Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander OBE (z’tl), who escaped Germany in 1939 as a child. I think it’s because the recent Martin Luther King weekend reminded me of him sitting on my interview panel for the Leo Baeck College. He told me how he had been part of the civil rights marches, taking his students to Selma. Later on, when I was a student at the Leo Baeck College, studying for the rabbinate, he taught a wonderful class on theology. The semester finished with him presenting his students with a copy of one of his books with a dedication on this inside cover. It was a sign of his philosophy of teaching and of his menschlichkeit.
When Albert died, shortly before I began a placement at Westminster Synagogue in 2004, I decided I would spend the commute to Westminster Synagogue reading the work of Paul Tillich in his memory. Tillich was a Christian theologian who I would probably never have encountered were it not for Albert. Tillich had to flee Germany because his university teaching had brought him into conflict with the Nazis. He moved to New York to be on the faculty at the Union Theological Seminary.
At the end of the edition of Albert’s book, ‘Out of the Whirlwind: A Reader of Holocaust Literature’ in our Synagogue library, the final reading is an interview by Friedlander of Tillich. It felt appropriate to conclude with it here as we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, the theme of which for 2017 is ‘How Can Life Go On?’ and will be marked on Friday night with our guest speaker Lord Dubs. Tillich says:
“Remember what I said before: it happened to all, and it is still taking place. All Jews and Christians who believe in the One God and in universal justice have to confront this evil in the world…We should not ask: Why does God permit suffering? Instead, we should recognise that there is that in the depth of our being which will enable us to challenge evil, to overcome suffering, to work for the fulfilment of the ultimate goal which is the goal of history. And part of Jewish suffering, and part of Jewish greatness, is that the Jew has historically aligned himself with universal justice, and has been the great opponent of evil.”
‘A Final Conversation with Paul Tillich’ in Out of the Whirlwind, p.519
This was my Thought for the Week at West London Synagogue – 27 January 2017 (Holocaust Memorial Day).