We are mourning

Last week I had the honour of officiating the Bar Mitzvah of the son of a friend in the Warsaw Reform Synagogue. I never visited Poland before and to be honest, that Country was not on the top of the list of places I wanted to see. Why? Because of its anti-Semitic past and the problematic present.

As the plane was flying over the countryside, I thought to the lines of one of my favourite poets ever, Uri Tzvi Greenberg, about post-war Poland.

“The snows have melted…and the murderers now are farmers. There they have gone out to plough their farmlands, all of which are my graveyards. If the tooth of their plough should churn up a skeleton of mine, the ploughman will not be saddened or shocked, but will grin and recognize it…” [UZG, “Under the Tooth of their Plough”].

But then I met with enthusiastic, passionate, committed Jews who truly believe there is a future for Judaism in Poland. Polish antisemitism, they believe, is mainly a thing of the past and young Poles do not pay much attention to the anti-Semitic tirades by the Catholic Church.

The same debate took place on my Facebook timeline. A confrontation between extreme positions, “It is 1939 again” and “This is the best place in Europe to be Jewish”. Understandably, the Jewish Polish community invests a lot of resources in history, building museums and memorials. Because still they do not know where many Jews are buried, how and when they had been killed, or even how many had been murdered by the Nazi. They have not been given the opportunities we have, to say Kaddish, to hear the name, to do something, such as receiving an aliya, or opening the Ark, like we do, on anniversaries of the death of our beloved.

Doing so, allowing ourselves to express mourning and grief, to receive condolences and to cultivate memory, on a specific day of the year, is vital for our psychological balance. We know when and how to mourn: on that specific day, at that specific moment, such as the Yizkor on Yom Kippur. So, we can be ourselves and live better for the rest of the year.

Your average contemporary Polish Jew does not have such a luxury. He or she does not know when his parents or grandparents have been murdered. Therefore, he or she cannot say Kaddish or honour the memory on a particular day. And because the mourning cannot be concentrated, so to say, on one day, it pervades the whole year, either proclaiming every day that there is no future for you, because you are surrounded by murderers, or pretending to ignore the darkest parts of a very complex picture and to tell you and the world that everything is awesome, everything is great, everything is good.

When we are not offered time and an opportunity to mourn, we feel lost, we don’t know where we are, what is our place, why we are still here and why our beloved are somewhere else, and not with us.

Since I’ve been back from Poland I realise we in the UK are in a similar situation. Not on a personal level: as a rule, we Jews in England know when to mourn our beloved. But at a general level, politically speaking, we are in mourning.

We are mourning the Two States Solution.

Since the Nineties, that is for more than 20 years, we have been told that, by granting a State to the Palestinians, peace would have blossomed in the whole of the Middle East and then all around the Muslim world; that fundamentalist Islam would have been marginalised and defeated as a result; and even the relations with the Muslim community, here in the UK , would have turned for the good.

We have been told so and we really have believed it. Except that it did not go this way.

The Two States solution is dead. Either because Israelis and Palestinians don’t trust each other, or because Hamas, Muslim fundamentalism, is not willing to compromise, or because Iran has become too strong, or because the Americans are not willing to insist any more. There may be tens of different reasons, but the point is that a Palestinian State in peace with Israel has proven to be impossible to materialise.

We have believed in the dream of the Two States solution despite every indication of how difficult, if not impossible, it would have been to turn such a dream into reality. And now we are mourning. Like every mourner, we do crazy things. Think of the bunch of young and not young radicals who have said Kaddish for Gaza. Praying for our enemies, praying to honour the memory of those who want to kill you. Isn’t this so like the crazy act of someone who is mourning and is lost and asks God “please, kill me as well!”

A big fuss has been made about horrible words and insults on social media. And I agree, it is horrible to call someone “kapo” especially if he or she is a Jew. But again, all this language “Kapo”, “Nazi”, isn’t it all about death? Aren’t these people, those who harass other Jews, in mourning as well?

I also have received my share of abuses and insults. Again, from other Jews. Left-wing Jews in such a case. Again, with the language of death. Because they too, like me, don’t know how and when to mourn the death of that dream, the Two States Solution, we all have believed in.

I hear you asking, “now what?” If the Two States solution is impossible, what will we replace it with? My answer is that I don’t know. I am a Rabbi, not a Foreign policy analyst. But again, I cannot but notice that this question “What can we replace the Two States solution with?” resembles terribly the anguished, desperate question we all ask when a beloved one dies.

And this tells me that, to put an end to divisiveness and factionalism which plagues the Jewish community in the UK, we need to find a way to mourn the end of that dream we have all dreamt, despite every evidence. Failing to do so, we will continue to wish each other death.

Do we really want to continue this way?

Brighton & Hove Reform Synagogue, 14 July 2018


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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.