Rabbi Lee Sunderland today writes in the Havering Daily about the issues facing our society today. Rabbi Lee is from Romford Synagogue and known throughout the community as a man who brings peace.
Homo sapiens have risen above other creatures as thinkers and talkers. We are given the power to think for ourselves and speak our own minds, should we choose to.
To this end icons-symbols- play a large part in provoking our thought processes. Institutions and ideals are presented to us in such a manner, so as to continuously present us with the ideologies by which we ought to live. Or statues of people who, having lived outstanding lives, are idolised for you to be inspired by. No more so than in religious settings where icons are placed before the human eye. Not to revere or worship. Rather remind us of how we ought to conduct ourselves in our everyday life.
In judaism we do not sculpt the form of God or biblical characters, to direct our prayers too. We cannot know what they look like. Rather symbols and actions are meant to invoke a necessary mode of behaviour, for the benefit of ourselves in particular and society in general.
For example, to commemorate a death, we do not just stand in respectful silence. Rather we perform actions. We light a candle to emphasise the influence on a person can spread among many others. We perform acts of benevolence- the life-blood of society – to demonstrate society has not lost out by having fewer citizens. And we try to emulate the deceased in our own individual way so that the good someone has done in society is not lost with their demise and physical absence.
One of the most powerful iconic symbols of these times will no doubt be taking the knee. A powerful display of the acknowledgement of the damage racism has had on a section of society without whom quite frankly our NHS could not be what it is (to use just one of many examples).
But alone it achieves nothing tangible. Yes an appreciation of another’s pain and suffering is a necessity in curing societies ills. But alone it achieves nothing. The vandalism and violence that a few hooligans have chosen to engage in has overshadowed the purpose of recent demonstrations. George Floyd’s memory has become lost on the reporting of the behaviour of the few who marred these occasions.
By all means, take the knee. But then get up off your haunches and adopt another symbol. Stretch out your hand in support of all others. At this time the opportunity to make helping others the most important and valued characteristic of the Homo sapien should be blindingly obvious to us all. We ought to help people because they are there, and in need not because of their race, colour, religion or orientation. But if that is necessary to consciously demonstrate that black lives matter and that the lives of any minority matter. Then so be it. Let us consciously stretch out a helping hand to someone we would normally not make an effort to befriend.
If we all do that to each other. It should become obvious that everyone should be treated equally in any life setting. And hopefully people will think like that before engaging in any sort of discrimination. Realising that they will be called out and embarrassed for behaving in such a foolish manner. People will treat all others as they ought. So while taking the knee is a powerful symbol of support. Stretching out the hand is a more powerful symbol of changing society. In these strange times when we rely on each other more than ever l invite you to stretch out the hand of brotherly love and assistance to all because everybody’s life matters.
In memory of John Manuel