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Lessons For Living: A Taylor Swift Shabbat?

A Taylor Swift Shabbat?

A few weeks ago, the Sabbath had a special name – it was called Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, as it recorded probably the most famous song of Jewish history, the Song of the Sea; the song of the Jewish people after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their victory over their enemies (Exodus14:30). If you were in Melbourne, you could have called this past Saturday the Swift Shabbat. The Sabbath that Taylor Swift arrived to perform for hundreds of thousands of Melburnians.

The arrival of Taylor Swift generated enormous interest and excitement. She is an icon for countless teenagers and many others. Her life story of hardship, resilience and success is an inspiration. Her songs and lyrics excite a wide range of people. She is the very example of a modern woman marvel!

In these hard times, it is refreshing to move from warfare to wonder, from words that wound to words that heal.

Here are some of her evocative lyrics:

"Long story short it was a bad time; long story short I survived."

"These things will change; can you feel it now? These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down."

As a community in distress, we can take comfort from these words. These are bad times for Jews worldwide; for Jewish Australians, it’s achingly hard as we encounter unimaginable levels of anti-Semitism.

In this past week, our antagonists put up another wall in an attempt to separate, if not excise us from Australian society. I am referring to the disgraceful doxing of Jewish groups (although I could also reference the disgraceful behaviour of Greens MP Jenny Leong). For those unfamiliar with the term, this is the definition: ‘the process of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual/s on the internet, typically with malicious intent’. The list and personal information of Jewish individuals that was published this week, purportedly in the name of truth, was nothing short of malicious. The information came from a private group in which they expressed their personal feelings and opinions about the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel. What we say in our private groups is in-house chatter and not public policy. A place to vent and kvetch and yes, talk about how to withstand the tsunami of terror directed at us. 

Israel and the Jewish people are the target of weaponised words and wild unfounded accusations. The lax language of hatred and exclusion, the old surly stereotypes of colonialism, control and blood-sucking Jews (a new blood libel). The protocols of the elders of radical Islam, spreading toxic lies about occupation and apartheid. How exactly do you occupy and colonialise the land that has been part of your tradition and heritage for thousands of years and for centuries, preceding Islam? How exactly does apartheid work when Arabs and Muslims in Israel have voting rights and the right to sit next to you in any restaurant? Not quite the separation and demonisation that I lived through in my youth in apartheid South Africa. 

This is not to deny the serious ethical lapses in the West Bank areas that Israel occupies. Nor to minimise the outrageous extremism of the religious right-wing settlers. Extremism and fanaticism in any form and in any religion are a danger for any society.

It is however the menacing militancy of radical Islam - be it ISIS or Hamas, Hizbollah or the Iranian Ayatollahs - that poses the most serious threat to Israel and the West today, including Australia.

We Australian Jews need to be strong and confident in our own strength - Melbourne and Sydney are not Berlin or Frankfurt of 1936. We are a strong and resilient community with many friends and allies. We have agency and moral courage. We are overwhelmingly a powerful Zionist community; it’s an integral part of Jewish religious and cultural identity; albeit with a wide range of opinions about Israel and its government policies. 

To quote Taylor Swift:

"People throw rocks at things that shine but they can't take what's ours."

Israel is ours and a shining example of democracy and free speech in a hostile neighbourhood where both these elements are in short supply.

And Australia is ours too. We have been here since the first ships sailed into Botany Bay and have been a shining light for Australian society and Aboriginal advancement.

On that Shabbat of Song, we read, not only how the Hebrews burst into the Song of the Sea, but also how Miriam, leader of Israel and sister of Moses topped it up with a song of her own. Taking a tambourine in her hand she leads the women of Israel in a rapturous sound of deliverance. She was our Swifty but she was also a model of visionary leadership and stewardship for the new nation. Her astonishing foresight in bringing musical instruments with her from the land of bondage, Egypt, says it all. She displayed a faith in the future and a belief that her people would move from slavery to salvation, desolation to celebration. despair to repair. She gives us hope today. Because of Miriam, I believe in the future of Israel and the future of the Australian Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph