Lots of my friends are taking against the wearing of poppies and the marking of Remembrance Day, on the grounds that the event is shifting from its original context to being an excuse for nationalism and unpleasant, pro-military politics. And horrible ostentatious displays of competitive patriotism. AngrySamPoet
calls the two-minute silence a
. I know people who refuse to wear a poppy and people who wear white poppies
as well as or instead of the British Legion red poppy, as a protest against the militaristic distortion of the event. And people who like to rate charities on grounds of either efficiency or approved politics aren't great fans of the British Legion.
I definitely respect this attitude; I'm not at all pro-war and don't approve of either fetishizing of soldiers and military stuff, or the kind of "patriotism" which shades into xenophobia or positioning white middle class English values from a couple of generations ago as some kind of ideal. At the same time a lot of people I interact with genuinely desire to commemorate those killed in or by wars, and I do think that's much more in the spirit of what Remembrance Day is about. That includes older people who were personally affected by WW2 and whose parents were affected by WW1, and it includes veterans who are mourning relatives and comrades. (Actually I went to a party last week that was full of my contemporaries and a mostly liberal sort of crowd, so I didn't transfer my poppy when I got dressed for the party, thinking there would be more people there who would be offended by a poppy badge than its absence. In fact I was about the only guest not wearing a poppy, which I think implies I've misjudged the mood of my social group based on a small number of people who are very ranty against Remembrance Day.) Mostly though, I have been wearing a poppy for the past week or so, because I don't feel passionately enough anti Remembrance Day that I want to give insult to this group of people.
For similar reasons I agreed to lead a memorial service in synagogue at the weekend, within our Saturday morning service. This weekend was also the 75th
anniversary of Kristallnacht. I was a bit concerned that the two acts of remembrance don't combine very well, but there you go. I mentioned that Jews fought in both sides in the First War, which is much harder to cast as a clear-cut good versus evil sort of conflict. I connected the violence of Kristallnacht and everything else that followed from that with the dangers of excessive nationalism and xenophobia. I avoided painting a rosy picture of WW2 as unambiguously about rescuing people from Nazi genocide.
I was telling friends that I was quite pleased with the service I put together, and with my sermon which connected last week's Torah reading to the anniversaries, via a completely amazing midrash about Rachel and theodicy. And some people encouraged me to actually post the sermon. I should note that I always speak ad lib when I'm preaching (or lecturing, for that matter) so this isn't a verbatim transcript of what I said, but I think a fairly close reconstruction. For people not familiar with how Jewish liturgy is structured, what I did was that I read Genesis 28:10 – 30:13
, not in the sonorous language of the King James Version, but with my own running translation into conversational English. Then I spoke a little bit about the two commemorations as I've described, and people recited the memorial prayer (
God who bore us in your womb... grant perfect rest beneath the shelter of your wings to the departed souls...
). Then we completed the ceremony of reading Torah, and after that came my sermon.( I still feel posting sermons is kind of bad form )