With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

Comfort My people

29 July 2023
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
Shabbat Nachamu Vaetchanan 5783

“Nachamu, nachamu, Comfort, My people, comfort them!” Cries God in the words of Deutro-Isaiah, addressing a people in exile following the hideous, brutal, siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the symbol of their existence, the Temple.

I wonder how affective these words were at the time for those who had knew the deepest despair. This morning, even I who have always stood out as one of the most hopeful and optimistic of Rabbinic voices in Liberal Judaism concerning the State of Israel, struggle for consolation. When my friend and Colleague, our Rabbi Lea, with other friends and Colleagues, and thousands of Israelis traversing traditional political and religious demarcations face water canon and skunk water from the police, vitriolic bile and spit from the mouths of extremists; I find little comfort.

Rabbi Marcia Plumb, a former Rabbi of the Ark Synagogue, wrote in a letter to her current Congregation:

“On the 17th of Tammuz, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem for the first time. Weeks later, the Temple was destroyed, and our people were adrift and rudderless, exiled from the Promised Land. The Talmud asks, how could this happen to God’s chosen people? The answer: sinat hinam–hatred between Jews.”

Rabbi Plumb notes that a source of our unity has been our ability to allow for a “plurality of views and practices.” This is being smashed to pieces by the current government of Israel.

When I try to traverse the complexity of religion and politics, morality and justice in Israel, I take as my rule, whether an issue or person, intends harm to others. At this moment, Israel’s policy is directed by a group of ultra-Orthodox men, stated misogynists, homophobes and racists. The simple answer: sinat hinam – not just hatred between Jews, but of huge segments of society.”

Polarisation on steroids, a Progressive, liberal vision of Israel against the ultra-orthodox, religious nationalist popularism. A culture war against the LGBT+ community, accusations that feminists are taking over the IDF, that secular Jews into which they include us, Progressive jews, are not really Jews at all, their equivalent of dehumanisation, deJudaising us. Creation of private militias – a Jewish Wagner – and a clear stated policy that is apartheid. Sacred organisations such as the IDF, are targets of abuse. Major crime figures involved in the Likud Party and a Prime Minister whose own future rests on subverting justice. As Rory Stewart cited, it is a government of “shamelessness.”

In a country that has no written constitution, no second chamber of government, the Supreme Court is the only bastion of justice, the only check on power, not just of this government but any government of Israel. The undermining of the Supreme Court put a time bomb on the “ethical rudder of Israel,” as Rabbi Plumb termed it.

We are not talking about the abuse of vague groups of people. People like us in Israel, Progressive Jews, have been discriminated against by the State of Israel through most Governments. This year, we will be supporting the Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC) in our Yom Kippur Appeal. The reason why IRAC exists is to bring cases of religious and other discrimination to the only place of protection against State discrimination, the Supreme Court. This existential threat from within itself is the reason that elite reservists of the Israel Defence Force are now withholding their skills, and a phenomenal number of Israelis are exercised.

Startling figures emerged this week regarding the number of Israelis considering life outside of Israel and the numbers demonstrating. Alaistair Campbell cited a German journalist who calculated that if the protests had been in the US, 60 million, in the UK 13 million people so concerned for their future that they would get out of their armchair and onto the streets to face water cannons, skunk water and the vitriol of far-right extremists.

In London and cities around the world, we can also stand with our local Israelis as they protest or head to Israel to join the protests there alongside our friends and family.

Rabbi Lea wrote of her experience joining the march to Jerusalem on the eve of Tish’a B’Av, the date the commemorates the destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem and Israelite society: “Tonight, liberal Israelis will gather across the country in mourning on the eve of Tish’a B’Av, filled with trepidation that we are at the abyss of the destruction of the Third Temple—Israeli democracy—and with deep anxiety about how Judaism would survive this third churban. But tomorrow we will rise again, reminded that next Shabbat we will turn to words of comfort from Isaiah.”

And Rabbi Plumb concluded her letter to her Congregation, “Ani Ma’amin–I continue to believe in the Jewish people, in our love for each other no matter what; and in our determination to hold tight to the historic Jewish values of pluralism and the State of Israel at the same time.”

“Nachamu, nachamu, Comfort, My people, comfort them!” Cries God

That is as the ancients must also have felt in the moment. The moment when what they held dear was trampled and holy walls were crushed. It is very hard to see beyond the moment.

This morning, in this moment there is little cause for comfort and yet we are not permitted complete despair that paralyses and causes inaction, a lack of determination to provide the safeguards that aim to protect all in society.

In their piece in the Jewish News this week, Rabbi Lea, together with the leading voices of Progressive Judaism, Rabbis Charley Baginsky, Josh Levy and Jonathan Wittenberg, conclude (

“As Jews, we are well-versed in momentary defeat and don’t lose hope easily. One of the leaders of the protest movement, the particle physicist Dr

Shikma Bressler summed it up perfectly: “We have the best people to fight with and the best values to fight for”. And so, we will continue to work to ensure that Zion will once again be called “City of Righteousness.”

Now is very much the time to support us in Israel, our siblings, family and friends who fear for the existence of a democratic Israel and their future in it. Now is the time to actively graft, to as the Psalmist put it, “Let Justice, well up like water and righteousness like a stream, never to fail.”

Kein Yehi Ratzon, May it be God’s will; May it be our will.