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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat, 7 Shevat 5770
Friday, 22 January 2010
 
Dear Community,
 
‘To save people, to save lives’: this is how one of the forty Israeli doctors in Haiti answered the CNN reporter who asked him what had motivated him to go there. In describing the situation around him, the doctor actually used the words ‘in this kind of a holocaust’. Members of our community will, I imagine, have seen much more of the reporting than I have, about how Israel has set up a remarkable field hospital, communications centre and search and rescue mission involving the latest technology on the one hand and the oldest and greatest of human values on the other, caring selflessly for all human life.
 
Yes, I’ve also read some very ugly and sarcastic comments about ‘publicity’ and trying to make the world forget Gaza. But we should refuse to be distracted. Good must be recognised as good, just as, painfully, wrong must be labelled as such. Israel’s response is more than good. It is technologically excellent. (One wishes Israel would not have to be constantly prepared in such a sophisticated manner for potential disasters. But, having those skills, it has repeatedly deployed them for the benefit of other countries wherever trouble strikes.) On a human level Israel’s response is outstanding, and deeply, deeply humbling. If only it were possible for them, and all the other teams, to do more for the people of Haiti.
 
This week connects us with two of the definitive moments in the development of Judaism and Jewish consciousness. Firstly, we read in the Torah tomorrow the account of the Exodus from Egypt. What is most important is not the story of the ten plagues, or the defeat of Egypt. What is so moving, what so much matters, is that the Torah should have chosen to locate our origins as a people here, in the struggle of the persecuted slave, in the anguish of the stranger and the disenfranchised, in order that we should know and remember for ever after the importance of justice, liberty and equality. Henceforth this memory of slavery and suffering is the moral touchstone of all Jewish values.
 
Secondly, Wednesday is National Holocaust Memorial Day. Branded into the memory of the Jewish People, literally onto the arms of many, is the knowledge of the misery, degradation, suffering and inextinguishable pain to which one group of people can, by cruelty and cunning, reduce another. The moral legacy of genocide is always complex, including, as it must, victims, bystanders and perpetrators. But the most important element is the determination never to allow any people anywhere to be humiliated and left to suffer as Jews were under Nazi domination.
 
Israel’s conduct in Haiti is faithful to this moral legacy and to what is greatest in the ethical tradition of Judaism.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Jonathan Wittenberg
wittenberg@masorti.org.uk

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