Monday, 10 January 2011


Below is a guest post from my friend Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers of West London Synagogue. Debbie - as she points out - was one of those with whom I recently visited Palestine & Israel. On return Debbie's stories of our visit have encouraged the synagogue to raise money to support Palestinian farmers replanting Olive groves destroyed by settlers. Debbie blogs at RabbiDebbie

Listening to Rabbi Arik Ascherman who is working with farmers to save Palestinian land from setllers.

In November I was part of a group, with Ray, selected by St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, sent to Israel and the West Bank to explore how we engage with the Israel-Palestine conflict as people of diverse and differing backgrounds and views. It is an issue that so dominates and changes interfaith relations in the UK that it cannot be ignored. Israel is a place I have spent a good deal of time, on tours, on family visits, on seminars, on holidays, and is a place I care deeply about, and worry deeply for. There were the usual joys and positives on the trip, as well as many moments of discomfort, embarrassment and pain for me personally as a Jew, but one of the most inspiring experiences was an afternoon spent with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organisation of Israeli Rabbi’s trying to show the just, humane face of Judaism, and believing this to be the best way to create a safe and secure future for both Israeli’s and Palestinians. They showed us some of the devastation that settlers have inflicted upon Palestinian farmland, as well as some of the hard work they are doing, as Rabbis and Jews, to protect Palestinians and their property.

They really represented to me an approach to Israel, co-existence and Judaism that spoke to me of my own values and ethics. So I was excited to see how we could help once back in the UK. In January we celebrate a festival which has its roots in the Mishnah (a text written down around 200ce but reporting much older traditions): Tu Bishvat – the 15th of the month of Shvat. The Mishnah tells us that this date is one of four new years – this one the new year for trees! It’s always been a festival close to me as my Bat Mitzvah took place on it, but it also means a lot to me as it’s become a time for us to really reflect on the importance of the environment, ecology, and the produce of the Land of Israel. Thus it made perfect sense for us to get involved with helping Rabbis for Human Rights rebuild some of the destruction caused to agriculture by sponsoring Olive Tree replanting. Jews have a long history of supporting planting of trees in the Land of Israel and I have several JNF tree planting certificates. So doing it to help Palestinians makes a powerful statement about how we wish Israel and Palestine to be, and what we believe the ethics of Torah to be encouraging in us. Those destroying fruit trees and Olive trees are breaking Torah law. By helping to replant and rebuild I hope we are being truer to the intention of these ancient words, as well as contributing to the livelihoods and stability of the whole region.