Rabbi Richard Jacobi writes in response to the terror attack at London Bridge
I am writing this on the morning of 4th June 2017. Last night, the news feed to my smartphone was filled with messages and updates relating to the attack on London Bridge that overflowed into Borough Market. A brief flurry of concern regarding where my daughter Abigail was during that evening was quickly allayed. Then my thoughts turned to a prospective new member of our community, whom I’d only met two days earlier, and who had told me she lived near London Bridge.
Having monitored the situation for a while until Abigail was safely home, I went to sleep. The fear and worry had kept me awake long enough. It was the best thing I could do in a circumstance that was once more chilling and scary and upsetting.
What got me out of bed early this morning was the need to write this piece and to communicate a message to the members of my synagogue. By the time you read this article, I cannot know how events will develop, nor can we know if or when another attack will happen; but I know that the Westminster, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks are chapters in an ongoing story. It is a never-ending story of the sometimes bloody conflict between moderate and extremist views all over the world. Taking the long view of history, this has included the Crusades, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the slave trade, Nazism, Communism, and other totalitarian dictators in countries on every continent. Amongst those without political power are dissidents of all sorts, this includes terrorist groups of all backgrounds, race, religions and colours willing to exploit the situation without thought for the innocent bystander – the latest incarnations of which we witness in news that reaches us in all too instant and gory detail.
Standing against these extremists are the moderates – those who believe in the rule of law and that the law must ensure no monopoly of power held by any individual or clique. These groups are willing to sacrifice some of their individual freedoms for the collective good of society and the wider populous. They – we – will contribute taxes, time and skills to sustain a society that respects the diversity of views and beliefs of all.
My Judaism places me firmly in the camp of the moderates and I hope that you are too. One of the challenges of these times is that we can feel pushed away from the centre towards an opposite extreme to that which threatens us. While Newton’s third law of physics is that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” we do have a choice as to the manner and content of that reaction. Leviticus 19:18 tells us “You shall not take vengeance … Love your neighbour as yourself.” Even nearly three thousand years ago, the biblical authors recognised that it is tempting to seek to fight fire with fire, and that is why the verse warns against this, before counselling us to hold on to our values, whatever the circumstance.
The things that keep us awake at night are our fears and concerns. The things that get us up in the morning are the aspirations we have to make the world a little better because we lived in it. That is why we traditionally recite a set of morning blessings every day. Our Liberal Jewish version of these appears on page 118 of Siddur Lev Chadash. One purpose of these blessings is to reset our moral compass each morning – whatever kept us awake last night must not be allowed to drive our actions this morning. We need to regain and retain our moral balance and our sense of what a healthy and sustainable society looks like.
You and I cannot single-handedly or collectively prevent the terrorist attacks. What we can and must influence are our own words and deeds, and through these show the strength, the real power, of love. When combined with steely and resilient determination, our society and our values will withstand those who speak and act hatefully. We need, more than ever, to retain our kindness, our commitment to justice and our aspiration for a peaceful co-existence of diverse people. This task is what gets me up in the morning. If you feel the same, then together we will make ELELS a light to the nations, a beacon of the Jewish golden rule: “love your neighbour as yourself”.
Rabbi Richard Jacobi