Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Parashat Behar 2014

Parashat Behar
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi
9th May 2014

The ‘European Crisis’ and the Jubilee

 

“I asked the German and Spanish delegates what they thought about the crisis in Europe.· ‘Oh, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, you mean?’· So I asked the British.· ‘Oh, you’ll have to ask the continental Europeans, we’re not really part of Europe’, they said.”· In this way, Stephane Beder from Paris introduced a talk about the current economic crisis, which was given at the recent conference of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) by Professor Josef Konitz of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.· In truth, there is a very serious crisis and Britain is part of it whether or not we consider ourselves part of Europe. Unemployment, especially amongst young people, is at a level unprecedented in the last sixty years, with more than 10% not in unemployment or training.· Levels of poverty have increased dramatically in the wake of the economic crisis, and so too, has inequality.

 

It is a sobering thought that it took the Second World War to bring Europe together in the last century.· It was also in the wake of the War that Britain created a welfare state so that those who had fought together were more equal in the peace.· The freedom that was fought for was not only freedom from dictatorship but also freedom from the fear that poverty brings of not being able to afford food, housing or health care .

 

Our Sidra (Lev. 25) this week calls for a more peaceful re-adjustment of society. ·Every fifty years there was to be a Jubilee year, when ‘each man was to return to his ancestral possession’ (v.13)· Then, the shofar would be sounded to ‘proclaim liberty throughout the land’(v. 10). · Liberty referred to the release of slaves, but it also meant something more. · Each family would have its own inheritance again and so be free from want.· They would have the dignity of independence, to be able to live off the fruits of their land and not depend on others for their food.

 

The Jubilee may seem idealistic.· Scholars doubt that it was ever put into practice.· Nevertheless, its message is needed urgently.· There are times when society gets out of kilter and a re-adjustment is needed to restore it.· I believe we are in such a time now. · Britain is the seventh wealthiest country in the world, yet an Oxfam report in 2013 found that over half a million people were dependent on food parcels and food banks.· Meanwhile, the income of the wealthiest few, who earn billions, continues to increase.· We may not be able to restructure our society as radically as the Jubilee demands, but at the very least we need to look again at how we care for the most needy in our society.· The Sidra teaches us that the poor have a right to sustenance. · They are not to blame for their situation, as so many people in our society seem to think. ·Poverty is the result of circumstances that are often beyond a person’s control.·The Jubilee recognises this and gives everyone a second chance. · It also reminds us that each of us has a duty to remember that our ancestors were strangers and slaves.· Certainly, we should respond by gifts whenever someone is in need.· But that is only a short-term solution.· The poor have a right to dignity and independence and it is our duty to create a society in which everyone has a share.

 

European elections are approaching later this month.· Whatever our views are about the European Union, the EUPJ Conference reminded us that we have much in common with Jewish communities across Europe and we all face similar problems.· As we go to the polls, let us remember how privileged we are to be able to vote freely and to play a part in determining the future of Europe.· Let us also remember the message of our Sidra, that every person should be able to play their part in society, free from the fear of hunger and destitution. · We can create such a society if we have the will, and as Theodore Herzl said in another context, ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’