Chanukah and the battle against evil: then and now

Our struggle for 5779

Anti-Semitism surrounding Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, continued threats to Israel from Gaza’s border with increased hostility to the State of Israel,the wild antics of President Donald Trump which, like them or not, are changing our world each day, and the failure to see light in the Brexit negotiations.

All this has us living with great uncertainty about the future, and then the usual blights on civilisation – disease, hunger, poverty, oppression, homelessness. It all adds up to the world we live in today. Yet we return to the shul to restore the seeds of our strength, resolve and faith, which enable us to combat the challenges of despair and anguish.

There are personal struggles as well. Some of us have lived through financial uncertainty this past year, loss of job and security, failed relationships and marriages, illness or death. No one evesaid life would be easy and that is why we need a spiritual response to all thesethings that have weighed upon us during the past year. We all know that our Judaism and Jewish tradition are virtual treasure chests of wisdom and strength. Our people have been there before and have always risen to new heights of strength. We will be calling upon ourselves to do the same.

During these Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) ahead of us, I will be speaking on my usual themes: God (on first day Rosh Hashanah), Israel (on second day), Judaism and Jewish identity (on Kol Nidrei), existential truths (on Yom Kippur), life and death (at Mazkir/Yizkor) through the prism of people. Not all the individuals I will be speaking about are well known. Some are, some are known only by a few. But I hope that their stories will inspire us to rise to new heights and understanding of ourselves.

At Selichot on 1 September our shiur at 9.00 pm, to which you are all invited prior to the service which starts at 10.00 pm, will explore how individuals, teachers, parents, relatives and friends have influenced our views of ourselves, our Jewish identities and life itself. So, think about which people through your years have inspired you the most and shaped your destiny, your thoughts, your lives, your faith.

A prayer for the Yamim Noraim:

May we hold lovingly in our thoughts and prayers this 5779, those who still suffer in this world from tyranny, who are subjugated to live in cruelty and injustice. Let us resolve to work every day towards the alleviation of suffering wherever we see it and experience it.

May we pursue the biblical prophets’ vision of peace that implores us to live harmoniously with each other, to respect the differences of opinions and beliefs that exist among us, to be forgiving of those whom we believe have hurt us. May we always cherish diversity, respect all forms of Jewish life, work continuously for the unity of the people of Israel and always seek to find the Divinity that resides in the human soul.

May we struggle against injustice against our people, in this country and in Israel, fighting hard for the dignity of our people and making it clear that we will never again tolerate the hatred and anti-semitism of previous generations or today’s willingness to destroy our only Jewish state. May our commitments to Israel, our Judaism and our fellow Jews increase this year.

May we disdain gossip and realise again and again how thoughtless rumours and words can destroy good people and distort truth.

May we act with greater purity of heart and mind this coming 5779, despising none and loving all.
May the Jewish people and this Belsize Square Congregation be beacons of light to the world, to our community and to the State of Israel.

May we all have the honour of fulfilling the words of the Torah and of our rabbis to pursue peace in all our actions, loving our neighbour as ourselves, cherishing the gift of life that God has given to us and never taking for granted our health, our will, our spirit or our love.
May God bring peace to us and to all humanity this new year, 5779.

Rabbi Stuart Altshuler