Progressively Speaking: Is Remembrance Sunday more important than ever?

Progressively Speaking: Is Remembrance Sunday more important than ever?

Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein gives a progressive Jewish view on a topical issue

For many years, on Remembrance Sunday, I have gone to stand at the War Memorial in the centre of Northwood, proud to be asked to say the Hebrew priestly blessing at the end of the service.

I am gratified that the numbers of the public attending seems to have got larger over the past decade or so.

That’s not so at the annual Shabbat service we have held at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue for many years, as sadly the members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) who fought in the Second World War get fewer year by year. Time moves on.

The same is true of survivors of the Shoah. Their personal stories and testimonies make such an impact and we should congratulate the National Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire who are making films of the survivors for future use, in trying to make sure that the true of the horror of the Holocaust is not denied.

At our annual AJEX service we display the two books that record the names of Jews who fought and gave their lives in the British forces in the two World Wars.

The volume for the First World War is hundreds of pages long. There is a note recording why it was compiled: because after the war, anti-Semites said the Jews did not play their part in fighting for Britain.

It is sad this had to be done, but it is also a resource giving us pride in the contribution the Jewish community made keeping this country safe and free.

My grandfather was one of those killed during that war. He died in Flanders, Belgium, on August 16, 1917. In August this year I went for the first time to see his grave at the Tyne Cot cemetery, on the 100th anniversary of his death.

The sight of the hundreds of rows of white headstones, many just saying “An unknown soldier” is incredibly moving. I obviously never knew my grandfather, but standing at his grave and looking round made me realise why it is so important to remember the sacrifice so many made with their lives.

We live at a time of re-evaluation of history. We suddenly face new challenges, some to be applauded, others greeted with bemusement or despair.

But there is no need to wipe away memories of the past, rather we should take the memory and use it for positive effect – especially on Remembrance Sunday.

Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein is president of Liberal Judaism

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