For all enquiries please call 020 8346 8560
or email

You are here: about - Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message - 26th June/4th Tamuz - Archive

Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

26th June 2009 / 4th Tamuz 5769 

Dear Community

It’s almost 2.00 in the morning and my head is spinning, not only with tiredness but with dozens of thoughts about all I’ve seen and learnt here in Israel. It’s pretty quiet at Ben Gurion airport and I haven’t even met anyone from shul. (Update at 3.00am; only a fool writes in haste, - I’ve just met all the wonderful gang who’re running the Noam Israel trip.) One day soon, we’ll travel by train and boat to Israel and end these flying visits, to come for longer in a greener way.

Here are some of the most powerful impressions of the last three days:

Tonight Ha’aretz online reports that the news of Gilad Shalit’s transfer to Egypt is imminent. It seems to be part of a larger agreement on the exchange of prisoners, the opening of Gaza crossings and the governance of the strip. Yesterday was three years since Gilad’s capture. Who can comprehend what three years of solitary imprisonment, in the hands of Hamas, with no certainty about anything, can possibly mean? It is essential that our prayers are with him, - and with the countless others, all but forgotten, who languish in prisons and dungeons across the globe at the mercy of tyranny’s whim. May he come speedily and safely back home! How wonderful that will be!

The sight of the wall (not the Kotel, but the security fence) from the Israeli side, the sight of it from the Palestinian side, the way it cuts the village of Abu Dis in half, the story of how Banksie was painting it not far from the Qualendiya checkpoint (where queues are huge) when an elderly Palestinian gentleman asked him what he was doing: ‘Making it beautiful’, he reputedly replied. ‘Stop! You mustn’t do that’, came the immediate response. Yes the wall, an electrified fence in many places, has been a part of Israel’s successful strategy in reducing suicide attacks. But what a tragedy all this is. And what a price ordinary people must pay. What, if one can ask such a question, does God think about that wall?

Sad conversations with many people (Rabbis for Human Rights; the Bereaved Parent Forum, groups working for children) about how the need for funds is hampering their work, but how their vision and hopes are undiminished. How can we help?

The excited voices of young people studying Torah. Yes – eight young people (may there be eighteen next year) from our and other Masorti congregations, are spending a month at the Conservative Yeshivah acquiring the tools of serious Jewish study (hence the name of the course, Kelim). They’re brilliant, thoughtful, quick-witted, eager to learn, engaged in debate, reflective, committed. It’s they who motivated me to come on this visit, for the privilege of learning with them for two intensive days. When they come back most of them will help to lead Noam camps, spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm among hundreds of children and teenagers. How lucky we are to have them! We talked about God; we spent hours studying a Talmudic text about the ‘fear of heaven’: What does that elusive phrase mean? Awe? Reverence? Moral choice? Anatole Shcharansky described it, in a letter from Chistopol prison to his mother, as the feeling of submission before the divine presence…

One of the things I live for is discussions like that!

Shabbat Shalom

Jonathan Wittenberg