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You are here: about - Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message - 28th May 2010 / 15 Sivan 5770

Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat 28th May 2010 / 15 Sivan 5770

Dear Community,
 
It was four weeks ago next Sunday, but the extraordinary occasion has stayed in my mind. Citizens UK organised a pre-election event at the Methodist Hall in Westminster; (it’s become known as ‘the fourth debate’). It was one of the most remarkable gatherings I’ve ever been privileged to attend.
 
London Citizens describes itself as ‘a powerful grassroots charity working with local people for local people. Our goal is social, economic and environmental justice.’ Actually, I feel it’s even more than that. Through careful listening, one to one, within communities, then between communities, then at borough, and eventually at city level, shared concerns emerge which become an agenda for change. London Citizens’ campaigns so far include working for safer streets, for an end to child detention (the statement in the Queen’s Speech is their victory!), for a living wage and for a cap on exorbitant interest rates. London Citizens’ gatherings are friendly, colourful and full of enthusiasm – in short just what it should mean to be a citizen in a buzzing multi-faith metropolis. I hope our congregation (only communities may join) will become a founding member of North London Citizens when it starts next spring.
 
The event on the third of May was special by any standards. I experienced it close up because I was among a group of religious leaders less than ten feet away from where Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron spoke. But what was remarkable wasn’t that they spoke; it was whom they were asked to speak to. With them on the platform were people whose situations epitomised what Citizens UK’s campaigns were all about. A young woman talked about the devastating effects on her life of being stateless, trapped, unable to follow her hopes and develop her life as an acknowledged member of any society. Nick Clegg had to address her. A young girl wept describing what it was like to be a child whose mother isn’t paid a living wage. Her family came to comfort her at the microphone so that she could continue speaking. Gordon Brown was seated next to her and encouraged her as well. Maybe that was what kindled the compassion which led him to give what has been described as the greatest speech of his career.
 
I felt I was witnessing the essence of democracy. The deepest anguish of our society and its elected leadership were addressing one another amidst thousands of people from all faiths and backgrounds who had come together in the shared vision that these kinds of suffering can and must be brought to an end. Honesty, compassion, accountability and responsibility were all there together in that chamber.
 
The Torah describes God as ‘a great God, mighty and awesome’ who yet ‘loves the stranger, giving him food and garments’ (Deuteronomy 10: 17-18). Rashi notes that next to God’s greatness we find God’s humility. Maybe it’s possible for a society to do likewise. Maybe the true greatness of a society is its capacity for humility – and for consequent action.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Jonathan Wittenberg
wittenberg@masorti.org.uk