Ju­daism: a great place to be­long

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Daniel Finkel­stein Served?, Are You Be­ing Daniel Finkel­stein is As­so­ciate Editor of The Times

WHEN MY fa­ther died, my mother looked at him and said to me: “Where do you think he has gone?” She didn’t ex­pect me to pro­vide an an­swer. She asked be­cause she didn’t think that there was one.

Mum wasn’t a great be­liever in the su­per­nat­u­ral. I don’t think Dad was ei­ther, although he was less open about it. So, now, a few days af­ter my mother died, there isn’t much of a com­fort in the no­tion that “she has gone to join your fa­ther.” Mum was a sci­en­tist who, I think, would re­gard that as an in­ter­est­ing hy­poth­e­sis with a low prob­a­bil­ity of cor­rob­o­ra­tion.

When I was or­gan­is­ing my Dad’s stone-set­ting, I dis­cussed a long quote in He­brew that we were con­tem­plat­ing. It wasn’t very prac­ti­cal.

“We can al­ways do a shorter one,” I said. “I think Dad would have wanted some He­brew.” Mum gave a half-smile and a lit­tle shrug.

So per­haps what I am now about to say may seem odd: one of the most pre­cious things that my par­ents left to their chil­dren is re­li­gion.

It’s not ab­so­lutely the most pre­cious thing. That would be my in­cred­i­ble sib­lings and their lovely fam­i­lies. In that sense, I sup­pose that Mum and Dad are in­deed eter­nally joined to­gether. But high among the gifts (to use Jonathan Freed­land’s word) is Ju­daism.

On the first night sit­ting shiva, my sis­ter re­called a con­ver­sa­tion with my mother. Ta­mara was seek­ing ad­vice and in­spi­ra­tion for a speech she was giv­ing at a sy­n­a­gogue din­ner (she is Joint Chair of New North Lon­don). Mum sug­gested re­flect­ing upon the value of join­ing things.

When you ask peo­ple to join some­thing, she said, peo­ple al­ways think about what you might ask of them — time, money, com­mit­ment. But you al­ways get so much more than you give. That was cer­tainly her ex­pe­ri­ence. All of her adult life, for in­stance, she was a mem­ber of B’nai B’rith.

Through it she met my Dad, she de­vel­oped a net­work of friends who lasted a life­time and, in her last years when she couldn’t get out so much any more (like Old Mr Grace in

she would have wanted me to add) mem­bers of First Unity Lodge came to her. They were a light in her life, re­ally they were. Be­long­ing is the heart of Ju­daism. Last week, the rab­bis of the dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties we be­long to (my par­ents were mem­bers of Hen­don Re­form, my brother Alyth, I be­long to Pin­ner and North­wood Lib­eral and my sis­ter is Ma­sorti, of course) each of­fi­ci­ated at one night of prayers, and we were joined by many of the mem­bers of these con­gre­ga­tions.

How won­der­ful to be able to share our loss and our mem­o­ries with so many peo­ple who felt a sense of kin­ship with us through our com­mon be­long­ing. How won­der­ful to be led in prayer by re­mark­able com­mu­nity lead­ers who feel a sense of at­tach­ment to our fam­i­lies.

And along with be­long­ing there was rit­ual and tra­di­tion. How com­fort­ing is it, when you feel quite lost, to know what you must do next, to be told, ef­fec­tively, how to put one foot in front of the other at a time when that act seems re­ally dif­fi­cult.

My fa­ther found the ori­gin of these rit­u­als fascinating and be­came a proper scholar of them.

I cer­tainly see why he be­lieved that they con­tain wis­dom and that study might yield their se­crets. But the great thing about Ju­daism is that while such study may be of value it isn’t the essence. Ju­daism can hold you up even when you are least able to think. As I was this week.

As in death, so it was in life. What binds our fam­ily to­gether is love, but what brings us all to­gether phys­i­cally, so of­ten, is re­li­gious ob­ser­vance.

Shab­bat (most im­por­tantly), Passover, Rosh Hashanah, break­ing the fast, or the more scarce but spe­cial bar- and bat­mitz­vahs.

On these oc­ca­sions. Ju­daism doesn’t re­quire of us that we share a view of God, or in­deed even that we have one. It re­quires only that we be­long, that we prac­tice, that we re­flect on the mean­ing of the prac­tice, and that we pass the pre­cious tra­di­tion to our chil­dren so that they, too, can en­joy the gift.

And so we will.

How won­der­ful to share our loss and mem­o­ries with so many

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