Enough about survival – let’s focus on revival

One Shabbat morning 13 years ago, I was respectfully ushered into our gutted and charred synagogue by London Metropolitan Police. Our synagogue had become an antisemitic crime scene. They quickly escorted me through the blackened disaster zone in order to allow me  to lift up the Torah scrolls that had been stripped naked of their darkened covers, torn apart and lay strewn in abandon on the floor.

I will always appreciate both the sensitivity and care of the police at that time. We had been victims of a despicable arson attack at our educational centre in the heart of England’s Jewish community. This was London 2006, not the Berlin my grandparents escaped in the 1930s.

The Labour Party, Twitter, national and international media – today nowhere seems untouched by antisemitism. We applaud the brave and tireless members of our community who stand up proudly and unapologetically with a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. 

But, may I suggest that we also need to switch up the narrative, in order not to ironically allow our detractors to define us. 

We must fight antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head, but at the same time cannot afford to allow it to form the bedrock of our children’s Jewish identity 
or experience.

Time and again, things happen that remind us we must never cow meekly in the face of antisemitism. However, we cannot and must not allow it to obfuscate our communal priorities.

As I crouched down to cradle those two parts of the Sefer Torah in each hand, I looked at the blackened parchment. The words “ןוכשי דדבל םע” “A Nation that dwells alone” jumped out at me. 

We are alone, however we have each other. It is imperative that we work together to build a stronger, prouder, more knowledgeable, more united, more engaged, more committed Jewish people than ever before. 

Our greatest and most enduring response has always been “as they afflict us, so we shall be stronger and multiply.” Surely this is the greatest communal response we can garner?

I’m yet to meet a young Jew inspired to form a strong link in our 4,000-year-old chain for negative reasons alone. However, I have met many thousands motivated to do just that following an educational experience in Israel. 

An erudite, intelligent and passionate presentation of Jewish thought, culture or practice. A journey to Poland where they connect with the miracle of Jewish survival, perhaps, or even the introduction of a committed Jewish social circle into their lives.

Young people need positive reasons to belong. They need not a summer of discontent, but a season of positive inspiration. The good news is we can provide that. 

Our calendar, traditions and culture is replete with ideas to invigorate and motivate positive engagement. 

On seder night we lift a glass of wine and proclaim that we have withstood the vicissitudes of time. But we’re not lifting the cup to gloat over our vanquished enemies, rather on the Judaism that ensured our survival. 

And in every generation, while ensuring we vanquish repugnant enemies, we must equally ensure our Jewish future with an equal if not greater investment of time, effort and thought in new approaches that successfully engage, inspire and energise our younger generation to take up the mantle, not only of Jewish survival – but Jewish revival.

About the Author
Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the CEO of Jewish Futures Trust (JFT) an umbrella organization containing a number of educational charities including GIFT and JRoots.
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