Once again I am posting a beautiful item written by my rabbi in this week’s newsletter from my shul/synagogue, Coogee. NSW. I have to say I was in tears at the end of reading this.
I went to visit the makeshift shrine at Martin Place today. The overall sombre tone in the air was one of sadness, grief and a lot of forgiveness. I however felt anger and I wanted to shout out that this been happening to my people for so long, but it is unfair to judge someone else’s grief.
The absolute senseless deaths and the fact that a city was closed down helped me understand the commandment (Deuteronomy 25:17)
“Remember that which the Amalkites did to you”
It seemed that the Torah was condoning hate and anger against a particular group of people, the Amalakites and all its descendants, in every generation till the end of time. Every generation, it seemed, developed an Amalakite group to oppose and hate. But how can you command to hate? The Torah understood well the vagrancies of human nature; there is a time to love and there is a time to hate. Sometimes it is correct to have anger and hate, when faced with evil. It becomes a mitzvah to express the core emotion of disgust and abhorrence in the face of evil. It is why the Bible references evil in so many passages and on so many occasions, as if to remind us, that evil does exist and that it is our task to oppose, resist and confront the wickedness of evil.
The Torah finds good reason to
“Remember that which the Amalakites did”.
The alternative is tyranny repression and bigotry.
Winston Churchill famously said
“all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.”
This week Australia awoke to the news for the first time confronted with the insidious brutality and viciousness of evil terrorism on its own soil. We had two hostages’ dead, many injured, and the entire nation left bewildered. The images of a Black Muslim flag juxtaposed with Lindt’s ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting and terrified café staff pressed against the window.
It was news that Jews are only too familiar with. One can only imagine the pain of 9/11, Bali and the brutal deaths only three weeks ago in Har Nof. Terrorism is the targeting of civilians in the name of a philosophical ideology, a cause that is somehow more virtuous than life itself. But how can a cause be greater than life? Life is Godly and sacred so how can you have a cause that is greater than God and Allah himself. Nothing, no ideology can justify terrorism. It is good that our Bible condemns Amalek and the awfulness of Evil.
What happened in Martin Place on Tuesday was pure and simple evil. To be sure it was an act carried out by a crazy self styled imam, but it was fuelled by the ideology of fanaticism, hatred and jihad. But the whitewash of Sheik Haron Monis has begun in the media; he is being portrayed in the news as a ‘lone madman’ and ‘violent criminal’. These descriptions are not strictly untrue, but first and foremost he was a terrorist fuelled by fanatical ideology. He brought Sydney and most of the nation to a standstill. Australia has never seen anything like this before.
When it comes to those of us who mourn Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, it is no consolation that he was mad, crazy and that he acted alone. So too, as happens all too often, when a lone terrorist strikes in Israel it is no consolation that the terrorist acted alone. Monis was a Muslim extremist who had a Facebook following in the thousands and cleverly planned this terror act in the Lindt cafe with bullet proof windows opposite channel 7 .
His deed struck out, two people who will now never come home to their loved ones, cut down in their prime, who were yesterday full of hopes and dreams for the future. And there are others who will bear the scars for the rest of their lives, most of them invisible. One does not simply ‘return to normal’ after such an experience.
Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson are heroes; they died trying to save others but they were just regular normal good people. Tori had been the manager of Lindt cafe for the past two years and Katrina Dawson was a successful lawyer married with three young children living in our city of Randwick. She and her husband were good friends of some our co-religionists; there is only a small degree of separation amongst us.
There seems to me to be an unseemly haste in declaring our solidarity with the Muslim community, who have certainly rightly condemned this act. But where is the anger of the Amalakites? The #I’ll ride with you campaign seems to be a response of victimhood and that Australians are somehow to blame and we are at fault for causing anti Muslim bigotry.
There has been an outpouring of grief and mourning by the placing of flowers at Martin Place. The Jewish custom is to light a candle. We light a yahrtzeit candle and place the memorial candle in a prominent position when remembering a loved one. The candle is a metaphor that life never ceases and that the soul is not extinguished. As we light our Chanukah candles it too becomes a metaphor of defiance against tyranny. The Chanukah light is our response to darkness it illuminates the message of hope and the battle for life. We refuse to live in fear and we will continue to buy our coffee in Lindt cafés and our chocolate in Max Brenner stores. When we light our Chanukah candles this year here in Australia we are going to light one for the memory of # we’ll walk with Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson whose souls will never be extinguished.
As always l’chaim and see you in shule.
Rabbi Elozer Gestetner. Coogee Synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue in Coogee, a beach-side suburb of Sydney. The rabbi and his family are Chabad-Lubavitch and are representatives of the world wide Chabad Chassidic Movement