It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times

Charles Dickens’s immortal words spoke directly to me this week: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.

Indeed this past week for Jews, the best and the worst were doing their best and their worst to assail our lives, confront our consciences and consciousness. The worst was on brutal and naked display in the egregious decision of PM Netanyahu to broker the deal with racist Kahanist party Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit).

This party is not a Jewish power but a distorted and feeble expression of Judaism. It has been condemned by numerous Orthodox rabbis across the world including many of the leading lights in the religious Zionist community in Israel.

I hope that every Orthodox rabbi in Australia will add their protest at this shameful decision, because it is not just a political movement or ideology. It is, in Yossi Klein Halevi’s words, “a theology that sanctifies hatred and vengeance in an apocalyptic messianic vision”. Klein Halevi rightfully observes that it is the very embodiment of “Chilul Hashem”, the desecration of God’s name and a desecration of the State of Israel. It’s a Chilul Hashem because it undermines our raison dètre as Jews to be a light to the nations, to influence the world through our love, compassion, restraint and sense of responsibility. To be our brothers and sisters keepers. The Israeli rabbis who gave their seal of approval to Otzma Yehudit or even worse are part of the party, deserve our denigration. What’s most painful about religious Jews supporting this racist ideology is, as Helevi points out, that Otzma followers actually believe that Kahanism is a theology of Kiddush Hashem or sanctifying God’s name.

Read Klein Halevi’s article, read what Rabbi Ben Lau has to say (voting for Otzma is akin to supporting the Nuremberg Laws), read locally what Rabbi James Kennard and Sam Lipski so incisively say. To give approval to the toxic ideology of this party is to let the darkness in, to embrace the “age of foolishness” and hatred, to allow the extremist across the world to become a legitimate part of Israel’s landscape.

But this is also the season of Light. Indeed the months of Adar are about wisdom, clarity and coherence replacing ignorance, distorted thinking and hatred “For the Jews it was a time of light, gladness, joy and honour” (Esther 8:16). The season of light, of Adar, is not about forgetting how the spirit of Amalek and antisemitism are still rampant and even resurgent. It’s about confronting their darkness with our light, their belligerence and bigotry with our boldness and bracha (being an Abrahamic blessing to all families of the earth…)

Boldness, blessings and the best of times were evident in Israel and Australia this week. I’m referring to the launch of Beresheet Israel’s small spacecraft which right now is heading for the moon. It’s a spectacular achievement for the young state and will make Israel the first non-super power to land a craft on the moon. More importantly it’s an expression of the very best of Israeli brain power, chutzpah and technology. And it’s named after the first book of the Torah, Bereisheet or Genesis! Bereisheet is about beginnings and the human capacity to build a better world. It’s a book of hope and power. Not the power of force and brutality (that’s dismissed in the killing of Abel) but the strength of faith and spirituality.

Listening to former PM David Cameron at the U.I.A dinner on Tuesday night, was listening to a wise and thoughtful voice in an age of foolishness and populism. Israel and the Jewish people are fortunate to have friends like David Cameron. He is a spring of hope in a time of despair (even if he miscalculated on Brexit!)

So it may have been a bad week but it was also a good week, the sun rose and the sun set, and a little craft continued its brave journey to a beckoning moon.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Ralph

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.