Heroes in Libya and Somalia The power of ideas

By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
September 22, 2012


Bar Mitzvah of Saul Kaye
50th Wedding Anniversary of Alan and Adrienne Mansell
70th Birthday of Adrienne Mansell

This morning, I awoke to hear of a new group of heroes. Tens of thousands of citizens, supported by military police, arose in Benghazi. They called for an end to the armed groups of militias including Islamic extremists and a return to the rule of law.

They managed to expel groups such as Ansar al-Sharia, suspected of involvement in an attack on the US consulate in the city, and the murder of the American Ambassador, Christopher Stevens and three others Americans and Libyan guards.

“Witnesses say supporters of Ansar al-Sharia lined up outside its Benghazi headquarters, in front of the crowd, waving black and white banners. They fired into the air to try to disperse the protesters, but fled with their weapons after the base was surrounded by waves of people shouting "no to militias". Buildings and a car were set alight and fighters evicted.

"I don't want to see armed men wearing Afghani-style clothes stopping me in the street to give me orders, I only want to see people in uniform," said university student Omar Mohammed, who took part in the takeover of the Ansar al-Sharia compound.

In Somalia, the extremist, Islamic terrorist group of al-Shabab seem to be losing their grip on their last urban stronghold under pressure from forces loyal to the new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He faces such a stern task but, in his victory speech, Mr Mohamud asked the Somali people to collaborate with him to rebuild the country. Even though he was elected by the country's members of parliament, not its people, Mr Mohamud appears to have significant popular support. This is perhaps because of his work in Somalia as an academic and civil society activist. As one Somali told the BBC: "He has been teaching people, not killing them."

In Libya and Somalia, people are waking up to the gift of optimism, the possibility of a new dawn, one that bears a precious concept, that of freedom. Right now many are rising up and putting their bodies, their existence on the line for that idea.

It is true that people have been killed in these incidents. It is true that the nature of the world is such that extremist groups will continue to wreck lives through terrorist attacks, as illustrated by the twin suicide bombings that killed 14 people in Mogadishu this week, attacks that are almost impossible to prevent. Yet the lambs who carry these sickly devises can be shown new pastures. They are pastures of ideal, of the rights of the individual to freedom and optimism fed by governmental concern for their welfare, for education, health, occupations and leisure.

Saul, I pray that in your life, as has been in mine, you do not have cause to rise up as these people have had to. Their success as we have been gifted as a legacy in this country, is the victory of a simple idea of individual freedom that renders a call to arms redundant. History has shown that there are always those who wish to subvert that idea and unfortunately have had the strength of character to take advantage of times when individuals are suffering. There have always been intelligent voices warning of these risks.

As you read to us this morning, the Israelites survived their years of wandering through the Wilderness, not because they won many military victories, as they did, but because they had a core idea. God was their inspiration and the ethical and ritual ideas of the Torah were their glue. That has been the key to our survival against the odds as a People and it remains so today. Yet, Moses was right to call for its repetition for all generations and to fear that there would be times when the People would lose sight of the core of their existence, especially in times of prosperity, at least for those in leadership.

We call Moses the greatest prophet of Israel. He was so in establishing the community as a People. However, it is to the Israelite prophets who stood up as the first social activists in history, to warn of the excesses of leaders at the cost of the individual in the community, to whom we as Liberal Jews – leaders and members of the community - look for our inspiration today.

In the Haftarah you read today, “Seek the Eternal while there is still time; call out while God is near (Isaiah 55:6),” there is a warning to holdfast to the path of righteousness, even when we may be struggling in our lives: “For My thoughts are not like yours, nor are your ways like Mine (Isaiah 55:8).” So we must always focus and heed the words of the prophet Hosea, whose prophecy gives title to this Shabbat Shuvah: “Shuva Yisrael ad Adonai Elohecha – Return, O Israel, towards the Eternal your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” Even in times of relative prosperity and welfare for us as an individual, still seek the core of your existence and holdfast to the ideas contained in God and our Holy Scripture.

Today is a time of joy as we celebrate life with two households in our community. It is also our season of the High Holydays that this year coincides with season of party political conferences. I hope that they can focus on the ideas that will bring us all welfare, to develop what, even if it can be improved, are already gifts in education, health, occupations and leisure, when we compare ourselves to those still struggling to attain levels that are strong enough to render corrosive elements in society obsolete.

Eternal God let us as people of our religion and of our People, return to our Teaching, that provides the impulse within us to do good, not just for ourselves but for the good of our core existence, in relation to others for the good of all in our community and society. May we all be considered heroes in our lives not for bearing arms, but for using our arms and all our being to do good.



Mary in Brighton

Mon, 09/24/2012 - 12:54

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Thanks for that Rabbi. It's nice to see some thoughtful,inspiring and optimistic blogs posted on here.


Thu, 09/27/2012 - 13:58

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“Shuva Yisrael ad Adonai Elohecha – Return, O Israel, towards the Eternal your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” Even in times of relative prosperity and welfare for us as an individual, still seek the core of your existence and holdfast to the ideas contained in G-d and our Holy Scripture

Which presumably includes keeping Shabbat and kashrut to name but two and would certainly preclude consecrating same sex marriages but who said Liberalism had anything to with Judaism?

Isaiah calls to all, without exception, to participate in the blessings of the new era, by turning back to the Torah which is the source of Jewish life. He likens the Jewish faith and the knowledge of G-d to refreshing water, nourishing milk, and gladdening wine:

"Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price... Incline your ear and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David."

It is all very well being a social activist but not at the expense of keeping the Torah.


Fri, 09/28/2012 - 11:10

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"That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

People can make their own decisions as to what they believe is important Advis3r.

The Torah is the source of Jewish Life, but the essence of Jewish life in the real world is questioning and seeking truth, not dogmatic conformity.


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