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Rabbi Miriam Berger

Shabbat T'rumah

You can listen to Rabbi Miriam's sermon here or read below.

 

 

First they projected purple onto the chimneys of Battersea Power Station for Holocaust Memorial Day, and I didn’t speak out because I thought it was just a misplaced gesture that came from good intentions. 

Then they banned Art Spiegleman’s Maus from Tennesse schools and I didn’t speak out because I was grateful that they were teaching about the Holocaust and didn’t think it my place to question the resources used. 

Then Whoopi Goldberg said that the Holocaust was not about race, and I didn’t speak out because I thought it just naivety. 

Then Amnesty International called Israel an apartheid state in the same week that Stamford Hill Jews were brutally attacked and I spent a 42nd year of my life walking past security outside my synagogue and I didn’t speak out because it’s all become so normal, so acceptable, so unnoteworthy that I didn’t even think it worthy of speaking out. 

Is Pastor Martin Niemoller right, in his famous, often quoted poem about the most serious and brutal episodes of our history that it isn’t until they come directly for me that I will speak out? 

I don’t think it’s a question of waiting for them to come for me. Those examples are just this last week, and I’m not even convinced it was a noteworthy week. In each and every one of those examples and in the countless others; be it the hostage situation in the Texan shul, the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue, the Holocaust itself or the Purim story, each time it’s me they’ve come for. Each time I am saddened, offended, frustrated, wounded, so what stops me from speaking out? 

We live amid a cacophony of outrage. I hear the voices of protest, the cries of dismay, the whimpers of hurt, rippling constantly through society. 

Then I see careers ended, reputations obliterated, social media memes laughed at - but I don’t see change. 

I’m thrown by a world where the deep physical or emotional personal pain inflicted on an individual sits alongside the offence caused to a whole race or religion which again sit alongside bad customer service or a dodgy hotel room. They all seem to bring the same kind of language, the same outrage, bring the same level of vitriol. 

The noise of voices you could once hear clearly saying “shame on you”, “how dare you” seems to have blurred into a hum of static interference that rings in our ears to the point it doesn’t get heard any more. So many people feel their hurts are not heard that they start to get competitive in who has been hurt more, and so more hurt is caused and more outrage hums. 

When David Baddiel spoke out about Whoopi Goldberg’s unfortunate stance he calmly explained: 

“Two sides fighting is a very strange way indeed to describe the extermination of a civilian ethnic group by a military-industrial machine, but then there is, in the resistance to the idea that anti-Semitism is racism, a submerged deeper resistance to the idea that Jews, with all their imagined power and privilege, can ever truly be victims.”

And then I know why I don’t speak out. I know that I am someone who bought into this age-old antisemitic trope: that we can’t be oppressed because we are so comfortable. I’ve often wondered if our communal outrage was misplaced and a little embarrassing and whether we would be better off ignoring it quietly and assume it will go away. But it doesn’t go away. It morphs into other versions affecting us differently and putting us even more at risk. 

We are commanded in this week’s parasha as God tells Moses,
“V'asu li mikdash v'shachanti b'tocham, "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them"

How do we make a place in which God may live among us? 
We have to face head on all these kinds of moments making one assumption - that nobody would intentionally cause harm or offence, but people make mistakes for a whole range of reasons. That we ask ourselves one question. Who and why has this situation come about and who can I educate, inform and explain why this has caused me hurt? Will ranting disapproval change the situation or change the perpetrator? Will my tears or anger change them? How can I educate to change the discourse and ultimately change the culture that has led to this moment? The world does not need more outraged voices, but it does need more education. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said during this last week that “education is the ‘vaccine’ against the lingering plague of antisemitism.” 

The tabernacle took everyone to contribute to it. I accept my lack of voice in the public discourse is not going to bring a better future, my silence will not cause God to dwell among us but I’m under no illusion - yet another voice of outrage also won’t. Everyone has to be part of eradicating antisemitism which has been woven into society for 2000 years. We must not get brow-beaten into silence but motivated into re-educating. 

Antisemitism does not need to be an accepted part of society. We don’t have to just get used to it or ignore it. Yet constantly calling it out seems to make us go hoarse and loses the power in our voices. 
I’m not going to wait for it to get closer, more personal, more painful but I’m also not going to join the cacophony. We have to find ways to educate in order to change the narrative. I had allowed myself to feel the only choice was to rage against it or to remain silent. Now I recognise that we have one other path to take: the hope of changing people’s perspectives. 

We have replicated Purim this Shabbat just after Rosh Chodesh Adar. We have brought joy into the service with our music, although perhaps not as much booze.  We have not only worn our covid masks but continued to wear the masks we always don, those that make us look just like the population around us, masks of assimilation which makes the masks we wear an even better disguise, the masks to pretend that we are not hurt, not offended, not effected by the constant feeling that “Jews don’t count” (David Baddiel). But just like with the festival of Purim we have to name antisemitism when we see it. We have to show our collective strength to raise up voices of our leaders to speak for us and to educate, to change minds. Yet this year needs to be different. 
We have this extra month of Adar, this leap year, to use wisely. We have to change the end of the story. We have to move from lashing out in hurt-filled rage to taking the time to meet the situation with thought filled dialogue. 

We need to be careful that we are not so quick to criticise and punish, that we miss the opportunity to educate. That’s my commitment to these 60 days of Adar. I hope you will join me. Let’s finally change the ending of the Megillah. Turning outrage into education.

Sat, 21 May 2022 20 Iyar 5782