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    No-one died of hunger

    sad suffer loneliness alone bridgeThree major themes punctuate our Holyday services – penitence, prayer and charity.

    We are good at penitence, in the sense that when we find ourselves at the periphery of Jewish life we often find our way back and become ba’alei t’shuvah, “reversioners”, as an expert on Franz Rosenzweig calls them.

    We are quite good at prayer, though we are more successful at talking to God in our own words than endorsing the words of the prayer book.

    We are good at charity: we often get philanthropic organisations going even before we establish synagogues, and we try hard to provide for people’s needs wherever they are, in Israel and the Diaspora.

    The historian Salo Baron once said, “No Jew in the whole of our history ever seems to have died of hunger while living in a Jewish community”.

    It’s a bit of an exaggeration, since there have always been individuals and families who had a struggle to make ends meet and to put food on the table. But our communities certainly do their best, and our welfare organisations are constantly finding better ways to handle the problems.

    I have to add, however, that charity is not only a matter of money to pay the bills and food to feed the hungry. There are other problems that we should be addressing, and we don’t always handle them adequately.

    My mind flashes back to a year when the rabbis of London were asked to make a pulpit appeal on Kol Nidre night in aid of a major Jewish charity.

    After Yom Kippur one of my congregation admitted I had made the requested speech but said I had left something out.

    He said he was well-to-do and had a fine apartment, but he was lonely, and loneliness was as big a problem as poverty.

    I accepted his point and have to say that he is still right. Much more should and could be done for the people who need a friendly word, a phone call, an occasional visit, a feeling that they are wanted.

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