Shalom everyone, which is to say, peace.
I stand here starting with that word, while 16,000 km in that direction, North West of here, a war is being fought between Israel and Hamas.
I really would have preferred today to focus on Jewish contributions in academia, because they are plentiful, in science, philosophy, literature, and in particular, those that occurred here.
I want to talk about how at institutions such as this, academic and research excellence is conducted by diverse teams of people of various faiths and those without.
I want to talk about how religious scientists can discover something astounding about the world and marvel at their god’s ingeniuity, or can sit in the oddly pleasurable dissonance arising from revealing a contradiction between their Holy book, and their life’s work.
I’d like to talk about how Karl Popper, a Jew who escaped extermination in the Holocaust, found himself safe, here, and articulated that which separates science from nonsense (it’s falsifiability).
But, I won’t, because it is less safe now to be a Jew in public than it was three weeks ago, and without Jews in public, we won’t have anything more to contribute to this ongoing human project of enlightenment.
In the days following Hamas’ atrocities across Israel on October 7th, in which 1400 were slaughtered and 199 kidnapped, Hamas supporters and other antisemitic actors have threatened and targeted Jewish individuals and institutions worldwide.
Genocidal and annihilationist chants and placards of “gas the Jews”, “f the Jews”, and “Keep the world clean,” with an image of a Star of David in a trash can, have graced the mouths and hands of anti-Israel demonstrators the world over.
The most popular of these slogans, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” have no doubt, is a call for the annihilation of Israel, and the removal or genocide of its Jews from the land.
These incidents ought to be condemned by us all, not just by terrified Jews.
Multiple Synagogues and Holocaust Memorials have been vandalised with the tag “Free Palestine”, as if Jews exterminated by the Nazis or busy praying had anything to do with a un-free Palestine.
An historic synagogue in Tunisia was burned to the ground, fortunately empty, as Tunisia’s Jews fled en masse in the 50s and 60s. A Synagogue in Berlin had two molotov cocktails thrown at it, Jewish owned business have been vandalised, Jewish residencies have been ominously marked with our Star, and numerous Jews have been killed and assaulted for being Jewish in public.
Synagogues and Jewish centres in New Zealand closed over shabbat the weekend following the attack, in response to Hamas designating Friday the 13th a global day of rage against Jews.
I’m proud to be Jewish, and I’m proud to believe in Israel. I’m also proud to believe in a Palestinian state, sovereign and at peace with Jews, at peace with Israel. Hamas does not believe in this. Hamas’ charter calls not only for the destruction and conquest of Israel, from the river to the sea, not only for the death of Jews in Israel, from the river to the sea, but for the extermination of Jews globally.
I don’t think enough people realise that Hamas are the heirs to Hitler’s project, and Jews in New Zealand and the world over are seeing their neighbours and politicians fail to make the connection, failing to condemn Hamas, failing to remove Hamas apologists and antisemites from their marches.
Peace must be our unifying goal, but which particular species of peace will we have? The peace of the dead is a morbid peace of sorts.
There will be peace after the Jews are dead, for a time. There will be peace after the Palestians are dead, for a time.
There will be peace after we are all dead, for all time.
The peace of the dead must not be allowed to happen, and the enemies of peace must not be allowed to govern, or march with us.
If, out of your religion, or lack thereof, you hear a message of peace, of love, of conciliation, of shared human wonderment at the cosmic majesty perpetually unfolding before our eyes, then, for your wisdom, the enemies of peace want you dead too.
I am absolutely not saying you should support Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza. That would be absurd. The death of innocent people started this, and more innocent deaths won’t solve it.
I am saying you should call out antisemitism and hate when you hear it, and you will, particularly when you hear it from your friends and neighbours, please.
Fifty years from now at UC’s 200th anniversary faith breakfast, I want a proudly Jewish student or alumnus to stand here and share their people’s contributions to and appreciation for this institution, as I could have, or perhaps, should have done, instead of expressing their existential anxiety due to the hateful fallout of a conflict on the other side of the planet.
Od yavo shalom aleinu Ve’al kulam
Peace will come upon us, yet.
And upon everyone.