In 1963, at a Civil Rights march on Washington, Rabbi Joachim Prinz stood up to address the huge crowd in the slot ahead of his clergy colleague, The Reverend Martin Luther King Junior. Rabbi Prinz had been forced to leave his native Berlin in 1937, for persistently urging the Jewish community of the dangers of the Hitler regime. This is what Rabbi Prinz said:
‘The most important thing that I learned in my life in Germany, and under those tragic circumstances, is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems; the most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. A great people, which had created a great civilisation, had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality, and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers.’
In the face of hate, in the face of brutality, we are all called to speak out. To speak out, and not be silent; to act, and not be onlookers.
What a week of tragedy it has been.
Last Sunday: Orlando. 49 people, the youngest just 19, gunned down at the Pulse Night Club, just for being true to their selves, for being gay. We are called to speak out and not be silent, in support of all Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual and Transgender people, and to make sure that LGBT people in our own community feel seen, welcome, included, respected, valued and loved. On Thursday morning Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Reform Movement, spoke out with striking clarity on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. She said, ‘It’s International Pride month…… I am proud to be the parent of a bisexual person… This means that the Orlando murders are close to my heart, and to my parental nervous system.’ Our primary duty, Rabbi Laura concluded, is to ensure that LGBT people can live in security, and of course… with pride.’
Someone who never hesitated to speak out, and to act on so many issues of social justice, local and global, was Jo Cox. Tragically, Jo proved not to be safe going about her normal business, and was murdered in the street outside the library where she held her MP surgeries. In the tributes that have poured out in the past 2 days, from friends, from local people in her Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen, from fellow MPS, we have been struck by the passion with which this 41 year old mother and wife dedicated her life to service, and to making the world a better place. It’s quite right that campaigning in the EU referendum has been suspended in order to mourn her senseless loss, and to pay tribute to a woman who listened and acted to help where help was needed, from the woman who needed to get her daughter into the local school of her choice, to campaigning for food aid drops for Syrians under siege in the civil war.
In his moving statement, her husband, Brendan said: "Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.
"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.
"Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full."
In the face of hate, in the face of brutality, we are all called to speak out. To speak out, and not be silent. The motives of Jo’s killer are not yet known. But let’s make sure that our own words, whether about the EU referendum, about our politicians, or about each other, are words of kindness and respect. For every word creates a world – a world of hate or a world of love.
In the verses layned so beautifully by our Bat Mitzvah, Amy Westbury, this morning, we heard about the trumpet blasts that were sounded both as a signal for calling the community of Israelites together, and for the marching of the camps. These verses are infact the basis for the Talmud’s rule that in blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the tekiah and the teruah are different sounds, and that every teruah must be preceded and followed by a tekiah. The shofar blasts on Rosh HaShanah, our Jewish new Year, serve as a wake up call. A wake up call to have no regrets about life, and to live life to the full. A wake up call to speak and not be silent. To act, and not be onlookers.
Today we heard about the cloud that protected the Israelites by day, and the faith it nourished in the people. Today there is no cloud. Rather, we ourselves must provide safety and protection for each other, especially for those more vulnerable than ourselves. Above all, the cloud was a sign of God’s love for the people. In the face of all the challenges that life brings, Love Wins.