With an open mind

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


Sermons and Thoughts

Humanity not Hate

18 November 2023
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

Shabbat Toldot / AJEX – Torah reading: Genesis 26:23-33


Proverbs 4:1-23

More than all that you guard, guard your mind,
For it is the source of life.

When conflict begins, it seems that the vast majority are drawn into taking sides. Perhaps a natural instinct, for those closest, it is literally a battle for survival. For those directly in touch with the protagonists, their survival is paramount and yet in time we come to realise that we do not want survival when there is no one to survive with.

This Shabbat and weekend, we commemorate with AJEX – the Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen and Women – the Jews who were killed and those whose lives were forever scarred in the Two World Wars and subsequent wars fought by our country. If you missed last night’s words from Ark Synagogue and Lincolnshire Jewish Community member, Master crewman, Paul Hyams and the moving Exhortation led by Brian Sass, do catch-up on our YouTube channel, and join us at the Cenotaph tomorrow early afternoon.

Another way to commemorate this weekend would be to catch ‘The Great Escaper’ with Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson. It so poignantly captures the horror of war, the sad duty to fight when called upon and the human cost and the ability of human beings to cut through hatred and to see only common humanity.

This I also saw when in Ukraine earlier this year. There was a realisation that at a moment in time, Paul had been involved in action and on the other side was Sergei, a fellow Jew and now the Community Director in Lutsk who stood before him. I will leave Paul to express himself but what I perceived was a deep respect, shared humanity and what I would now call a familial love.

This AJEX Shabbat and weekend, is of course in the midst of another war that tears at us. Setting aside the actual conflict in Israel-Palestine, we have witnessed and most of us felt, that draw to take sides. From its outset, we have promoted the approach of and critical approach to education on the conflict aiming to tackle Antisemitism, Islamophobia and polarisation.

This week, I attended a vigil opposite Downing Street, ‘Humanity not Hatred,’ organised by the Together Initiative ( and Progressive Judaism. Hosted by Brendan Cox, the husband of the murdered MP, Jo Cox, Christians, Jews and Muslims spoke, stood and prayed together. We did not take sides but stood as I believe the majority of British people stand, bewildered and saddened, in the middle of sides whose shouts are futile.

I believe that we were attempting to fulfil the proverb that we heard as our Haftarah:

Proverbs 4:1-23

More than all that you guard, guard your mind,
For it is the source of life.

When we feel that all is futile, our minds will help us, perhaps in time, to understand the way for us towards a moment that we can greet and part b’shalom, in peace.

Even in the turmoil of war in Israel-Palestine, and whilst some take advantage of it to further stoke exclusive agenda, there are so many more who are or wish to reach out to each other across identity difference. In war, there is only sadness not joy, no matter how upright we might be. Yet the righteous still work for humanity knowing that it is the only way towards living together b’shalom, in peace and therefore joy.

As British Jews, we are not at war, even though we may sometimes feel as if we are. Listening to our minds, Progressive Judaism encapsulated a non-binary way of being in that I urge you to read, consider with your mind, and to discuss with me. There are positive outcomes from such an approach that this week saw us being Together, Humanity not Hatred.

In the prayers for the Israel Defence Force that we read last night and this morning, you will note that as well as beseeching God for protection, the prayer is for blessing and wisdom to their actions. That wisdom of the mind that we pray for leads to right action and creates pricks of light that resonate through ages, a fight we pray, for future generations to live in peace and light and joy.

Proverbs 4:1-23

More than all that you guard, guard your mind,
For it is the source of life.

Psalm 97:11

Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.