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Thought for the Day: Yom Kippur 2021

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“People of faith who turn heavenwards in reverence for God must also be able to look each other in the eye with compassion and care.”

I was inspired this week to read the words of a British Muslim doctor who played a significant role in helping to separate Jewish Israeli conjoined twin girls.

Kashmir-born Dr. Noor Ul Owase Jeelani, a paediatric neurosurgeon at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, said that, prior to surgery, he worked for months with the team at the Soroka University Medical Centre in Beersheba, and added, “As I’ve said all my life, all children are the same, whatever colour or religion. From a doctor’s point of view, we’re all one.” 

This case was particularly complex and dangerous. It is now expected that the babies will grow up to live normal lives. 

There are two extraordinary photos of the children. The first shows them joined at the back of their heads, looking away from each other. The second, taken after the successful surgery, shows them looking at each other for the first time.

When seeing this, I was immediately reminded of the scene only ever viewed by one person, once a year in Temple times. On the holy fast day of Yom Kippur, which commences this evening, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies. He faced the Ark of the Covenant, upon which two golden cherubs stood. The Book of Exodus informs us that the wings of these angelic, three-dimensional figures reached out heavenwards, while their faces were turned towards each other.

The message of this image is as powerful today as it was in Biblical times: People of faith who turn heavenwards in reverence for God must also be able to look each other in the eye with compassion and care.

The Talmud teaches, “Whoever believes in God but shows no sensitivity to others, is like one who has no God.” To turn our backs on others in their moment of need, is to turn our backs on our Creator.

Yom Kippur is a time when Jews seek forgiveness from God. Our Sages teach that, in the first instance, we must reconcile with those around us who we may have wronged during the course of the previous year. Only when we have returned to each other can we return to God. 

Throughout their lives, the previously conjoined twins of Beersheba will not only represent  how siblings can look at each other face to face thanks to the miracle of transformative medical science, but also how all of us can build a brighter future for humankind if we recognise, as Dr Jeelani said, “that we’re all one.”