Lord Rothschild has been hailed for “inspiring” nationwide events marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration as the community’s commemorations drew to a moving conclusion at Bevis Marks Synagogue.
A post-Shabbat service hosted by the country’s oldest community ended a week of events that included a public lecture by historian Simon Schama, a grand dinner involving the prime ministers of the UK and Israel and special activities in shuls and schools.
Lord Kestenbaum, who chaired the Balfour 100 group that oversaw the commemorations, told a 400-strong congregation how the road to the series of events began a year ago when the current Lord Rothschild met community leaders in his London office a stone’s throw from where his relative received the historic letter in which Britain expressed support for a Jewish home in Palestine.
Invoking the first three words of the declaration, he told Lord Rothschild: “You inspired an unprecedented set of activities to mark this historic centenary. They have been good natured. They have unified; some might call that a second Balfour miracle. It has embraced all part of the community, engaged the government and even parts of the Opposition. For all those reasons those three words which began the journey to statehood – ‘dear Lord Rothschild’ – are as evocative today as they were 100 years ago. And for so inspiring this centenary, we as a community offer you our heartfelt thanks.”
As well as celebrating what is seen as a crucial step towards Israel’s creation, the centenary has seen repeated reminders that the Declaration also calls for the rights of non-Jewish communities not to be prejudiced. ‘Let us choose this centenary to rededicate ourselves anew to the grand vision of that document,” said Lord Kestenbaum. “We conclude the centenary inspired by two things: inspired by the pioneering spirit of those who crafted those 67 words into history and thereby restored an ancient people to its ancestral land. And we are equally inspired by the task of building a society that those legendary pioneers – Lord balfour, Lord Rothschild and Chaim Weitzmann – a society that they would be proud of. Our work is not done. In many ways it has only just begun.”
The message that more needed to be done was echoed by the S&P Community’s Senior Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who urged the continuation of the “fight for peace and freedom. We must resist our tendency to become used to the status quo and to recognise that coming home must never be taken for granted. With every day we are challenged to remain its rightful tenants. We must find peace. While we must deal with politics and social dynamics, while we must never over simplify what is truly complex, we must also remember that there is more to that land than history.”
But describing Israel as “a gift to the world”, he insisted: “She is to be applauded not condemned, embraced not boycotted, celebrated not shunned.”
He hailed the role of London in “rekindling” the dream of “bringing an ancient people back to its ancient land”. And though millions of lives could have been saved if it had been enacted just 15 years earlier, “it was again this country that stood strong during the Second World War under the leadership of Winston Churchill to fight against the dark forces that sought to consume the world. All others followed his lead”.
Several key players who played a role in the development of the Declaration had strong links to Bevis Marks, including Dorothy de Rothschild – a fact Lord Rothschild said made the location for the concluding service particularly fitting. He paid tribute to them “for the miracle that Israel is today”.
The service also saw the present Lord Balfour recite the historic document and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis deliver a prayer he composed for the centenary. Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein recited the prayer for the royal family at an event that was also attended by Board of Deputies president and chief executive.
David Dangoor, of the S&P Cmmunity, said: “Bevis Marks, like the Balfour Declaration, testifies to the refuge Britain has given Jewish people on man occasions.”
More than 160 events have taken place under the Balfour 100, which was made up of more than 20 communal organisations across the political and religious spectrum and overseen by the JLC.