“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I think of myself alone and not of others, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Hillel – [Pirqe Aboth ch.1 No 15.] [ sayings of the fathers]
This quotation translates slightly differently depending on the source from which one obtains it. Whatever the difference in translation, however, the meaning, as I see it, remains clear
and a testament to one of the greatest of all Jewish sages.
I would never attempt to claim a great knowledge of the Talmud. The quotation above is simply one of those pieces of knowledge that one collects over the years. It is, though, a profound
saying and one that sticks in the mind for just that reason. It came to mind last evening when, together with Joyce, I attended the National Holocaust Memorial Day event at the Corn Exchange, Rochester. Other
members of the KLJC were there including Hazel and Roger, Rachel Martin and various members of her family.
There was a good representation from the Chatham Community. Joyce and I also met a number of people from Medway Social Services who we know from the time that we worked there.
The event had been organised jointly by; Rochester Cathedral, Chatham Memorial Synagogue, Medway Inter Faith Action Forum and the Royal School of Military Engineering. There was also use
of some footage from the Imperial War Museum, Film and Video Archive facilities. The event was supported by The Medway Council. As you all will remember this memorial event had been advertised in our January
The Memorial had the twin themes of Remembrance and Hope. Remembrance there was of the victims, both of The Holocaust and of subsequent episodes of mass murder and genocide that have
plagued humankind throughout the 60 years that have elapsed since Auschwitz was finally liberated by the Red Army. Hope comes both from the very act of liberation and from the apparent willingness of many of the
victims to get on with their lives unconsumed by hate.
The Evening began with a welcoming address by Judith Armitt who is the Chief Executive of Medway Council. There was an address by Jon Weiner entitled; What was the Holocaust? He also
intoned a Prayer for the Six Million Jewish Victims of the Holocaust, a prayer to be received in the spirit of Z’CHOR, remembrance.
There was a very moving address by a young second lieutenant of the Royal Engineers who read out a selection of the diary notes of 2nd. Lt. Ben Bobroff of the Royal Engineers on his
personal experiences of the Liberation of Belsen. Gabriel Lancaster, on behalf of the Medway Inter Faith Action Forum gave a short talk on the Bosnian Conflict during which he highlighted the fact that humankind’s
self inflicted inhumanity to its own is a perpetual phenomenon.
There followed a very short film on, ‘The UN in Bosnia’ from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. The Revd Ray Hayter, Chaplain to the Royal School of Military Engineering then gave a
talk – “A Bosnian Recollection”. Vijay Dhanecha of the Medway Hindu Centre read a prayer for all the victims of atrocity and the Revd Hayter followed this with a Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Liberators.
Canon Jonathan Meyrick [Rochester Cathedral] then gave a talk entitled ‘The Hope of Liberation’. He followed this, after a short musical interlude, with a Final Prayer. The event lasted
about an hour and a half. The talks and Prayers were interspersed with an appropriate selection of music played by the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers Conducted by W.O.1 Guy Booth. The event was very well
attended. The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, the M.P. for Gillingham Paul Clark and the Mayor of Medway Susan Haydock were all also in attendance.
A perpetual theme that permeated this event and all of the other events on this subject that I have viewed, and to which I have listened was, and is, that we should not forget! We should
recognise the hope and the many acts of liberation but should not allow the evil to be forgotten. The Holocaust must be a perpetual reminder of the extreme levels of horror that humankind is able to perpetrate on
Racism has a genesis, in my view. It begins with caricatures; verbal, written and pictorial, created by one group and directed against another. Once the caricatures are accepted they make
racism, in more and more extreme forms, easier to perpetuate because now there is an acceptance that ‘they’ are ‘not quite like us’. A short way along this path and ‘they’ are ‘not as good as we are’, and so it
becomes easier all the time. We, as Jews, should be very careful not to join in the ‘game’, of generating caricatures of others; and not simply because we live perpetually in a glass house ourselves!
And so I come back to Hillel. What did he mean? Well, as I have already acknowledged, I am no Talmudic scholar. My own interpretation, though, is that he was not intending anything very
complicated. I believe that he was saying that, although charity may begin at home it must not end there! And that the time for charity, to all, is now.
Tony Kreit 28-01-05