Tribute to Mrs Brenda Dresner on the completion of 20 years service
and Sidra Mattot - “The limits of freedom”
by Rabbi Dr Jeffrey M Cohen
Shabbat 30th July 2005

Friends, may I first take this opportunity, both personally and on behalf of the community, of conveying a heartfelt mazal tov to our Administrator, Brenda, on the achievement of 20 years of devoted service to our Stanmore and Canons Park Synagogue.

A rabbi’s task is always to connect any event with the sidrah of the week – however tenuous such a connection may prove to be – in conformity to the maxim in Pirkei Avot: hafokh bah v’hafokh bah dikullah bah, ‘Turn it over and turn it over again, for everything is in the Torah.’

Well, the very name of today’s sidrah is Mattot, a word that is the plural of the word matteh, meaning, among other things, ‘a staff’. It is especially appropriate, therefore, that this Shabbat we should pay tribute to a member of our staff! (I did warn you that the connection was tenuous! Still, we are in shul, where, for a minyan, we do need ‘ten – you –us!’ That’s what happens after nearly twenty years in Stanmore!)

But it hasn’t happened to the lady we honour today. Brenda’s powers are undiminished, her patience intact, her humour unabated, her dedication as strong, and her, and Paul’s, pride in her community unrivalled.

To live almost ‘above the shop’ is not easy, and it is a measure of their sense of calling that Brenda and Paul should have sought out a house just around the corner. They never tire of shul business, and are available at all times to all our members. She greets everyone who comes into the office with a smile, and is always most helpful and caring. Whenever members coming in have problems, Brenda is always most sympathetic to them and gives them of her precious time. Her relationship with her colleagues in the office, Anita, Susan and Rosemary, is excellent, and she affords Rabbi Shaw and myself support at all times, which is much appreciated.

The day-to-day running of an enterprise like Stanmore calls for a high degree of organisational skills, sensitivity and efficiency. Working in the shul office, the epi-centre of seismic activity, is a most challenging and draining exercise. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Brenda. We thank her for all her efforts on behalf of the community to date, and we wish her, Paul and family, good health, happiness and blessing in the future.

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We are living in a country wherein freedom has been wrenched from its anchor of responsibility, and enabled to run amok. An insane philosophy of “doing what comes naturally – or unnaturally” has infected the minds of an entire society.

Discipline in the home and the school is declared old-fashioned. Respect for the elderly is no longer accepted as the norm for a civilised society. The natural order of man-woman relationships has been denied, and the sanctity of the marital state has been rebutted by legislation that has equalised homosexual liaisons. Homage is paid to the slogans of human rights and political correctness, to the extent that, in a climate of unprecedented national danger and fear - with calls for the greatest public vigilance from the Police Commissioner, with lunatics at large, who have no concern for their own lives, and who are most certainly planning their next act of mass devastation – the wife of the Prime Minister, a barrister and part time judge no less, has nothing more positive to contribute other than a clarion call to the government not to introduce legislation that might be calculated to infringe civil liberties.

Civil licence would have been a more accurate term. Licence for people behaving suspiciously to have their rights to move around unhindered respected. Licence for people apprehended on suspicion of terrorism to demand to leave police custody after a minimum period, thereby frustrating police efforts to marshal all the evidence they need to bring them to trial.

We have embraced a culture wherein the safety, if not the very survival, of the majority is in danger of being severely compromised because of obsessive fears of upsetting a vocal minority whose leaders, if they are not glorifying the suicide bombers that they are spawning, are certainly portraying them as fighting a cause, as responding to a threat to their national sensibilities or religious ideology. A cause? A justification? Can there possibly be any justifiable reason, cause or excuse for indiscriminate mass murder and maiming? The very suggestion is obscene.

But such an obscenity trips off the tongue of the very mayor of London in his defence of an invitation to Muslim clerics who glorify the suicide bombers, and in his suggestion that the plight of the poor Palestinians is a cause terrible enough to motivate a suicide bomber.

But such public statements, apart from outraging the Jewish community and giving encouragement to extremists, also deliver a body blow to the rule of law and plunge a dagger into the heart of a civilised society. For in expressing sympathy for, and justifying to an extent, the actions of the terrorists, Ken Livingstone in effect rejects the path of peaceful political negotiation. Instead he offers encouragement to, and possibly even incites, militants to seek to attain their political objectives by massacring innocent people. The very suggestion that we should have some sympathy for the despair of brain-washed extremists and terrorists, and appreciate how they might seek to transport their particular political or sectarian disputes around the world’s capitals wrapped inside nail bombs, is an invitation to world catastrophe and Armageddon.

Livingstone himself, by encouraging the terrorists, makes himself an accessory in their activities, and thereby endangers the safety of our city, our country and our society. But the blindness he displays, in his refusal to understand what this terrorism is about, is most worrying of all. To blame the war in Iraq or the treatment of the Palestinians for fomenting Muslim terrorism is akin to blaming the Jews for the rise of Nazism. After all, such a warped mind could argue that, without Jews there would have been no anti-Semitism. Without Jews, Hitler would have remained an even-tempered, rational statesman, with whom the great powers could have done business. Without Israel and the Iraqi invasion there would be no Muslim extremism. What utter nonsense!

Livingstone is simply not prepared to face up to the patently obvious objective of the Muslim extremists, which is to wage a jihad against, and destroy, what they perceive as the decadent, ungodly Western society, and to replace it with the faith and life style of fundamentalist Islam. If Livingstone thinks that his own life style would be tolerated in a Muslim society, he should think again. There is absolutely no justification for justification in this context. As I said, it is an obscenity even to express it..

The philosophy of the loony left, and its obsession with human rights and civil liberties at a time when this can only embolden and grant protection and freedom from prosecution to dangerous men in our midst, is one that must be public countered and rejected out of hand. We must all be prepared, if necessary, to surrender some of our freedom, to suffer some inconvenience, to account for our movements and actions, if challenged. Certainly until the danger passes and we remove that evil, and its purveyors from our midst.

Those who would blame Israel for the state of the world will not cause our brethren there any anxiety. Nor, in truth, should it us. We have had over two thousand years of being blamed for the ills of the societies wherein we constituted the minutest minority. The Jew is used to being the convenient scapegoat. Such distortion has done nothing to shake the self-image and self confidence of the generations of our people so targeted..

In today’s sidrah, God tells Moses to avenge the evil of the Midianites that they inflicted on Israel – Nekom nikmat B’nei Yisrael. When Moses relayed the command to the nation, he reported God as saying lateit nikmat Adonai b’midyan, that it was a call to arms, ‘to execute God’s vengeance on Midian. The battle against Israel, explains Rashi, is a battle against God. We never stand alone. If we fight for a cause, if we fight by the highest standards of ethics and morals, such as we have come to expect from the Israel Defence Forces, then detractors of the ilk of Ken Livingstone and his cronies will have absolutely no effect.

Nevertheless, battles are won these days in the pages of the media, and we must take courage and counter every canard, and expose the pernicious nature of every argument that even begins to excuse terrorism by endowing it with a rationale of any kind. And we must lobby hard to frustrate those who would endanger our streets and our society in their misguided quest for total freedom and civic liberty.

These precious freedoms have to be earned and won. And those who desist from the struggle to achieve them and retain them, or worse, those who threaten them and attempt to deprive us of them, must not be allowed any enjoyment of their benefits.