This week we read the well-known story of Jacob’s Ladder. Jacob is fleeing his
home, escaping his brother’s wrath after he stole Esau’s birthright and blessing.
Jacob is alone for the first time in his life, far from home; he is afraid and
fearful about the future. In this state of being, he lies down in the middle of the
vast desert, places his head on some rocks, falls asleep and he dreams. He
dreams of a ladder connecting the heavens and the earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it. When Jacob awakens he exclaims: “God was in this place and I did not know it!” Jacob discovered that God was with him no matter where he travelled, whatever distant lands he would find himself traversing or inhabiting, God would be with him. God was not tied to one place, God was everywhere, God was with him, and he had the power to create a ladder to the heavens, to bring holiness and blessing with him wherever he went.
This Shabbat is set aside each year to acknowledge and commemorate the plight of Jews living in Arab lands. For thousands of years, Jews travelled throughout the lands of the Middle East, making their homes, building ladders connecting to the heavens. Jews and Arabs lived in peace, they thrived together, shaping each others’ cultures, influencing one another, sharing learning, socialising, working: their lives were intertwined. But then, as is our tragic history across the globe, Jews were expelled from these lands, thrown out of their homes, massacred, arrested, tortured and tormented. The peaceful co-existance came to an end and was replaced with suffering and loss.
In 2014 the Knesset designated November 30th as the annual commemoration
for the 850,000 Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the
20 th Century. The date was chosen because of its proximity to the UN
Declaration of the State of Israel and the moment when many Jews were forced
to leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, they faced
deportations, pogroms and violence. From that day onwards, Jewish
communities suffered in Arab lands. The stories of each are different in detail
but the substance is the same.
This year the commemoration is even more poignant as Israel fights for survival
against another enemy seeking to destroy her and her people. As we remember
the suffering of the not so distant past, we are faced with a battle, once again
mourning and grieving our losses, praying for rescue for the hundreds who have
been kidnapped and all those who are in pain, in their bodies and their souls.
But our people are not alone, we stand together with them and all Jews across
the world, as we grieve and mourn, we commemorate and remember, and we
continue to pray for peace and hope for a better tomorrow.
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio