Yom Sheini, 17 AdarI 5781
Monday, 1 March 2021
Parashat Acharei-Mot 2015

Parashat Acharei Mot
24th April 2015 - Rabbi Sandra Kviat

After the deaths

What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one? When the silhouette of the person is still tangible and the emptiness raw? There aren’t any words that really fit, but as a mourner it is really the sentiment and the reaching out that you appreciate. And in the months and sometimes even years after what really matters is that people remember that you have lost someone, giving you the space and permission to mourn.

The space to remember and to mourn amidst everyday life is how this weeks parasha opens; ‘The Eternal One spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal One’ (Leviticus 16.1). Moses’ loss is recognised and given space through the simple mention of their names, but the rationale that they brought strange fire into the Tent of Meeting cannot lessen the shock of their deaths as Rabbi Miriam Margles from the American Jewish World Service comments.

The question facing us right now is what we do when someone’s death could have been prevented? How are we to respond to the tragic loss of life? And what is our responsibility?

We are not strangers to disasters, to seeing images of children living in freezing conditions, families with barely any provisions, and yet the images of Mediterranean coastguards struggling in the azure blue surf to pull out the drowned or drowning boat refugees from Syria or Eritrea are shocking. For their deaths are so tragic, and could have been prevented. We cannot easily solve the bloody conflict in Syria or change the climate of repression, torture or indefinite military service in Eritrea, but we might have been able to save many of them had the EU ·not changed its search and rescue programme.· The situation is complex involving human trafficking, military conflict, and economic and migrant policies. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and paralysed, ·to respond with silence, numbness, and then to turn away.

Acharei Mot reminds us to not let a death disappear amongst the hubbub and worries of everyday life, but instead to let it help us frame how we want to live, what kind of life we want. That is where we are today - Acharei Mot, after the deaths. The deaths of the nameless children, mothers, brothers and fathers on the shores of the mediterranean cannot be allowed to recede into the background. They cannot be allowed to be buried under the competing national and local political issues that vye for our attention, especially as the election approaches.

And we are trying to help - liberal Judaism is part of Citizen’s Sanctuary campaign working to make sure 1,500 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are resettled in the UK this year. Each local authority is asked to resettle 50 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, but only some local authorities have agreed. But thousands more need sanctuary. We need to make the new government change the amount of people allowed sanctuary here in the UK, to prevent further disastrous loss of life.

And we are working on the situation of refugees and immigrants here in the UK as well, ·to ban indefinite detention of asylum and immigration applicants.

Amelia Viney -the Liberal Judaism officer with responsibility for social justice - said in connection with the recent Citizens Sanctuary Assembly in Birmingham: “I stood with four communities united by a common heritage - Jewish, Bengali, Congolese and Syrian. Each has sought sanctuary on these shores. We arrived in 1890 and 2015. We arrived by boat, by train and by plane, all journeying to a new home in search of safety, equality and opportunity...We came together under the umbrella of Citizens UK, to recognise Britain's proud legacy of providing sanctuary. We came together - a rainbow of faiths and cultures - to demand the continuing commitment to providing dignity and shelter to the world’s most vulnerable”.

After a death we are silent, we reach out with sympathy and we try and give the mourner space to grieve and to remember.

After so many deaths - are we going to be silent? Or are we going to make sure that the new government commits to dignity and shelter for those who need it the most?