A Menorah display in the British borough of Havering, where plans for a community menorah for Hanukkah were cancelled due to “tensions” before being revived. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Rosindell, Member of Parliament for Romford)

A Menorah display in the British borough of Havering, where plans for a community menorah for Hanukkah were cancelled due to “tensions” before being revived. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Rosindell, Member of Parliament for Romford)

Living and Growing: Interfaith support of menorah shows ‘we are all brothers and sisters in humanity’

I belong to a book club. We meet once a month via Zoom, not a holdover from the pandemic, but because the club is comprised of members of synagogues, both of which are named Sukkat Shalom, in London and Juneau. The club is at 8 p.m. London time, which is 11 a.m. Juneau time; as one group winds down their day, the other is starting. We discuss books, but often the conversation veers off into delightful tangents that highlight the differences and similarities of U.K. and U.S. life.

In between our monthly meeting we stay in touch via WhatsApp. The past week I woke up to find the club’s group chat very active. The London Borough of Havering had decided to not display a community menorah for Hanukkah citing “concerns of communal tensions” and a poll which found that “70% of British Jews say they are less likely to show signs of their Judaism” due to the current rise in anti-Semitism.

When people convert to Judaism they are often asked in the conversion process to answer the question, “Why do you want to be a Jew?” Why would anyone want to align themselves with a group of people that have been persecuted, discriminated against, and withstood unspeakable acts of violence for centuries and into modern day? I cannot speak to how a convert may answer, but I can tell you my answer and why I signify my Judaism proudly.

Judaism creates a holiness of time. In this country we work tirelessly, always focused on doing, producing, creating, but rarely on just being. Being present. Being aware. The Torah begins with God blessing time itself and resting — the first Shabbat. In his work “The Sabbath,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time…There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique…and endlessly precious.” Judaism allows me, to pause and to create holiness in time, to deepen my everyday moments.

Judaism is a community of doers. One of our guiding principles is Tikkun ‘olam, which translates to repairing the world. We are God’s partner here on Earth, acknowledge that the world is broken, and work to fix it. Jewish communities throughout the world, even during times of great upheaval, never forget the commitment to help the poor, to fight for justice for the oppressed, and do so not for praise, but because it is a mitzvah, because a Jew could do no less. My Judaism has given me the courage to speak out when I see a wrong, to work on issues for the betterment of all, to not sit back and hope someone else will take care of it. As a Jew I am actively and positively engaged with the world, not an idle observer.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks encapsulates beautifully others reasons why I am a Jew. He wrote, “I am proud to be part of a people who, though scarred and traumatised, never lost their humour or their faith, their ability to laugh at present troubles and still believe in ultimate redemption; who saw human history as a journey, and never stopped traveling and searching. I am proud to belong to the people Israel, whose name means ‘one who wrestles with God and with man and prevails.’ For though we have loved humanity, we have never stopped wrestling with it, challenging the idols of every age. And though we have loved God with an everlasting love, we have never stopped wrestling with Him nor He with us.”

What about that menorah display in Havering? Letters were sent to the Havering Council from both the London Jewish Forum and the Muslim Association of Britain who wrote in part, “Our religion teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters in humanity, thus we stand ready to offer support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who feel threatened and afraid…and stand shoulder to shoulder with British Jews in the face of the scourge of antisemitism.” The Havering Council issued the following statement, “…delighted to announce that the Council has confirmed its intention to proceed with the installation of the menorah as originally planned.” Let there be light!

Blessings and peace to you and yours this holiday season. May we all always stand shoulder to shoulder.

• Patricia Turner Custard is a Congregation Sukkat Shalom board member. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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