Before anything else, I hope you, your families and your loved ones are all healthy and safe.
These last weeks have been terribly challenging. The entire world is confronting an illness that strikes indiscriminately. While all our lives have been turned upside down by this virus, many across this country and within our community have been taken ill. To them, I wish refuah shlemah. To anyone who has lost a loved one, I wish you a long life and no further sorrow. Let us hope the whole world is free from this wicked disease soon.
Many of you will know that my family recently got up from shiva. Having just lost my father, I feel the pain that so many of you are experiencing right now and would like to thank so many of you who have sent us good wishes. It is so difficult to be unable to observe the normal prayer traditions without a minyan, let alone give my father the funeral and shiva we would have wanted. This has made the difficulty of this period only greater. My heart goes out to anyone in any community who is experiencing the same situation. The picture of the young 13-year-old boy, Ismail Abdulwahab, being buried alone with no family present was heart breaking. As I write to you, our prime minister is still in intensive care and our thoughts and prayers are with him for a full and speedy recovery. This virus is indiscriminate and ruthless and we must all adhere to the government’s restrictions. I urge you all to stay at home for he or she who has saved one life, our sages teach us, has saved the world entire.
Our current situation is putting significant pressure on many of our organisations and we should all be proud of the way they are reacting. In particular, I want to express my admiration to the staff who often go well beyond the call of duty to ensure the needs of our community are met. Many of you will have seen the Emergency Joint Campaign of Jewish Care, Nightingale Hammerson and the Fed in Manchester, supported by the JLC, to raise funds to meet their immediate needs. Our communal organisations need our help like never before.
A word of support as well for our synagogue bodies who, across the spectrum, have been facing unprecedented challenges. From closing synagogues, to organising online activities and education for members to, unfortunately, significantly higher burial requirements, the world as we know it has changed.
What has not changed are the acts of chesed that we so often see amongst our wonderful community. Last week, my wife’s great uncle passed away in a Jewish Care home. Unfortunately, his son could not be with him at the end as the home is locked down and he, for his own medical reasons, has had to stay in isolation. The feeling of being apart from his father at that moment was extremely distressing. On the day his father died, he received a note from the director of the home who told him that the staff had been sitting with his father throughout his final moments, telling him how much his son loved him. That single act of kindness brought great comfort at a moment of unimaginable pain and showed, once more, how good deeds, however small, can change one’s life or outlook.
If any good is to come out of this period of our lives, it should be the message that small acts of kindness, often between strangers, have transformational power. Whether it being phoning someone just to check in, helping with shopping or countless other examples. In a time of great uncertainty and discomfort, let us focus on our capacity to make a difference in the world, in the life of even one individual in the smallest way.
In this fight, there is no division between peoples. We are all waging the same battle and every good deed only brings us closer together.
I am writing this on the eve of Pesach. Tonight, everywhere around the world, we will sit with our families, where possible, and recount the story of the exodus from Egypt. Just as we do every year, we will ask: “why is this night is different to all other nights?” Sadly, for many of us this year’s Pesach will be like no other in living memory. Families are split, parents and grandparents are on their own and, as a result, the way in which we celebrate this Pesach will be with a heavier heart, yearning to be together with all our loved ones.
Pesach is also known as Zman Cherutenu, the time of our freedom. We pray that next year we will be truly free. As we sit around our tables this year, let us pray that our captivity from this virus comes to a conclusion very soon.
To next year in Jerusalem. Whether in body or in spirit, let us hope and pray that next year we will be free to celebrate Pesach in the manner we have enjoyed for so many years, reunited with our loved ones.