Memorial Day 2014
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’asseh shalom alenu, ve al kol Israel… May the Maker of peace in the highest bring this peace upon all the humanity, and upon all Israel.
These words occur twice in Jewish liturgy. At the conclusion of the Amidah, when we silently address our innermost hopes to the Almighty. And as part of the Kaddish, the solemn conscious acceptance of God’s will. We Jews pray for peace, twice in every service. In the most private moment, as in the most public time. We have done it for centuries. And still we pray.
Jewish tradition holds shalom, peace, as its highest value. The ancient Rabbis taught that war is “a perversion of justice”. The Talmud insists that before going to non-defensive war, the king would need permission from the Sanhedrin, the Assembly of Sages. As this institution did not exist for 2,000 years, this law virtually rules out even the possibility of non-defensive war.
All of this notwithstanding, Jews have fought in wars. English Jews have served with honour in the Army of this Country. In World War One, sixty thousand British Jews served in the Armed Forces. More than three thousands and five hundred were killed. Tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers fought in the British Army, during the Second World War. And in following wars as well, Jewish soldiers have served with honour, and sacrificed their lives, under the flags and the insignia of the United Kingdom.
Most of them were recent immigrants. Their daily lives were often tainted by the slur of double loyalty. Despite all these challenges, British Jews have proved to be good citizens and brave soldiers.
We honour the memory of those who died. We pay our respect to all those who went to the battlefields and the trenches, many of them carrying their tallit and tfillin; so that they could pray, every day:
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’asseh shalom alenu, ve al kol Israel
May the Maker of peace in the highest bring this peace upon all the humanity, and upon all Israel.
World War One has also been an important moment in the history of the Jewish people. In February 1917, in Alexandria, a visionary man called Zvi Jabotinsky and a war hero called Joseph Trumpeldor founded the Jewish Legion. They were five Battalions of Royal Fusiliers. They were all composed by Jewish volunteers; they fought against the Ottoman forces, in Gallipoli and in the Jordan Valley. It was to become the core of the first Jewish Army, after 2000 years of exile and dispersion among the nations. Later, it became the Army of the State on Israel. We pay honour to the memory of those brave Jewish soldiers, who fought as Jews in the British Army, who set the foundations of the Jewish State, the end of our exile and the beginning of the redemption of the land of Israel.
Jewish way to pay honour to the generations before us is to look at them as an inspiration so that we can shape our life according to their example and turn their memory into a blessing. We look with awe and respect at the generation of Jews who fought in the First World War. We honour those who fought in the Second World War and in the following wars. Of those who perished, we say: zikronam livrakha, may their memory be a blessing. To all who served in the Army, we offer our gratitude.
The Jewish community, largely composed by children and grandchildren of immigrants, has contributed in great numbers to the defence of this Country. Their loyalty to the United Kingdom, and their dedication, is an example for other communities who are looking at a way to integrate into our multicultural society. The small core of founders of the Jewish Army, and later of the Jewish State, have proven that,
just after the most horrendous tragedy ever endured in human history, an ancient religious tradition, Judaism, can become the foundation of a modern, democratic, multicultural State: the State of Israel. A State so imbued of Jewish values that its President proved to be able to do teshuvah, repentance, as he did few weeks ago, visiting the Arab village of Kfar Kassem, on the anniversary of the massacre of 1956.
This moved me to tears. The President of the State of Israel, son of one of the British soldiers of the Jewish Legion, acknowledging a serious crime, honouring the Arab victims of one of the dark moments of the history of the Jewish State. All of this when so many Arab Countries still refuse to recognise the Jewish State, still refuse to compensate the damages suffered by the local Jewish communities, still treat the few remaining Jews as second class citizens.
Despite all this, the President of Israel spoke of a future of peace, and of the duty to integrate the Arab minority into the Jewish State. In that moment, the words that ancient blessing came to my mind
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’asseh shalom alenu, ve al kol Israel.
May the Maker of peace in the highest bring this peace upon all the humanity, and upon all Israel
War is still around us. Still young British citizens go to the battlefields. Among them many Jews. As a Rabbi, I am in touch with parents and families of some of these brave youth and I know of their pain and anguish. The whole Middle East is in turmoil, so many lives are lost on daily basis because of fanaticism and fundamentalism. Peace seems to be very very remote, and the Jewish State is permanently under threat. The Hebrew Prophets, first in the history of humanity, dared to dream a future of peace among the nations. But humanity is still not there, not yet.
What can we say, thus, to those men and women who have sacrificed their best years on the battlefield? That we have not learnt from their examples? What can we say of those brave soldiers who have lost their lives in war? That they have died in vain?
To these excruciating questions, our answer must be a resounding: NO.
We cultivate the memory of their sacrifices; we pay honour to their bravery and dedication. And, together with the Rabbis, the ancient teachers of our Law, we continue to hope for peace and to do what we can, to build a future of peace, according to the prophetic vision, when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation; never again shall they train for war”. And we pray
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’asseh shalom alenu, ve al kol Israel, veimru Amen
May the Maker of peace in the highest bring this peace upon all the humanity, and upon all Israel, and let us say
[AJEX Memorial Service, 9 November 2014]