Adon Olam, Lord of the universe, here we are: Your people, the Jews.
Like every year, we congregate, some of us virtually, some other in synagogues, real places. Like every year, we grab a prayer book; we try to remember the prayer. Like every year, we recognise the melodies; and those here look around the room searching for familiar faces. Like every year, we try to think about You, Eternal Our God. Because You are our God; and we are your People.
But being part of Your people is not easy. The pandemic has hit all the religious minorities, including us. This virus, COVID, with all its variation, has changed our services, the times when we think of You. Now the religious services take place, half in the synagogue and half in cyberspace. There’s almost no Kiddush. We have to restrain ourselves in singing. So many new rules to think about, and hardly we can focus on the reasons why we’re here.
We find it hard to think of You, Sovereign of the Universe. COVID has ravaged Israel, the Country we consider our own. People, there are still suffering because of the pandemic, and the consequences are felt in the economy. And what about the defence? True, Israel now has new allies. But -as COVID was not enough- long time enemies are still active, and they are getting stronger and stronger, week after week, day after day. The most serious analysts warn: the question is not “whether” there will be the next war. The question is “when”. Are You still protecting us, Rock of Israel?
Things are no better for Your people here, among us British Jews. Our community was once known for its members’ generosity, especially when most were immigrants, newcomers to this Country. Now enmities and tensions come regularly to the surface, and deep wounds are inflicted on our community every time.
In a way, there’s nothing new. We are quite a quarrelsome lot of people, we always argue. But the pandemic has made us more sensitive and, at the same time, more salacious. At times certain tensions seem just to be without an end.
And what about threats from outside our community?. The number of our enemies just keeps on increasing. We have traditional enemies, the narrow-minded nationalists, the Fascists. They cast doubts on our loyalty to the Country we live in. They fantasise about our role in Capitalism, in Communism, in the media, in the banking, even in immigration. They call people to hate us. Some people (how many?) fall into their ideological traps. We are scrutinised for our connections with Israel in a way that British citizens of, say, Swiss or Belgian origin never experience.
Others are hostile to us because of religious faith, out of bigotry. This is terrifying because religious bigotry is like a wildfire; it still burns even when you manage to contain it. These people, the bigots, are now in power in Afghanistan. They are actually cheered by some sectors of the UK Muslim community. Many UK citizens, men and especially women, are afraid. And we Jews, also, are afraid.
And then there are new enemies. Those who look for “privileged” and “oppressors” to blame for everything. Increasingly, and despite every evidence, they frame us as privileged, or “white adjacent”.
What a bitter irony. A few decades ago, we were fighting against Mosley’s blackshirts; or marching for civil rights in Alabama. And now they call us racists, worse than the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. They slander our faith. They claim we Jews found our identity on feelings of racial superiority. They say that we benefit from structural racism or patriarchy. They say that Jewish institutions support -or worse organise- Islamophobia. These fantasies are now taught at Universities. What an irony, An ideology born out of a need for justice has become the platform to air old antisemitic stereotypes.
Sovereign of the Universe! There are now Jewish students in British Universities, young men and young women of Your people hiding their identity for fear of being identified as Jews. The generation of our grandfathers had lived through such fear. We thought it was over. But we were wrong. What is going on? Jews who have to hide that they are Jewish? In 2021?
Ha-Kadosh Baruch-Hu, see how hard it is to be Jewish? Antisemitism never stops, neither decreases. Synagogues, the engines of Jewish identity, the places where we feel Jewish… are too often not accessible. Zoom and YouTube? We tried them. They are merely a substitute for the real thing. How demanding, how difficult it is to belong to Your people!
Avinu Malkheinu, tonight is Kol Nidre, and I want to be honest. The difficult part of being a Jew is not only to have to deal with antisemitism; or our community’s internal strifes. The difficult part, this evening, is that I have to look unto myself, I must examine my deeds of the previous year, and I have to acknowledge my failures.
You see, Eternal Our God, I like being Jewish, despite all the difficulties, internal or external. Still, honestly, I find Jewish morality so hard. These things that we will repeat over and over during the next 25 hours. That no one is perfect — me included. That everybody has transgressed — me included. That every Jew — I included- must apologise and be open to forgive.
These are the Jewish teachings I don’t like. The more I think about it, the more I realise how truthful the foundations of Jewish ethics are. And I know how spiritually rewarding is a good Jewish life. It’s all true. And in the same time, it is so discomforting for my personal pride. I don’t like to think about my own failures. You know it, Sovereign of the Universe. Because You have created me this way.
I also know that You, Eternal Our God, have created this day for Jews like me: we, who find it difficult to look inside themselves and to deal with our own mistakes and failures. This is the day when apologising is easier. This is the day when we all acknowledge how imperfect we are. This is the day, also, when we recognise how great is the potentiality You have planted into us. We are the only creatures who can feel regret, who can apologise. We are the only creatures who can change.
Creator of the Universe, You have given us human beings such a great power: to amend our mistakes, to begin anew. And so, this evening I realise I don’t want to waste this great gift. Not this year, not this Yom Kippur.
I ask for Your help to be honest when I look at my previous deeds. I commit myself to do the best that I can to repair what I have damaged, amend my mistakes, and fix what I have broken. In short, I commit myself to become a better Jew, and I hope You’ll help me.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah.