One of Masorti Judaism’s most senior rabbis has encouraged his congregation to join the protests against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul.
In a powerful Yom Kippur sermon, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon confirmed his own attendance at protests held by the Defend Israeli Democracy movement against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overhaul of the Supreme Court.
He told attendees at New London Synagogue’s Kol Nidre service:”I’ve been at the protests, and that’s why I feel I’ve been pushed right up against the edge of how far I think I, as your rabbi, should be engaging in these political matters, on this holy night.
“It’s why I think we should all be protesting. And why I don’t think we dare walk away.”
In one of several powerful sermons given by progressive rabbis over the fast,Rabbi Jeremy added:”It’s a very religious thing to protest the actions of leaders of Israel when these actions threaten the application of justice and the future of the people and State.
“We’ve been doing it for millennia. It’s what’s makes being a leader of Israel such a challenge. But it also might be reason that we are still here, millennia later.
“It might be that the very reason for the survival of the Jewish people is that century after century and unjust bill after unjust bill, the religious leadership of our faith have stood up to speak out in favour of justice, no matter from where the threat of injustice comes.”
He continued:”The State of Israel is the most extraordinary transformation in the hopes and possibility for self-determination of our people in 2,000 years.
“You, me, all of us here in our British levels of comfort, we can’t walk away from the millions protesting in Israel, asking for our help and saying the level of threat they experience is existential. ”
In further considered words, Rabbi Jeremy also used the sermon to urge the congregation to think carefully about which pro-Israeli organisations they were giving money to, taking into consideration “the kind of Israel” groups were supporting.
He said:”Give money to Israel, yes we should certainly give money, but think about who we support, check out the kind of Israel they, in turn, support.
“I’m proud of our Kol Nidrei partner UJIA, but for this more political philanthropy, I’m proud to support the New Israel Fund. Just don’t walk away. ”
The rabbi also gave a detailed explanation of why he was “terrified” by the Israel’s government’s list of 225 legislative bills submitted before the Knesset.
“Taken together the list terrifies me,” he reasoned. “There’s Bill 2801/25 which would immunise the prime minister from criminal investigation.
“There’s Bill 25/2881 weakening the Law of Return and the recognition of non-orthodox conversions.
“There are Bills threaten all kinds of minority groups. And there are many Bills that seem to promote cronyism and corruption and pork-barrel funding of the desires of the settlers and ultra-orthodox extremists on whose support the government relies.
“And amongst all this are the Bills that limit and politicise the application of the rule of law, not only at the level of the Supreme Court, but up and down the legal system of Israel.”
While his overall message was deeply critical of the direction Israel was now moving in, Rabbi Jeremy also used the sermon to reaffirm his commitment to the Jewish state.
“It’s 50 years to the day since the greatest existential threat to the State of Israel was launched on this holy day of Yom Kippur, ” he said.
“I was two and half years old. Just about my earliest memory is accompanying my parents to a blood drive held just up the road at St Johns Wood United.
“Packets of blood drawn from the arms of the members of the Synagogues of St Johns Wood were flown out to the front lines of the Yom Kippur war.
“We came together to support Israel in her greatest hour of need. We didn’t give up then. I’m not in the mood for giving up now. This isn’t a day and this isn’t a relationship predicated on giving up.”
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