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.

Today we weep  – the day after Orlando

Today we weep – the day after Orlando

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The news on Sunday was shocking, confusing, and unspeakably tragic.

What in God’s name is happening in this, our world? Last week Tel Aviv, this Sunday Orlando, and next week …? There is so much pain.

In thousands of places all over the world Jews studied Torah last weekend. We engaged ourselves in those studies, because we have hoped to find a better understanding of how we can make this world a better place. We have engaged ourselves in Tikkun Olam, the reparation of the world, because we know and we see how much more needs to be done to see this world redeemed. Saturday night we spoke about the pain the death of a single person can cause, and how guilty we feel if we couldn’t help. But we accepted that death is part of our lives and that we can find comfort in our Jewish tradition and our surrounding community, if death happens within our closes circles.

But nothing can prepare us for those horrific, brutal and senseless attacks we had to witness in the past few days, months and years. The world, which I love so much, is broken, and the rifts seem to me un-bridgeable. How can we repair the world if a single person has been able to destroy the lives of so many, and to bring so much more hate into this world? How many more people need to study the values of the Torah to outbalance the bestial acts of those monsters?

Many, I know will answer this question with a sense of hopelessness, telling me that there aren’t enough good people in this world to tip the scale to the good. Helplessness tells us to surrender. But in doing so, we allow those monsters to take the victory home, and we give space to the demagogues who trample on the victims to boost themselves and their ideology of hate. The terror acts of the last few days don’t allow us to surrender, to the contrary, the victims of those crimes ask us to not give up hope and to stand up for our values.

We need to be the people of God that actively involve themselves in initiatives to end violence, especially violence against minorities. We need to be committed to the idea that being a Jew means nothing less than intentionally standing up, regardless of differences, when we see lives devalued or dehumanised by hate and ignorance. I believe with all my heart that doing so is a beautiful outworking of the Torah we claim to love and live.

We value all life and the dignity of others because we all bear God’s image. Our faith can never be a reason to turn away from each other, but it should be – it must be – the reason why we approach one another and try to make an impact, even though we don’t understand or approve. Our tradition calls us to nothing less!

Those terror acts call us to break down the walls of our own lethargy and to strengthen those who stand to protect us and our society. Judaism is not a religion of presenting the other cheek if we are attacked. To protect ourselves doesn’t mean to outcast others, it means to be aware that evil things happen and need to be stopped. When the allies started to re-create a civilised society in Germany after 1945 they used the term “fortified democracy” to introduce a system that doesn’t allow radicals to pervert democracy again. The main key is that every individual is responsible to protect this achievement. And so we are called today to protect our world from those radicals, from those haters of life, from those demagogues who try to ignite hate in us.

Today we weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn, tomorrow we stand up to change the world.

 

Parashat Mattot Masei: We cannot feign ignorance to these humanitarian crises.

The obligation to protect human life, stands at the centre of our tradition. Derived from a verse in Leviticus which reads, “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor,” the classical rabbis developed the overarching principle of pikuach nefesh, which asserts the supreme responsibility of protecting individuals who are in potentially life-threatening situations.

This week’s parashah includes a distinctive Torah instruction which reflects our tradition’s view to protection life and, in particular, of those people in society who are vulnerable. The Israelites are instructed upon entering the land of Canaan to designate arei miklat, cities of refuge, which would function as asylums for the perpetrators of unintentional manslaughter from violent retribution by their victims’ relatives.

As we read the Torah’s instructions we are reminded of the huge number of refugees and displaced persons currently scattered across South Africa and around the globe.

When it comes to dealing with the reality of displaced people, the biblical institution of cities of refuge provide us with a Jewish foundation for pro-action.

In the Talmud, the cities of refuge are discussed in a number of places. In tractate Baba Batra of the Talmud we find a striking teaching within a seemingly mundane legal discussion concerning the proper width of a variety of pathways: “Our Rabbis taught: A private path is of the width of four cubits; a path from one town to another is to have a width of eight cubits; a public road, 16 cubits; the road to the cities of refuge, 32 cubits.”

What is noteworthy about this teaching is that we find that the road to a city of refuge was required to be twice as wide as an ordinary public road. These teachings reflect something remarkable about the rabbinic attitude toward cities of refuge. The emphasis on the great width and sound condition of the roads leading to cities of refuge, illustrates the seriousness, with which the rabbis approached this biblically mandated communal responsibility.

If our tradition displays such concern for people who have themselves committed murder, even if unintentionally, how much more so should we feel compelled to protect these tens of millions of refugees, the bulk of whom are not themselves criminals but rather innocent bystanders driven from their homes as a result of wars and violence.

Living in a time where foreigners are exposed to hate and prosecution, we cannot feign ignorance to these humanitarian crises, regardless of where they may be occurring. And armed with the knowledge of these emergencies, we are faced, as individuals, communities, and as nations, with the choice of whether or not to respond.

There are many things that we can do. We can support the important work of organizations like UNICEF to lower the pain of refuges over the world, we can support Keren b’Kavod in Israel, the progressive Aid organization in Israel, or our local Jewish and Christian organization that are here to help. We can raise awareness in our Jewish communities of the refugee crisis.

As is often noted, the Torah has more to say about the proper treatment of strangers than it does with any other set of laws, including worshipping God or observing festivals.

Today is Mandela Day, and perhaps we all can contribute to the ideas and dreams he envisioned for South Africa, a State where the human dignity of every individual is the highest treasure we have.

Shabbat Shalom

(Source: Rabbi Danny Burkeman)

Exodus – Kings and Gods

A few weeks ago, the film Exodus – Kings and Gods was launched and, in anticipation of the upcoming Torah readings about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, I decided to watch the movie. I wanted to see how the authors of the film interpreted the biblical narrative. I was disappointed in the film in so many ways. I never expected to see a movie that was close to the bible’s narrative, and/or to Jewish interpretation, but in my opinion the film’s only goal was to devalue the Bible. The filmmakers presented a crude idea of a shizophrenic Moses who caused Israel to become insane followers of a cruel, child-murdering God.This film is not the first attempt at finding scientific explanations for the 10 plagues, and to devalue Moses’ prophecy as a kind of mental delusion. Usually, I don’t mind these attempts, as long as they respect and don’t vilify those who have a different understanding of the Torah. Unfortuantely this film has no intention of doing so.
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A ‘light’ for Israel

Adrian KleinerDear friends,

The news that overwhelms us in the media about the terrorist attacks in Israel saddens me in a myriad of ways. It is hard to withhold my tears over the dead in Jerusalem, and like my fellow Jews across the world, I mourn for the victims of the latest attacks across the whole country.

Less than a year ago I lived in Israel for a while, and walked through the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem daily. I felt safe, and had the feeling that we finally could see a glimpse of a new era for Israel – a place where Jews can live in safety, secure with their neighbours of all creeds. And now? Once again, our friends in Israel are filled with fear when they go out in public. Once again, words have become deadly weapons, as those around us use them to call for violence. Holy sites, places that should actually be filled with peace and security, have become places of grief and terror.
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