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Seeking out some light in a troubled world

The upcoming Royal wedding is a bright spot in this year's stream of miserable news items; a bright spot we'll need going into next year

    (Photo by Dave Thompson- WPA Pool/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Dave Thompson- WPA Pool/Getty Images)

    Ok, I’ll admit it. I watched the full 15-minute interview with Harry and Meghan, and it was lovely. Just lovely.

    Look, I know, they are perfect strangers and their contentedness really shouldn’t make any difference to my own. Quite possibly, they are repugnant individuals and if I actually spent any time with them I’d run a mile. There’s the roast chicken proposal (I’m a vegetarian); that “Harry once dressed as a Nazi” thing; or the fact that her hair is swishy in a suspiciously perfect way.

    But, still, it gave me the warm and fuzzies and I wasn’t alone. Almost as soon as the news broke, the national sentiment ran firmly towards “finally, some good news” (swiftly followed by, “do we get a bank holiday?”). And it’s hardly surprising. Even for those of us who have celebrated simchas recently, it’s not hyperbolic to say that the news of late has offered an unrelenting stream of misery.

    Even if you were pro-Leave, the aftermath of the Brexit referendum has been uncomfortable, exposing an alienated, wounded country that still harbours so much fear and intolerance. Meanwhile, to walk down the street in any major city is a visceral reminder of the soaring rate of homelessness and the shame it places on us all.

    Across the pond, Donald Trump’s presidency plummets to new lows by the week (his retweeting of Britain First propaganda really hitting the floor). Around the world, reporters bring us tales of tragedy and strife, from the plight of the Rohingya people in Burma and the fall from grace of the country’s leader — a woman who once offered such a shining hope — to the fact that, as Israel’s 70th anniversary approaches, peace seems ever more elusive. From the BBC’s Blue Planet’s warnings about the damage we are doing to our oceans to the endless allegations of sexual assault by powerful men (and the likelihood that many are still getting away with it), I’m not sorry to be saying goodbye to 2017.

    A royal wedding is hardly the antidote to any of this, but it is a sparkling diamond of hope in a darkened sky, reminding us of what we recall as a better time — the optimism of London 2012 and the Queen’s Jubilee. Judaism, for me, is another such diamond — except obviously a considerably more permanent, profound one.

    Perhaps it’s ironic for a religion that, for millennia, has been bound up with persecution and exile, but when the world seems uncertain, when the only stories we read are of pain and human cruelty, my Jewish identity and the culture and traditions that inform it gifts me a safe space.

    Put simply, the ordered nature of Jewish life offers a certainty that the world rarely seems to. The community — and being part of something bigger — matters so much when Britain feels more divided than ever. It’s commitment to charity and tikkun olam makes me optimistic we can be better, that problems that seem intractable don’t have to be.

    Shabbat is the good news at the end of the week, regardless of what public or private dramas have preceded it. We may be facing a cliff of uncertainty after March 2019 but I can almost guarantee that the following month the afikoman will be stolen and the post-Pesach pizza will be gratefully devoured.

    Judaism — not necessarily God, prayer or the deep theology of it but the day-to-day components — is almost a comfort blanket, one I find myself reliant upon as the outside world feels increasingly dispiriting. In an era full of questions, Judaism offers an answer, one that goes beyond personal ups and downs.

    Of course, our community is hardly immune from delivering bad news, whether it be sexual abuse, poverty or prejudice. Not every member is charitable or broad-minded; there is much discord within our ranks. I make no pretence of being strictly observant, or of not finding Orthodox Judaism frustrating, from its frequently antediluvian stance on women seeking a divorce to its approach to homosexuality, to rabbinic pronouncements that seem designed only to make life harder.

    Still, it gives me solace. Most of us won’t get an invitation to the royal wedding but that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of bringing vicarious pleasure. Equally, I don’t necessarily have to “do God”, daven thrice daily or agree with everything about Judaism for it still to be my berth in stormy seas.

    Perhaps it’s nostalgia rather than faith, but lighting the Shabbat candles also gives me the warm and fuzzies. L’chaim to the betrothed pair, and l’chaim to what Jewish living brings. Something tells me we’re going to need it in 2018, too.

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