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Thought for the Day: How will the antisemitism of today affect generations to come?

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The Chief Rabbi reflects on a challenging time for the Jewish community as we head into Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. 

You can listen to the Audio here.


Good morning. My great uncle, Rabbi Mottel Katz, miraculously survived the Holocaust, but his wife and their ten children were brutally murdered. He lived for another twenty years and always considered himself fortunate to live in a new world in which peace and respect reigned; an era which had been deeply affected by having witnessed at first hand the horror that hatred can bring in its wake.

Recently, I’ve been wondering what I would say to him about the resurgence of Jew-hatred in Britain, barely seventy years later. What was once firmly on the margins on both the left and right has now reached centre stage.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which will commence on Sunday night, is also known as the Day of Judgement, when God judges all people.

The 18th Century sage, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, taught that on this holy day, God assesses the actions of both the living and the dead. Every year, the souls of the departed are judged anew. Why? Our impact on the world stretches beyond our own lives into the future, like a type of ‘butterfly effect’ through time.

It’s an extraordinary idea – our actions are knowingly or unknowingly internalised by those around us and they, in turn, will influence others. Our every good deed will have a positive impact for all time, while our negative actions will have a permanent detrimental effect. Thoughtless or offensive interventions may embolden others to a hatred which can spiral and cause untold pain for many years into the future.

Our New Year therefore calls upon us to act, not only for ourselves but for the generations to come. This is the challenge that the Jewish community now faces, amidst an unacceptable increase in antisemitism. I am proud of our response. The major Jewish representative organisations are making it known, in no uncertain terms, that this is having a profoundly unsettling impact upon us and that zero-tolerance must be the only answer within every sphere of British society. I’m also proud of the outspoken response of so many decent people from all walks of life who recognise that the scourge of antisemitism is not only a threat to the Jews of this country, but to all of our society.

The Jewish New Year calls for responsible behaviour from all of us and, most of all, from our nation’s leaders. How will our words and actions affect generations to come? It is that by which we will be judged.