If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Neil Janes, of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, selects: Prayer Book for Jewish Members of HM Forces
A YOUNG man in 1940, a private in the Pioneer Corps, is issued with a Prayer Book for Jewish Members of HM Forces. The book survived the war and was given to me by my grandmother. The young man in question was my grandfather of blessed memory, and the prayer book is a treasured volume. My grandfather had relatively recently arrived from Nazi Germany.
He was an enemy alien, by virtue of his birthplace, and therefore, initially part of the Pioneer Corps. I never talked with him in great detail about his wartime experiences, though I have read some of his memoirs. The prayer book itself is short, a reflection of the exigencies of war;. The midrashic teaching, that there is a time to lengthen and shorten one’s prayers, was surely created for times like these. On my desert island, I imagine energy will be better spent saving my life in deeds rather than praying for salvation.
The composition of the prayers is deeply moving; I would find it difficult to write prayers in times of such deep crisis. Drawing on traditional motifs from the liturgy, this prayer book speaks to the inner spirit of human kind. More than the prayers, in being cast away with this book, I will be reminded of the troubles that have befallen my people and humanity. My family witnessed devastation yet, with great nobility, people began to rebuild.
They did not despair. Can you imagine concluding prayers for those fallen in battle ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’, only to go back to battle? These young soldiers did and then went on to work for peace. I’d hope the prayer book might remind me of my own capacity for strength and resourcefulness to tend to the future once again, as my grandfather did before me.