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Of Trump and Tragedy

26/05/17 15:00:49


What a week it’s been, dominated by the visit of Donald Trump to Israel and the awful carnage of Manchester. As I was leaving Jerusalem (having paved the way for Donald’s visit) the barricades were going up, the motorway was being adorned with matching Israeli and American flags. A Christian group had posted billboards across the city declaring: “Trump make Israel Great Again”. My hotel, the Dan Panorama, advised all guests it was time to clear out as Trump’s entourage was moving in…

Trump himself subsequently moved into the King David Hotel, got an embossed gold-leafed copy of Tehillim or Psalms at the Kotel, made his speeches and moved onto the next holy city, The Vatican. If expectations were high that the President would issue any game-changing statements, then they were surely unfulfilled. We could take some comfort though, from his determination to bring peace to the Middle East and there was surely some naches to see Jared and Ivanka at the Wall. It was also encouraging to hear Trump’s pointed comments to the Palestinians about their toxic funding of violent behaviour.

This was also driven home to the AIJAC clergy group I led, by Itamar Marcas the Director of Palestinian Media Watch. Founded in 1996 PMW monitors, documents and analyses the Palestinian Authority presentations in the media. Marcus demonstrated how Abbas himself has skirted around the fact that the PA pays the families of convicted terrorists and “martyrs”. PA TV kids continue to be lionised for their poisonous recitation of verses about Jews and Israelis.

If terror, violence and the thirst for security is always central to any conversation about Israel today (and it featured in the many excellent presentations to our group), it dominated world media and our collective consciousness after the bombing of the concert in Manchester. Once again the cold, callous horseman of terror galloped through a Western city. Once again the horror and the blood, the shock and the cruelty. This attack will be remembered for the children and teenagers targeted:

Pity the children, cut down too soon. Pity the children witness to such cruelty, to such horror. Pity the parent, desperate for news of a missing child. Pity the child who lost parents to the cruel flames and vicious metal parts. Pity the minds and hearts of those who plan and commit such acts. Pity the Muslims who have to confront their callous co-religionists. Pity the world that has to witness the twisted ideology and inhuman face of this terror. Pity us all for living in a time of utter evil and depravity.

This recalls the poet Wilfred Owen’s phrase about ‘the pity of war’, referring to the suffering of the individual, the tragedy of the human condition.

Pity is the word used by King David in Psalm 103:13 “Like a father pities his children, so has Hashem shown pity to those that fear him”. The Hebrew word for pity is rachem which is more resonant than the English which has connotation of patronisation as in: ‘Don’t show me your pity, give me your respect”. Rachmanut רחמנות is more about compassion than condescension. It is connected to the Hebrew word “רחם“ rechem or womb. The womb is the most compassionate and caring environment – it protects and nurtures the unborn, it respects life above everything else. God is distinguished by His endearing compassion and respect for us. The terrorist inhabits not a womb but a tomb – an airless place devoid of life, dedicated to death. 22 year old Salmon Abedi was locked in his toxic chamber and his appalling cowardice and cruelty link him to the master tomb-builders, the ancient Egyptians. Their pyramids and palaces were built by slaves, our ancestors, and into these walls says the Midrash they would place the bodies of the murdered boy infants… The more brutal the empire, the more they focus on the murder of young children – from child sacrifice to the Nazis, from Pharoah to Pol Pot.

In Jerusalem itself during this dark week, a celebration of light took place. On Wednesday it was Yom Yerushalayim, the 50th anniversary of the re-unification of the city. Colourful pillars of light illuminated the golden walls of the olden city, ‘Davids Harp’ the bridge at the entrance to the city glowed with different colours. But the real light was in the timeless heart of this place; Yerushalayim, is where you find the meeting of heaven and earth, eternity touching the temporal. It’s a city where “yeru” you will see real peace (“shalom”), true love, authentic compassion. A place to discover your best self, the most pristine of your personality. It’s the place of promise, the space where nations will one day gather to pray and stay together. The place from which “shalom” and shlemut, wholeness, will burst out and heal the brokenness, and heal the broken hearts. May it come soon.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach – Rabbi Ralph

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780