I wrote this on my facebook page on Monday as I sat in the airport preparing to fly home. On Tuesday I learnt that the violence in Israel had claimed another victim – Richard Lakin – a member of the Reform community in Israel, someone who was a committed educator with a vision of acts of kindness at life’s heart. His funeral takes place today and my heart goes out to his family, המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שער אבלים.
On Sunday, I spent some of my day with the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa. They have two new floors on one building to accommodate a growing elementary school under the guidance of Rabbi Oded Mazor. I also saw the display for the Rabin memorial, including Ministry of Education produced posters. And there were also flags of every country where the centre has a connection. Finally I met Liron Naveh who is in charge of Beit Ligdol Tov – a centre that works with the most deprived families (such as Ethopian and Russian) of Western Haifa (alongside the Sauwa Centre for Arab families – also a Leo Baeck initiative). Liron is also responsible for supporting Ethiopian families through their life at the school. I’m proud to be a trustee and chair of the British Friends of Leo Baeck Centre in Haifa.
In spite of all the tension and violence in Israel there are people working hard to make peace, co-existence, democracy and to build a better future. They are beautiful, caring people who deserve our support. I met them all over on my trip.
The communities standing on junctions simply making the gesture of living together in peace as neighbours of peace and handing out a peace of cake. The presence of נשים עושות שלום – نساء يعملن السلام – Women Wage Peace was also important.
The people working for The Sir Charles Clore Jewish Arab Community Centre who sometimes are not even sure if there is enough in the budget at the end of the month to pay them.
The rabbis and volunteers risking their well being and consistently standing up for the universality of human rights with Rabbis for Human Rights and representing these values as Jewish values in the public square of ideas.
On Sunday night I attended a local town ceremony to commemorate the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, 20 years ago. It was troubling to realise that the children who graduated from high school in the last two years were not even born when the assassination happened. They have grown up amidst almost continuous violence, including the Second Intifada and multiple eruptions of war and conflict. They have seen so much death and destruction. And along with a loss of faith in a peace process they have also seen Rabin’s memory traduced – as if his legacy was one of false hope and failure, and as if, it seems to me, the governments and leaders (make no mistake on all sides) following take no responsibility for where we are now.
The ceremony itself felt confused, like no-one really knew how to understand Rabin’s legacy nor had any answers to the violence currently enveloping society with death once again, incitement of Palestinian leaders and Jewish leaders to further violence, antisemitism, racism and hatred of the other. There are few answers forthcoming and people, human beings of every background, are scared and confused.
And yet in spite of all that, my friends who opened their arms and homes to me, the people I met, the strangers who stood with me on the street, the staff of the centres I visited and heard about, they refuse to give up hope. Because in the midst of despair, hope is what keeps them going along with their inspirational passion and commitment to wage peace and make things better.
Lots to think about…but if they can keep pursuing peace, then who are we to lose faith and desert them at such a pressing time.