurled insults at him in Arabic before being rescued by a friend. Instead of getting angry, never returning to Anderlecht or battening down the hatches he decided to engage.

He formed a very special relationship with Imam Abdullah Dahdouh who had a mosque in Anderlecht. The imam became the first Muslim cleric to be invited into a synagogue in Belgium and the Chief Rabbi and him became close friends forming a strong and public relationship until the Imam was murdered in his Mosque two years ago by Salafist extremists.

Both Guigui and Dahdouh wanted to create a better Brussels and better Jewish-Muslim relations is a city that has seen violence. Guigui told me this story on a panel last year… Remembering his friend he became ever so slightly tearful: “I was attacked, yes, but my friend the Imam was killed… that’s why I cant stop. That’s why this work is so important”…

Amen to that.

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Learning with the Lord…

rabbinic students with Rabbi Sacks

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of visiting Rabbi Lord Sacks at his home with other members of the Montefiore Rabbinic College. Lord Sacks is a member of Faculty.

In preparation for the festival of Sukkot he looked at the text of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes). His conclusion was simple: in a fragile world we have a short life, one sustained by ‘hevel’, a shallow breath. In that life it is not the possessions and power that we accumulate (something the author of Koheleth, either King Solomon or someone writing in his name, claims he has done) but throughout he mentions that it is moments of joy. Lord Sacks explained the difference between joy and happiness.

Happiness can be achieved on your own. Joy can only be achieved together. So for all of you sitting with friends and family in your Sukkah this week may I wish you a Hag Sukkah Semeach – a joyful Sukkot..

For more information on my studies at Montefiore College and my journey to become a rabbi listen to Rabbi School Diaries.

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Justice, justice, you shall pursue

11902498_10155905327185322_2100391311327008070_nThis Shabbat we read from Deuteronomy / Devarim the section called Shoftim. This week we say the words from that text “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (צדק צדק תרדף). Today this photo was taken as refugees try to enter the EU. It has moved me as I am sure it moves you. Desperate refugees fleeing from wartorn areas. Children on their parents shoulders. These people were tear-gassed for wanting to come into the EU.

It can’t be left to only bankrupt Greece or troubled Spain and Italy to integrate these refugees. Surely, we can do more more… Surely we should do more. I know times are tough but nothing compared to these guys… I don’t mean to preach. I just want that these people have some hope, some escape from misery not caused by them, some future and some justice. We are all humans… Justice, justice, you shall pursue…

Shabbat Shalom

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Calais

Refugees at Calais
Refugees at Calais

Current death toll at Calais since June: 12 Current residents at Calais camp: 3000

Among reports of deaths these have emerged:

24th July: A young Eritrean woman hit by a car about 5:30 on the A16. People at the scene reported that she was gassed in the face by the police before she was hit

23rd July: A teenager was found dead in the English part of the Eurotunnel at Folkestone

19th July: Houmed Moussa, an Eritrean teenager of 17, drowned on the site of Eurotunnel

4th July: Samir, an Eritrean baby died one hour after birth. Her mother, twenty years old, fell from the truck triggering a premature delivery at twenty-two weeks.

The much maligned Hungarian Government has taken in far more refugees and so has Germany than the UK. The Mediterranean bloc of EU countries are bankrupt and barely coping with new arrivals but still they give refuge.

The UK and French Governments’ policy is in tatters. You don’t just walk from Eritrea or Syria risking your life at sea and at the hands of traffickers to then turn back at Calais. There must be a more humane way to deal with this crisis.

The Governments response to this is not to deny that those waiting at the Port of Calais are not refugees but to shut our doors on them. Why can’t we process them there or here? Some will go on about cost but we have just converted an airport into a lorry stacking facility at the cost of £10,000s per day (of taxpayers money). Call me insane but frankly would love to give refugees refuge and get them working and contributing to taxes than ploughing money into a failed scheme.

Britain does have a great record of giving asylum and refuge. We value fair play, respect, tolerance and have promoted humanitarian causes throughout the world.

This is not a party political issue but a human one. I am not calling for open borders or no controls: I am calling for justice. Whatever way it is argued this seems cruel, unjust and unBritish… And yes, we bear responsibility too.

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Temple Mount / Haram Al-Sharif: How would I examine current explanations by news channels if I was marking GCSE Religious Studies

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There seems to be a lot of coverage of the Temple Mount / Haram Al-Sharif at the moment… And just from a simple GCSE Religious Studies perspective the media stations are not doing well so I thought I would do some homework marking (on their Religious Studies homework and not based on any political views):

1) BBC (Generic): Grade C-: the candidate has a rudimentary understanding of the importance of the site to both Judaism and Islam. However, they fail to mention any detail. Apparently ranking the site as the holiest Jewish site and third holiest Muslim site seems to suffice. Their rankings are meaningless without a little detail. Suggest the candidate explains both the Temple / Al-Aqsa Mosque and their significance. For extra marks they could explain status quo and the British Commission on the Western Wall which set some of the legal precedents.

2) ITV news (Rageh Omaar) – Grade : E – see remarks above for candidate 1. Mr Omaar however fails to grasp the religious significance of the site for Jews.

3) Israeli PM Website: Grade D – much the same as candidate 1. Some interesting statistics about visitor numbers to the site which don’t really add much. Strong on the whole maintenance of the status quo without really explaining it.

4) Jeremy Bowen: Grade E – could do more. Given his frequent visits to the region perhaps he could take a tour? Suspect that either he has copied candidate 2’s answer or vice versa. Would not recommend this candidate take a job as an expert on the Middle East.

5) CNN – Grade B+ – This is a model answer and perhaps deserves an A but lacks some detail as to why and who visits the site (also tempted to take a mark off for the candidate captioning a synagogue as a mosque in another assignment). Their answer is clear and concise: class should look at it.

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Chickenomics: Lessons from the Kosher Chicken Factory

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So this week we visited an abattoir that deals with Kosher chickens and other poultry as part of my Rabbinic studies programme.

My vegetarian wife has taken my visit well but what did I learn apart from the fact that I am not keen on the smell of chicken dung which remained on my clothes for hours after the visit.

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Ireland and the Jews: Maurice White

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Original Article: Jewish Quarterly

By Alexander Goldberg.

“Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis”.

Maurice White’s novel ‘Keep Breathing Out’ is a welcome addition to the growing library of works attributed to Irish Jewish writers.

The book itself was published to coincide with last year’s Homecoming, an attempt by the Irish tourist board to encourage the 70 million Irish worldwide to come and visit the home country. Maurice is himself one of these exiles and it is through these eyes that the book tackles the difficult question of whether it is possible to be both Jewish and Irish. (more…)

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Meeting Dan Jørgensen – Danish Minister of Food – on Shechitah and Halal ban

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On 20th March, I joined a Jewish-Muslim delegation of leaders and met with the Danish food Minister Dan Jørgensen.

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Yom HaShoah Address at Hamonean

Memorial at Valašské Meziříčí. Photo Credit: Radim Holiš
Memorial at Valašské Meziříčí. Photo Credit: Radim Holiš

Reverend Ernst Levy was a Cantor in Scotland and over the years became the voice of survivors in there. Rev Levy was a camp survivor and through his broadcasts on BBC Scotland reached and touched the lives of thousands of people. In truth, he was one of the nicest people I have ever met. I came into contact with him during my first-ever job where I worked in Scotland for the Jewish community. We were asked to develop a Jewish education programme following concerns about the declining numbers in the city and put on a series of courses, formal and informal. One of those courses we were asked to do was on the Shoah. Finding someone to lecture on the historical side of the Shoah was not too difficult. However, people on the course wanted a session of G-d after Auschwitz. Rev Levy was acceptable to all. Ernst spoke movingly about his unbroken faith and we went to questions. There was a moment of silence in the questioning and so I put my question. I asked a stupid question and got a brilliant reply. ‘You have told us that you have retained your faith in G-d after Auschwitz, but do you still have faith in humanity’. He smiled at me and said, ‘If you don’t believe in humanity then there is no point in believing in G-d’. He went on to tell me about the soldiers who had found him in a ditch at the end of the war and rescued him, the German nurse that had brought him back to health… There is no point in believing in G-d if you don’t believe in humanity… (more…)

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