Judaism and charity

In the third of our series on faith and charity, the chief executive of <em><a href="http://www.wjr.

As the years pass and I see my children become increasingly independent, I often marvel at how different their world is compared to when I was a child; from the tsunami to twitter, iPhones to IVF and GM foods to global warming. It is comforting though that some things remain the same. My children attend Cheder – Sunday school for young Jews. There they learn of Jewish history, culture and traditions; they are encouraged to interact with their peers and gain an understanding of the British Jewish community. While their learning methods may be computer-centric rather than under a cloud of chalk boards, the messages are the same. Each week, my children are encouraged to give a percentage of their pocket money to a worthy cause, via the Tzedakah (charity) box that circulates the classrooms. Traditionally, all Jews are obliged to give 10 per cent of their earnings to a charity or organisation that helps those more vulnerable than themselves.

Thus, the concept of charity is ingrained in the Jewish tradition from a very young age. Looking after our old, educating our children and providing for the vulnerable are all cornerstones of Judaism, the culture and the community. The fundamental value of being a "good Jew" lies in helping those less fortunate, along with the importance of family life and the continuation of Jewish traditions.

I am proud of my faith though honest enough to admit that my work for World Jewish Relief (WJR) is how I feel I can best express my Judaism. WJR's work is targeted at assisting the most vulnerable – saving lives and building livelihoods based on our own Jewish values. Our work seeks to provide sustenance and opportunity to those in desperate need who are unable to fend for themselves.

The vast majority of WJR’s work seeks to support the hidden Jewish communities of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that were ravaged first by the Holocaust and then under Soviet rule. There are over 1.2 million Jews in the region, including survivors of those who have faced decades of hardship in the Nazi and Communist eras. A huge percentage of these people also live far below the poverty line, struggling daily to feed their children and protect their elderly. In Ukraine alone, more than 100,000 Jewish people face the anguish of choosing between clothing their children, keeping their homes warm and buying medication. They are deprived of even the simple necessities of running water or appropriate footwear for the harsh winter months. As a son and a father, I cannot bear to imagine my family living in these conditions and I am therefore driven daily to better the lives of such families, in any small way that I can.

I travel to WJR’s recipient communities every few months and never cease to be at once saddened and inspired by what I see and those I speak to. Families who have to travel hundreds of miles to find work, who have been abandoned by relatives and live in what can only be described as hovels maintain a level of positivity and hope. Further, they are proud to be Jewish.

The Jewish faith promotes the Talmudic concept of ‘Tikkun Olam’ – healing the world. In this light, WJR looks beyond Jewish communities and the charity is proud of its global perspective, working both in the former Soviet Union and east and southern Africa to support non-Jewish communities. We recognise that particularity must lead to universality, not to inwardness and exclusion. Because as a community we recall our own historical pain, we become sensitised to other people's pain. We cannot eat in comfort while others go hungry. We cannot celebrate our riches while so many live in poverty. This is why, historically, those who follow Judaism have been among the leaders in the fight against injustice, poverty, homelessness and oppression. To be a Jew involves being true to your faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.

Paul Anticoni is the Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland