Is our Big Society
rise, called me at the isolated Spanish villa where my family had been spending the summer.
Up popped Emma, a new friend and colleague who, within seconds of a desperate text from me, pulled in a favour (and spent a fortune) to fly me home on the busiest day of the tourist calendar, after I’d been told no seat was available. And Lisa, my schoolmate’s wife whose constant stream of hot food, candles, prayer books and advice helped my father, brother and I concentrate on other things. There was the rabbi I barely know who interrupted her holiday to be a therapist and the rabbi we’ve come to know who guided us through a bewildering maze of religiosity. Neighbours who I’d never met coming to offer sustenance, people I’d not seen in dec- ades whose wisdom I know I’ll need as the weeks and months unfurl.
And Leonard, a jocular, greyhaired ball of energy and a volunteer from our local synagogue who, I later learned, was roused from his bed on that fateful night by a doctor who saw that my father needed help. Devastated, confused and suddenly totally alone after 50-odd years of devoted companionship, it was Leonard who held Dad’s hand. Forms were filled in, statements given and all the depressing formalities adhered to before everyone, my mother included, could be ‘‘released’’. But it was a total stranger whose generosity of spirit made it happen.
All these cogs and more in the Jewish ‘‘system’’ — replicas of which exist in all religions — suddenly clicked seamlessly. The machine took over. A vacuum was filled instantly. People helped for no other reason than wanting to. They weren’t encouraged, or told to, or enticed to by the promise of congratulatory pats on the back, baubles and ermine.
They were not ‘‘big’’ gestures but small ones — often tiny, momentary ones. It was not the kind of behaviour that defines ‘‘society’’ but instead defines us as people, connects us intimately to one another.
Not under a vast, well-funded umbrella or in front of a grand canvas constructed by government agencies but simple, quiet, profound connections that may last a minute or a lifetime.
In fact the whole experiece was so un-Cameronesque as to make Scarred: David and Samantha Cameron see the Big Society through the prism of their own loss