Voice of the Jewish News

Shana Tova

In an increasingly busy and mixed up world, the High Holy Days offer time for reflection.

Of the issues to reflect on, the idea of how – as Jews – we engage with the wider world may not register on some radars.

With recent events at home and in Israel, not to mention our children and jobs, we may have more immediate concerns. But recent headlines and sermons tell us that the way we engage with others is becoming a key question for 5775.

This week, the new senior rabbi at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation urged his congregants not to turn inwards and to let the Torah “bring us into the world, not close us away from it”.

While Rabbi Dwek did not refer explicitly to relations with other faith communities, one way we can achieve his goal is through boosting relations with other faiths – even where treading that path is not easy.

This was precisely one of the key aims of the project by Jewish Social Action Forum and St James’ Church, Piccadilly to mark Succot.

Regular readers will recall the church’s one-sided Bethlehem Unwrapped Festival, which included a replica of Israel’s security barrier – and as such it is no surprise some in our community (and Jewish News understands the US is not alone) oppose the collaboration.

Organisers are urging people not to rely on one party or other changing their political beliefs before engaging in dialogue. In other words, different faiths will always disagree, but let’s not allow that to mean we disengage from all.

It comes as the row over the Board of Deputies’ joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain only now shows signs of dying down after rank-and-file deputies overwhelmingly backed the initiative at the weekend.

Like this week, it had seemed as if it was ‘right initiative, wrong partner,’ as critics lined up to remind the Board the MCB had once boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day, an action which – like the replica wall – rightly appalled many.

Our community should debate these issues and genuine questions about the record of St James’ and the MCB.

There are therefore some obvious questions for the Jewish Year 5775.

Who are the ‘right partners’?

Should we only talk to those with whom we agree? Don’t we have a duty to explore the possibility of reaching out beyond our comfort zone to try to teach and even persuade those who may not be singing from the same hymn sheet?

We all hope the Board and JSAF’s efforts have an impact on anti-Semitism from the Muslim community and on helping the poor.

Some will also want to see if these projects have a positive impact on the future output of the MCB and St James’.