This year Rosh Hashanah came early- one man’s passion for his son, another’s for a people.
A slightly drunken conversation.
In the dark of a summer night. On the shore of a Cornish harbour.
But heigh-ho, “In vino veritas.”
I’d had a post prandial Friday night whisky. Talisker. A treble. I Stood by the harbour wall. Thinking of the Irishman on the ferry over who’d superbly sung a long traditional ditty.
I began to sing softly,
A Frog he would a-wooing go,
Heigh-ho, says Rowley
All seven verses.
I finish. Small applause behind.
I go up the road. Thank the man and his wife.
When he speaks, his voice has a cockney twang overlaid with a patina of education overlaying. Unsure which came first.
“Didn’t know anyone could hear me. Where are you from?”
“Holiday? Short break?”
31 years ago they’d honeymooned here and had returned now to the same room.
“Amazing,” I say, “because the wife and I were just saying that 35 years ago we had our first holiday in Cornwall. Different place though.”
“And what was are you doing here now?”
Long weekend. G7 conference. Holding event on Freedom of Religious Belief. China’s Uyghur Genocide, Christian persecution, forbidding Jewish practice. Retired. on advisory board. Etc Etc!
He was drunker than me. Swaying slightly.
His once blond wife smoked. Facing the sea, chiselled, leaning forward towards the breeze and sea, a live nautical figurehead.
He turned towards me.
“31 years seems amazing,“ he confided. “It’s been hard. Had some tragedy. Son committed suicide. 18. At Uni. Now I campaign to stop suicide. Work with ministers.”
I Commiserate. Tell him I had a Colleague who suffered the same. And a friend. And ….we share confidences…
Music in the background. Grateful Dead. We talk music for a while. We’re born a year apart. “Remember ‘Whispering Bob Harris’?” He tells me he still broadcasts.
Transpires we’re both Tottenham boys. Season tickets holders. I was right about the accent. Edmonton, then Oxbridge.
“Best player you ever saw?”
Him – Chivers. Me – Greaves.
“Best non-Tottenham? “
“But we got through it all,” he said, reverting. “Still here. And back in the same hotel.”
“Yeah, all that time together”, I said. “Bit of a triumph. It’s an achievement. “
“ I really admire what you doing,” he goes. “With the Uyghurs. To try and help them. “
“Same with you since your son,” I tell him. “It’s all the same love – son, wife, a people. “
Am I right?
I am. It all seems bundled up together to me. And suddenly I wonder if Rosh Hashanah’s come early, where our prayers talk of all creation as aggudah achat – one bundle – all in it together.
Does this idea link celebrating Rosh Hashanah as the World’s Birthday with the less enjoyable bit of us confessing our sins, admitting where we have fallen short? Our daily prayers talk of “renewing creation everyday”. If we get rid of all we do to spoil creation, whether personal (moments of anger, impatience or harsh words) or political (just name your issue), we have a better world to celebrate, where we fall less short. It was Rabbi Sacks, zichrono livracha, who pointed our the Hebrew for sin (chet) has the same root as ‘to miss‘ (lehachtiyah) a mark.
Sons, wives, a people. Is there much difference between cherishing someone whose essence you love and recognising our shared essence in another people suffering terrible things?
Is that why Rav Ovadiah Ben Avraham (The Bartenura, 15th Century Italy and Jerusalem) commenting on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:2) says we should pray not just for the welfare of our government but “even for that of the nations of the world?”
And here with ‘Bartenura,’ we’re back to alcohol again…but with a thought I can drink to!
One man inspired by a single person’s tragedy and one responding to a people’s tragedy. Both supported by their wives.
It’s all one love.