Good morning. Eight days ago, the peace of the Sabbath at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was shattered when an armed far-right extremist, screaming ‘death to the Jews’ went on the rampage, killing 11 people. The first incident of its kind since Jews first began to immigrate to the United States in the 1650s, that horrific attack was also a horrifying sign of the times. Across the Americas and Europe, in particular, we see the resurgence of the far-right, spewing hatred of black and LGBT people, Jews, Muslims and immigrants.
We had hoped that the end of the 20th century had seen the end of such atrocities. This year, 11th November marks the centenary of the Armistice, which concluded the First World War. There is also another significant anniversary that immediately precedes it: the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’. After five years in which the Jewish citizens of Germany were subjected to a systematic process of legal, economic, educational, cultural and social discrimination that excluded them from German society, 9th November 1938 marked the beginning of the violent persecution of the Jews of Europe that culminated in the Holocaust; what Jews call the Sho’ah, the ‘devastation’.
As each year passes, there are fewer people alive who experienced Kristallnacht and the Sho’ah. At Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue just two survivors remain, one of whom, Margarete Mendelsohn, has published her account of those years: The Nazis – Through the Eyes of a Child.  Margarete will be reading from her autobiography during our special Kristallnacht anniversary programme. If you’d like to join us, you can book in – free of charge – on eventbrite.
We have been planning the 80th anniversary Kristallnacht commemoration for months. Of course, we had not planned to hold another commemoration on the preceding Shabbat – just yesterday – in solidarity with the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The past haunts us. The present challenges us. Last Monday, the Sussex Jewish Representative Council organised a vigil for the Jews of Pittsburgh at Hove Town Hall, which was attended by 200 people from across Brighton and Hove. Speakers included a local Imam and a representative of City of Sanctuary. Apparently, the killer targeted the Tree of Life synagogue because of the involvement of the Jewish congregations of Pittsburgh in supporting refugees. That support will continue. The lesson of Pittsburgh and of Kristallnacht is that we must all stand together against hatred and work together to support the most vulnerable and marginal in our society. May remembrance of victims of violence and hatred past and present, inspire us to build relationships of understanding and respect between communities, nations and peoples and to cooperate together to repair the world.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue
- For an authoritative and accessible history of the Sho’ah, see: The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 by Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Penguin Books, 1975. The word Sho’ah is derived from the Hebrew Bible – e.g. see Isaiah 10:3. ↑
- MyVoice Publishing, 2012 ↑