Kol Nidrei 2014 Rabbi Ralph Genende
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 | 14 Tishri, 5775
Kol Nidrei 2014
Rabbi Ralph Genende
Google the word “outsider” and you will be amazed at just how many people consider themselves outsiders, excluded, not part of the group. JK Rowling writes: “I always felt an outsider”, Marilyn Manson as a kid always felt like an outsider, Joan Rivers: “I’m in nobody’s circle, I’ve always been an outsider” which would explain her capacity to be as withering about herself as she was about others. Who else could have said: “I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.” But then even Rupert Murdoch has something to say on the subject: “I’ve always straddled a weird line – there’s a lot of mainstream stuff that I love. At the same time, I still feel like an outsider. I am a catalyst for change. You can’t be an outsider and be successful over 30 years without leaving a certain amount of scar tissue around the place.”
The truth is it’s hard to go through life without feeling like an outsider at some point, an interloper at another’s simcha or time of grief; excluded from a particular group and their in- jokes. We are solitary in our being, even if social in our longing.
As Jews we are acutely aware of our outsider status. It has been the source of our strength, our capacity to stand up for justice and rightness to be the conscience of a cold world, to afflict the comfortable even as we comforted the afflicted. It was this radical spirit that gave Avraham the courage to challenge the Mesopotamian Empire with his ideas of righteousness and compassion. In fact he defined Jews as the classic outsiders ;he is the first to be known as an Ivri , a Hebrew ,one who comes from the other side עבר הירדן It was this self-same subversive spirit that energised Moses to give up his comfort and security and confront an unjust Egyptian empire.
We produced a Moses and a Marx, a Rabbi Akiva and a Spinoza. Yosef Caro’s Code of Jewish Law and Sigmund Freud’s Code of the Unruly Human psyche. Being an outsider gives you perspective; it stimulates curiosity and creativity.
But if it’s been the source of our strength, it also has been the cause of so much hostility and envy. We are resented for our intellectual acumen – those clever Jews. We are envied for our mutual support and unity – those insular Jews. We are begrudged because of their guilt of what they have done to us – those pathetic victims We are despised for giving the world a God and conscience – those tribal Jews. We are disapproved of because of our financial success - those rich Jews. And we are especially hated for our strength – those arrogant Israelis. During the last few months the anti-Israel invective has been especially intense, the thin-line between anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish hostility so harshly exposed. We needed few reminders of our pariah status.
Yet for all this, we have been the most celebrated insiders, producing some of the world’s most distinguished poets and prophets, novelists and Nobel Prize winners, leaders and scientists, philanthropists and politicians. We have often defined what it is to be an insider even while carrying an uncertain ambivalence – Are we really accepted? What do they say about us behind our backs? We are often like Disraeli who defined himself as the blank page between the Old and New Testaments.
Yom Kippur is Insiders Day. If on Rosh Hashanah we focused on the world, today we turn in on ourselves, we move from the global to the tribal, Ashamnu, Bagadnu…how we have done wrong as Jews, how we can be better Bnei Yisrael… “We are all one band of brothers” כולנו אגודה אחת we say repeatedly in our tefillot.
Yom Kippur is one of the most universally observed of Jewish holidays. MK Yair Lapid has noted that there is a Chametz Law in Israel outlawing the sale and public provision of chametz (leaven) on Pesach. And every year there is a kerfuffle with reports of people trying to circumvent the law (like going to Arab villages). There is also a Pork Law limiting the sale and serving of pork and lots of machloket and controversy over restaurants that serve delectable white steak to their eager patrons. Otolenghi may even have a few favourite trotter recipes of his own! What about the Yom Kippur Law? On Yom Kippur the streets of Israel are eerily quiet… no reports of secular Jews eating in public or concerts in malls and little if any conflict between religious and secular on the day. Why, asks Lapid, is the Yom Kippur Law so effective? And the answer is that there is no Yom Kippur Law – it was never passed – it doesn’t exist! And why then is this day so religiously observed across Israel? Answers Lapid it’s because of the common bond shared by all Jews; it’s simply part of Jewish identity and affiliation. It’s just what a Jew does.
Out of the agony of the 50 days of war in Gaza and the primitive anti-Semitism it unleashed across the world, out of this angst and anguish an awesome unity was born. The people of Israel put aside their sharp differences, the Jews of the world stood together. In Rabbi Dov Zinger’s words: “Two Jews, three opinions, one heart.” Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali, one of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teenagers in a Rosh Hashanah message to the Jewish people, speaks of the enormous strength she and her family gained from the support they got from across the world, from Jewish communities holding rallies as we did in Melbourne saying: “These are our children, we are one family”. Was this just a transitory illusion she rightly asks.
And we can answer: if we really will it, if we really want it, it is no illusion… To Cain’s famous question: Am I my brother’s keeper? The Jewish people resoundingly replied:
“Yes, we are
Yes, we are one
Yes, you are my brother
Yes, you are part of my family”
It’s been said that we went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves…
And it is this spirit that we need to rediscover and restore in our communities where far too many Jews are marginalised because of poverty – I was shocked to see the figures of Jewish Care that some 20% of Victorian Jews live beneath the poverty line.
In Orthodoxy far too many of our wives, mothers and sisters are disenfranchised because they are women – Modern Orthodoxy needs to ensure that women have positions of real and effective leadership and involvement. Israel is leading the revolution in this respect with women studying Torah and Halacha at the same level as their male counterparts. We will still need to find the courage to give these women position of leadership in our shules, Batei Din and religious schools. We also need to support all Jewish women against our own Taliban who will disrupt El Al Flights because they won’t sit next to a woman and whose attitudes to women are often degrading and dismissive.
Far too many of our community are excluded because they have married non-Jews. Of course we want our kids to marry Jewish but if they haven’t we need to reach out to them with compassion and love and bring them back home by making conversion more accessible, by telling them that we need them.
Far too many of our young feel alienated and we need to offer them, not the ice-bucket challenge, but a honey-bucket one. They don’t have to be doused with the icy response of how “you are killing your grandparents” and “what about the Shoah”. Instead let’s drench them in the sweet reality of being part of an incredible people who were always clear-eyed in their perception of evil, undeterred in their confrontation of injustice, breathtaking in their intellectual ability and who have so much to offer the Gen Y generation and the world around them.
Far too many feel disempowered and unwelcomed because they are gay. Traditional Judaism needs to redouble its efforts to include its gay children, to ensure they don’t go down the path of depression and suicide. And let’s not forget to welcome those we sometimes neglect –the disabled and the abused ,the migrant and the visitor .And lets use this empathy to reach out to our fellow Muslim Australians under pressure –especially the woman .The burka isn’t the problem, it’s the bogan and of course it’s the mad-eyed mullahs and their perversion of religion and morality.
The Halacha stated that when it comes to blowing shofar, “kol hakolot kasher” – every sound counts regardless of how weak of insipid it is; and so very Jew counts regardless of how far they have distanced themselves from the community. The Halacha also tells us that even if you are outside of the shule, perhaps just passing by when the shofar is being sounded, if you simply listen you have fulfilled the mitzvah. You don’t have to be inside the shule to be part of the family. You still belong.
And that is why at CHC as much as we want you to come to shule and enjoy our magnificent services, we are creating multiple activities and entry points different , we are also working hard on our Master Building Plan to develop the kind of facilities where everyone will feel welcomed. At CHC exclusivity is out. Inclusivity is in.
Rachel Frenkel calls on us to us to ensure our unity is more than an illusion, to keep the spirit of those days of unity alive by choosing to do a positive act or mitzvah, large or small for the new year .And an ideal starting point could be to keep just one Shabbat as part of the Shabbat project of 24-25 October. This exciting project being embraced by Jews across the world has as its catchphrase –One People, One Heart, One Shabbat -keeping it together. And remember it’s not hypocrisy to do what you can ;just as everyone counts ,every action is worthwhile .
Let me conclude by telling you about one of the most compelling and confounding characters that Judaism ever produced: Elisha ben Avuyah. Brilliant 2nd century scholar, contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, leader of his generation he goes astray, seduced by Greek philosophy and song. So estranged does he feel from his Judaism, he calls himself “Acher”, the other, the outsider, the stranger .He abandons his Torah, cuts all his ties to his community. Only his loyal student Rabbi Meir remains by his side ,continues to learn from him and pleads with him to repent. I cannot turn back ,says Elisha,” Elisha says. “ And I know this because one Yom Kippur, which was also Shabbat I was riding on my horse. I was near the Holy of Holies, when I heard a heavenly voice saying: ‘Turn back to me, return , O lost children, all of you except for Acher…’ There is obviously no hope for Acher,for me”
Of course Rabbi Elisha was hearing, not the voice of God, but the sound of his own tortured soul. As long as he saw himself as Acher ,as a the alien ,the other he would never find his way back.You can always come home if you want to. Home is after all where they have to take you back or as Maya Angelou noted you can never go back home again but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.
At Yom Kippur time we welcome back all Jews, we invite back our estranged family members, we open the doors to the alienated as well as the affiliated, the cynical and the serious ,the tired and the untroubled ,the devoted and the devil …We welcome you all here tonight and we invite you to be part of and contribute to your community in your own best way .