The Great Get Together (some reflections in memory of Jo Cox)

Life is a strange admixture. The bitter and sweet, our sorrow and joys, are often mingled. We laugh and then we cry and find healing in laughter renewed. Most of all, we find comfort in community, faith in friendship and common ground in our shared humanity.

This was Jo Cox' legacy.

A year ago, I was heartbroken to hear of her murder. I could easily find common ground with Jo. Her constituency is not that far from my city (Leeds) and she was of a similar age, also the mother to young children. We share many of the same ideals. That Shabbat, I gave my most emotional sermon to date in the synagogue.

So much has changed in a year. There has been one political landslide after another, both in the UK, the USA and elsewhere in the world. The script, as the commentariat would say, has been ripped up. There's no denying it's been a hard year and I've thought of Jo and what she would have made of it all.
Recent events have compounded our heartache and anxiety, our anger and despondency. We need to create real space for the range of our emotions. We need to acknowledge our fury and check our fear at the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. We need to be honest in our concerns and compassionate in our responses. And then we need to build, reach out, gain new perspectives, make new friends and find redemption in that.

I've met so many amazing people in West Yorkshire, across Leeds, Bradford and beyond. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists and Sikhs. I've shared openhearted conversations with taxi drivers about Islam, prayed in churches and mosques, witnessed a beautiful Christmas morning service in the Minster with my toddler, collected goods for the food bank, shared food in the rain in the city centre during Interfaith Week, sang psalms to Sufi chants in Bradford Cathedral and broken bread with friends at Iftars, and just tonight, as I took a taxi home, shared dates offered to me by the Muslim taxi driver. The examples are countless. Examples of love, friendship, respectful curiosity and open debate. Every time, my optimism would be punctuated by bad news of yet another attack, yet another hate crime, yet another discourse turning toxic. But it never punctured my faith in humanity. With every random act of kindness, that faith would be built back up.

When British Future approached Imam Qari Asim and I to do this video, of course I said yes. Last year, I took my toddler son to an Iftar at Makkah Mosque, Imam Asim's mosque. As we watched Muslims prostrate and pray, my son was mesmerised. I explained to him that a mosque is like Mommy's synagogue and that Muslims, like us, go there to talk to God and this is how they talk to God. For weeks, when I would say his bedtime prayers with him, he would wax lyrical about the mosque. What a blessing for my son to see humanity's diversity with loving, receptive eyes.

Imam Asim and I have worked together on a number of projects and we're friends - of the type who ought to see more of each other but then the (clergy) life gets in the way. Sitting down for an afternoon and scripting the cue cards cemented our friendship (the magic of coloured markers and A3 sized cardboard!) We laughed and joked and shared our lives. The laughter continued during the filming, one hilarious outtake and blooper after another.

I'm so proud of all who have been involved in standing up for all that is good in our beautiful world. Brendan Cox, The Great Get Together, British Future, Imam Qari Asim - and every kindhearted, beautiful soul I've met on my Yorkshire journey - I salute you.

Shalom u'vrachah, peace and blessings,
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz


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