Watching the news these days, it is no wonder that so many of us feel like history has taken a terrible wrong turn – the rise of the far left and far right, Iran and US spoiling for a fight, the weakening of debate, the amplification of hate, internal division and strife. And if the extremists or terrorists don’t get us, nature almost certainly will, as it continues in its rebellion against its polluters and abusers.
But there are countervailing forces at work. Every savage act and every word of hate dislocates but they also provide a wake-up call to good people everywhere – billions of us share the belief that the antidote to discord and enmity is love, peace, and tolerance. Not everything is bad. Poverty has diminished. Wars are less prevalent than they once were, and we have learnt through education and living together to better see our own faults and foibles and to understand others. There is a spirit of togetherness and unity forming, even as the storm clouds gather. There is hope.
The atmosphere of the Eurovision song contest, for all its quirkiness and kitsch, corniness and cringy tunes, manifests that spirit – the human need for acknowledgement, for free expression, for unity, for what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has called the “dignity of difference”. The fact that this year, this event, involving so many nations, is taking place in Israel should be welcomed as a moment of holy potential, a spiritual convocation – “on that day God will be One, and His name shall be One”.
But what is the focus of certain leaders in the orthodox rabbinate – the standard bearers of the Torah? It is the public desecration of Shabbat, the abominations, and halachic infringements that will occur. What do they say that we need to do? We need to add time to the time that we already add to Shabbat. We need to pray, to seek forgiveness, to lament. The sense is that we need more Torah, more halachah, and more separation. But this is not the case.
Actually, what we need is more vision, not a Eurovision, but a Judeovision, a creative embracing of the universal, a showering of love on humanity. We need scholars, educators, theologians, artists, and whole communities who can articulate and live a Judaism capable of reaching beyond the Jewish people. We need prophets for the twenty-first century who can see, take society’s pulse, and propose Judaic solutions. We need, for at least a moment, to put aside rebuke and chest beating, and to get out there and engage, to share in and enhance the widening spirit of unity of which Eurovision is a part – to recognise that it contains a sacred spark. So, with the spirit of Shabbat, put on your gaudy outfits, lift up your voices to the heavens, and enjoy.