Today is September 11 – 9/11

Today is September 11 – 9/11

20 years ago, today, we woke up thinking it would be just another day, but 20 years ago, today, the world changed.

20 years ago, today, the world changed for almost 3,000 people murdered on planes, at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for their families and communities.

20 years ago, today, the world changed for the US, the UK, the world.

20 years ago, today, our lives and our great hopes for a century or even a millennium of peace collapsed in a few hours.

Today we are marking the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, a day most appropriate to reflect on change.

What is left after 20 years of our dreams we had before 9/11 and what will be? Can we restore our hopes, can we recreate, can we adjust?

20 years ago, I was not a professional Jew, but perhaps 9/11 pushed me in that direction. 20 years ago, was a day where I felt lost and shocked. 20 years ago, my world changed.

20 years ago, I left our apartment in Munich early in the morning. It was only a few days before the bookfair in Frankfurt and we had several meetings on the agenda this day to prepare for it. Chayim lived that time in Philadelphia, and we had our routine to talk usually around lunch time for some minutes. But not so that day. Because I had meetings scheduled for the whole day and Chayim knew about it, I wasn’t expecting a call from him.

At some point – I can’t remember the time – one of my colleagues who was known for making bad jokes at the wrong time – opened the door to the conference room and said, “New York is burning”. And the second thing he said “Chayim left a message at the reception that he is going home.”

Weird combination, which made only sense after we switched on the TV in the conference room. The meetings were over, and everyone went to their computers. At that time the internet had already collapsed. I tried to call Chayim to no avail. For your information, our apartment in Philadelphia that time was only one block away from the big sky-scrapers downtown Philly. With all the pictures that were broadcasted into our homes via the TV in an endless loop and the spare information available that also spoke about one plane which was heading towards Philadelphia missing, my day was over. I left the office to go home. Should Chayim try to call me, it was better to be at home.    

Several hours later he called, a relief. But the hours in-between are burned into my memories and the pain is still real. And this is what I felt, 1000s of miles away.

Thankfully, no one I knew lost their life.

Nevertheless, this day still changed my life in a way I never anticipated.

That day, the way how people saw me changed.

Only a few days after 9/11, returning home from my place of work, which was literally only two blocks walk, two civil policemen stopped me in front of my door, asking for my papers. Asking them, why they stopped me, they were honest about it: I looked suspicious. I look somehow Arabic.

After 9/11 this happened often to me. The only thing that stopped them for checking my identity was wearing a kippah. Who have thought that wearing a kippah in Germany would actually save you from being racially profiled – at least in a way that you were not considered as an immediate threat.

20 years ago, everyone who was looking different was considered either a threat, a terrorist, or not. Many times, I ended up being seen as of the first category, and it wasn’t fun.

To be fair, I grew up in Germany with being considered not a “real German”, but before 9/11 it wasn’t that hurtful. Until then it was no “legally sanctioned” racism, it was only the usual day-by-day racism. 9/11 allowed the police (for a while) to check everyone who “didn’t look German. And if you complained the answer was that 9/11 changed the parameters and this is now what needs to be done, to prevent another 9/11.

And I am sure that my experiences where minor to what people who didn’t speak German and/or without a German ID document had to endure. But the fear that I – by mistake – left the house without my ID card was real. Still today, when I see police, my blood pressure goes up, just because I learned after 9/11 that I had to proof that I am not a terrorist. There could be dozens of people around me, only I and everyone else who looked like a “terrorist” had to show their papers.

I am not blind; I have seen what radicalised Islamic fighters have done to the world. I see what is happening in Afghanistan right now, I have mourned victims of terror attacks and I find it unbearable how women, men and children suffer day by day under an ideology that hates human diversity.

But I hate more that the terrorists of 9/11 succeeded in limiting our human freedom, hurting our human dignity, and destroying our hopes for a world in peace. I am upset that our society had to trade in a bit of our freedom in exchange of safety after each single terror attack. I hate that I feel traumatised by the reaction of my own society. With the twin towers some of the colours that made our world shining so brightly disappeared. The world became a bit greyer, a bit darker. I cry in the anguish of my hart because of that.

However, I mentioned that 9/11 brought me also a bit closer to my Judaism. Chayim might share with you after the service how 9/11 was for him, and how his congregation in Philadelphia came together in the days after, first to console one another, and then also to celebrate the High Holy Days in a world that seemed to fall apart.

Also in far-away Munich, the community got closer together, and the teaching of repairing the world after such a catastrophe still rings in my ears, outbalancing the human disappointments of the weeks and months after.

I understood that it is on me and everyone else around me to restore human dignity. I can mourn the many times I felt hurt and feel diminished because of political agendas or pure racism or anti-Semitism, it happened, and it will happen again. But I learned that I could comfort someone who was hurt too, I could restore hope, I could and can re-create dreams, and I could and can bring healing.

Yes, the terrorists of 9/11 accomplished to take away a hurtful amount of liberty and human dignity with their heinous acts, but they have not won. And my Judaism teaches me not to let them win. Tikkun Olam is a real thing. As long as we see in the other a human being, they cannot win, as long as we don’t treat others who don’t look, act, love, pray or whatever like us automatically as threats and evil, they cannot win. As long as we constantly remind us that we, as individuals, as any other human being are a true reflection of the divine, they cannot win.

In my Rosh Hashanah sermon, I spoke about creating spaces where people not only feel welcome, but safe too, and where they truly belong, regardless of their origin, way of Jewish observance, or whatever…

With every step we go towards the other, we bring back the colour that disappeared on 9/11. And hopefully, the world will shine in all its diversity again, soon, in our days.

9/11 changed our world, but we can and must change it too.

G’mar chatima Tovah.

Get busy!

Get busy!

Friends,

A priest frantically phones the rabbi down the street and whispers into the phone: “Rabbi, I think Jesus just walked into my church. What should I do?” And the rabbi replies: “Look busy!”

At this time of the year it is time for all of us to ‘get busy,’ – it is time for us to look within and search for our true selves.  The weeks before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered as the weeks when we should do this soul search. It is the time of year when we look inwardly, reviewing our past deeds and misdeeds. We come, searching for solace and for peace, for answers to, often, unanswerable questions or perhaps  even to hear what the questions might be. Maybe we are seeking to be challenged by God, to find new reasons to continue our struggle with God, or perhaps just to say ‘thank you’ to God. Whatever our reasons, whatever our questions, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, they are valid, and the presence of   every one of you, shows how important they are.

So, let us get busy. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

A new chapter

A new chapter

Signing my new contract with Wimbledon

With gratitude and happiness, I am excited to announce my appointment by The Wimbledon Shul, to become their new rabbi, moving to London, UK after the High Holy Days this year. I am feeling blessed beyond words for this incredible chance to open the next chapter in my rabbinic journey and Chayim’s and my life.

The Wimbledon Shul is the largest Reform Congregation in the South of London, reaching out to Jewish families in the South of England beyond the district borders. The congregation is proud of its cheder, its religious life and the adult learning opportunities and its open and welcoming community.I am looking forward to walking with the congregation on their path in making The Wimbledon Shul a Jewish home for everyone, providing space for families, singles, seniors and students, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and Allies and those who feel comfortable in a traditional Jewish setting.

I am grateful to the wonderful team and leadership of The Wimbledon Shul for putting so much trust and hope into me, allowing me to take on this outstanding opportunity to lead the congregation into its future.

To my Bet David family: Six years ago, I arrived in Johannesburg to be your new Rabbi. In these past years, we learned and prayed, laughed and celebrated, sang and danced, marched and mourned together. I am the rabbi I am today because you let me into your lives. You opened up your hearts and taught me how to comfort. You opened up your minds and taught me the power of teaching Torah. You opened up your hands and showed me the value of helping those in need. You elevated your spirit and taught me what it means to live with spiritual intention. Your love for your family and friends helped me understand the power and importance of community.

The funny thing about rabbinic transition timelines is that it forces a slow goodbye, but that’s actually a good thing. I’ll be here until the end of the High Holy Days and want to take that time to personally tell each of you how much you have meant to me and how much I have learned from you.

And to my new Wimbledon family: I am looking forward to meeting all of you and to enter with you this new chapter. And to all of you: Stay tuned for blog posts and more as I prepare for and celebrate the big move! Can’t wait to share the journey with you all! Please feel free to reach out, by email (rabbi.schell@gmail.com) or via Facebook (facebook.com/RabbiAdrianSchell)

Sh’lach lecha: See it with your own eyes

Chaverim,

Once a year, I travel back to Germany to see my family and friends, but also to see for myself how things are, back in Europe. Things have changed since I moved to South Africa, nearly five years ago. Of course Chayim tells me of his impressions, I read the news, see what friends write in their blogs and posts on Facebook, but I want—I need to feel it by myself.

Our Torah portion is titled “Sh’lach lecha”, which can be translated as “Send for yourself” scouts. It is, as God is telling Moses and the Israelites that reports and promises are not enough, that they need to feel the land.

It is my hope that I find Germany still in the way I left it, a stronghold against anti-Semitism and a place that was able to welcome refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, despite the reports of a growing right wing movement. I hope that Europe still remembers the achievements that came with the unification, despite the polemics, thrown into the world as part of the recent election campaign and the Brexit.

It is my hope that I will be able to see the beauty and the possibilities, as Joshuah bin Nun did in our Torah reading, and that I will not be overwhelmed by the negativities as the ten scouts.

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and see you again in July.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

Torah Reading

Shabbat Sh’lach Lecha Numbers 13:1-15:41

Reading: Num 13:16-14:9

Maftir:Num 15:37-41

Plaut p. 979/990; Hertz p. 623/633

Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

Plaut p. 998; Hertz p. 635

Shabbat Korach Numbers 16:1-18:32

Reading: Num 18:1-18:10

Plaut p. 1008; Hertz p. 645

Haftarah: 1 Sam. 11:14-12:22

Plaut p. 1019; Hertz p. 649

Important Dates:

Tisha b’Av

11 August 2019