Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us. 5774 has been a difficult year, riven by conflict and cacophonous with lies, half-truths and hostility. Like many others, the Jewish people are desperate to draw a line under the past and make a new start.
At the heart of the Rosh Hashanah service is a cry with no words. It isn't even a human cry, but the strangely evocative sound made by directing the breath through the hollowed-out horn of a ram. Scripture provides no reason for blowing the shofar on the New Year; it doesn't even name it as the instrument to be used on what it tersely describes as Yom Teruah, "a day of sounding the horn".
The year 1656 is usually remembered as the date of the readmission of Jews to England. But something else happened then, regarded by some as an infamous act that remains a lingering stain on European Jewry.
Amsterdam's Sephardi authorities pronounced a cherem, a ban of excommunication, on the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
International concern for the welfare and safety of innocent Gazans has morphed into anti-Zionism and from there, it’s been a short hop to antisemitism. With boycotts, desecration of communal buildings and antisemitic outbursts, the climate has turned increasingly hostile, leaving many of us feeling vulnerable, unsure of how to respond.
Tu b’Av, which falls today, is probably the least-known festival on the Jewish calendar. Probably only regular daveners of shacharit will notice because the prayers of supplication which would normally be said that morning are omitted.
The roads are blocked with broken masonry, the paths through the city are twisted: this sounds like a war-shattered city in the 20th century; in fact, it's Jeremiah's depiction of the desolation of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. The Hebrew Bible, which opens with a majestic paean to creation, is not afraid to describe the brutal realities of destruction.
Earlier this month the Unite union passed a resolution denouncing Israel as an apartheid regime, supporting boycotts against it and accusing it of "feeling able to commit war crimes with complete impunity". When Israel launched its latest operation in Gaza, the union issued a statement to "unreservedly condemn the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people".
We never give up. No matter what is done to us, however horrific, demeaning or undermining, we struggle on. Hope surely is at the heart of Jewish survival. And yet, after the Second Temple was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, there was a moment when some Jews thought it really was not worth continuing.