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Noach – Genesis 9:1-17 – Irene Blaston

Rainbows & Making a Difference

Even though I’m definitely not what you could call musical in any shape or form and indeed generally struggle to produce any note that’s in tune, I do enjoy listening to music. In the days when you used to be able to walk into someone’s lounge and visibly see their music collection, much the same way as admiring their shelves full of books, a former colleague and good friend described my music taste as somewhat catholic.

It took me a few minutes to realise that he meant catholic with a small “c”, the dictionary definition of which reads ”wide, broad, diverse and eclectic” – if I didn’t know better I’d suspect he was being somewhat rude. These days, the collection has narrowed somewhat and is definitely less visible to visitors, but is probably still best played when driving alone, especially as the tracks are very random on my iphone and of course alone in the car is a great place for those of us who can’t sing to do so.

The other day, I was doing just that, listening, singing along to a track and the words made me think of the impact of this parashah, although apparently the inspiration for this particular Craig Taubman song comes from Pirke Avot 2:8.

The lyrics begin

Does it really matter – why bother to care,

I’ve heard all the reasons – and maybe life isn’t fair.

The righteous will suffer – the wicked take reward,

Tell me… Is there some secret –

what is goodness for?

So, before you tell me that I’ve got that topsy-turvy, you see, I think it’s a pretty big promise that God has made to Noah in this morning’s parashah – in this Noahic Covenant, God declares that never again, and you know, never is a long time, never again will the entire population be wiped out by flood and creates the rainbow as the sign of this “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature that is on the earth”.

I’m left wondering just what the people promised in return. The text is written in such a way that we are led to believe that the rainbow is a reminder to God, but presumably it is really a reminder to the people to keep their side of the promise too.

So the words of Craig’s song, called “Be Human” continue:

Yes, we can stand above the crowd,

Raise our voices loud,

from our actions, be proud.

Yes, we must rise above our fears,

Draw the enemy near,

Not by might, but by spirit, we are here.

Strive to be human – dare to make a difference,

Dare to be different – in the face of indifference.

To be the eyes of the vision –

the voice of those who cannot speak,

To stand by the lonely – and to carry the weak.

Now, we all know that we can make a difference, when we choose to, and maybe that is the intention of this covenant.

Whether that’s at Mitzvah Day in 3 week’s time, 3 weeks tomorrow in fact, where as a community we will be supporting Watford New Hope homeless shelter in a number of ways from collecting food and toiletries to painting doors and windows, and clearing weeds. Or if it is making a difference in every day actions, but I know some people are just better at it than others.

I challenge you when you next see a rainbow, not only to be aware that it inspired the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” – the lyrics by the way were written by Yip Harburg, the youngest of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York, and the music written by Hyman Arluck, whose Jewish parents were from Lithuania, but also, when you see a rainbow, to think of the people that you know who are just amazing at making that difference.

So, who am I thinking about?

Well, I’ve met Craig Taubman a few times, the energetic and passionate American singer/songwriter of the song that I just read out, and he himself is making a huge difference to interfaith relations having established the Pico Union Project in California, bringing diverse cultures together through story, song, art, food and prayer.

Nearer to home – I’m thinking of my wonderful, elderly cousin, now aged 91, she has always lived her life for the benefit of others, the recipient of an OBE some 40 years ago, for her work with foreign exchange students, she has never stopped looking after others and still today takes numerous buses daily to go visit those people who are older than her that need her help.

I’m thinking of my best friend, who is very involved in her Church in Scotland and it doesn’t matter how many months it is between our catchups, or how busy she happens to be, she is there when I want someone to talk to, and she makes it feel like we last spoke just yesterday.

I’m thinking of the many people here in our synagogue, who look after the elderly, the sick, the bereaved, those who are lonely or who need our help in some other way.

And right now, I’m thinking about the inspirational 3rd member of our Rabbinic team. This 3rd member of clergy will enable work to happen with our young adults to grow their love of Judaism, to involve them in the life of this community. The larger Rabbinic team will be able to create interesting and attractive programmes in order for our members to experience Reform Judaism in different ways, not just through traditional weekly services but by looking at new models of Jewish engagement, including for those for whom Jewish practice has had no place in their lives recently. They will help establish a young professionals group and make the difference that, even with the best will in the world, our 2 wonderful Rabbis, on their own, just can’t with a community of our size – now the 3rd largest Reform community in the UK.

To put this into context, Finchley Reform, the nearest congregation in size to us have advertised for their 3rd full time Rabbi but also regularly use 3 other Rabbis part-time; Alyth, EDRS and West London have between 3 and 5 each together with numerous other professionals.

Myself and others have spoken about this vision before but whilst rainbows encourage dreaming, this is no longer a dream.

With grateful thanks to the generosity of some of our members, this dream will now become reality and we are able to start our exciting search properly for that extra member of clergy to really make that difference to Radlett and indeed Hertfordshire Jewry. Myself and other members of the Board look forward to updating you on our progress very soon.

Shabbat Shalom.

Irene Blaston, Vice Chair

5.11.16

Fri, 23 August 2019 22 Av 5779