VE Day – A lesson for us in winning our current battle

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(Times of Israel 8 May 2020)

Friday marks the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory of Europe) Day. After 6 bloody years of war raging in Europe, the allied forces formally announced the surrender of Nazi forces   and brought the curtain down on the second world war in Europe. The war against Japan raged on for until August 1945.  Britain has paid an exceptionally heavy price for this victory; it is estimated that some 450,000 British citizens had made the ultimate sacrifice both at home and on the battlefield. From having a colonial empire that stretched across the world it faced financial ruins.

The day after the first VE Day in Europe huge crowds gathered to celebrate and thousands attended thanksgiving services at St Pauls Cathedral.

In his VE Day announcement, Winston Churchill announced to the nation “we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”. So, it was the very day after the jubilant celebrations, the generation that had endured such hardship fought another battle to rebuild Britain and went on to establish the NHS

This year on the 75th anniversary of VE the celebrations will be muted, as we find ourselves and our nation immersed in another life and death battle, this time it is against an invisible and indiscriminate enemy. Coronavirus may not drop bombs, but it is nonetheless a hidden killer. Britain has been one of the country’s worst hit in its fight against coronavirus resulting in some 28,000 people having lost their lives.

After a month of lockdown many are war weary. The isolation by those living on their own and the vulnerable, has wreaked havoc on the mental health and well being of so many. There is no end in sight to the lockdown for those that are deemed vulnerable. Depression, anxiety have risen significantly and poses a real threat to their lives. We may wonder how over the coming months will we and they get through these exceptionally challenging times.

I have reminded me of the episode in the Torah concerning   our forefather Jacob, who on his deathbed wishes to reveal the end of the exile to his children.  It was precisely   at that moment that the Divine presence departed him.   The unknowing is an integral element to the exile and darkness of this world and for that reason we cannot always have certainty in our lives. Similarly, in the battle against Covid, there is the uncertainty for us all as to when life will return to normal, when it will be safe for us all to leave our homes and to venture out to shops and restaurant. When oh when will our children be able to return to schools. The unknowing is leading to frustration by the less vulnerable members of society who are itching to return to normality and dejection by the more vulnerable members of society who cannot see light at the end of the virus tunnel.

Even as the numbers of fatalities fall and Britain gradually starts to win the battle against the covid enemy, any thoughts of having cause for celebration this VE Day of our war would be presumptuous and premature. The battle may be won for now but the war against Covid will rage for some time.

So, it is worth utilising the anniversary to remember what it was that took Britain from the brink of defeat and despair to victory in 1945.  Churchill famously said “this is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”

The iron will, that permeated   the British people   often referred to as the “Dunkirk spirit” during the war, coupled with a strong spirit of unity were the keys to the success then and now.  The Covid war will require our determination as we will have to be prepared to endure lengthy restrictions and limitations to the freedoms to life that we have come to enjoy and take for granted. The impatience and frustrations from the inconveniences and upheaval caused by the fight against the pandemic must be overcome if we wish to vanquish this invisible enemy. In addition, there was   during the war a sense of unity and being in it together, that same spirit must be invoked now. Over the coming weeks and months many of   the restrictions imposed by the authorities will be gradually relaxed. This will enable many of us to normalise our lives again. During this virus there has developed a sense of collective responsibility and concern   for the other. People have volunteered up and down the country to support in any which way they can those in their neighbourhood and beyond who may be more vulnerable and are   unable to venture out of their homes. The challenge will be once most of us   are given the green light to return to work and leave our homes how we will return to normality. Will the selfless spirit and concern for the other linger or will we return to the old normal with us being more blinkered in our vision and attention?

Jacob was not allowed to reveal the length that the darkness would plague his children. He did however offer an allusion to one of the keys to overcoming that darkness. The immortal key that Jacob handed to   his children was to ensure they always stood united.

Like Jacob we cannot foretell when light will prevail over the darkness of this virus we are experiencing. But   the sense of unity and fraternity that has entered our society and personal  lives during the pandemic is the key to ensuring our more  vulnerable neighbours  together with our selves feel supported and are able to  come though this together as we have done some seventy five years ago. If we do so, then that will be something we can really celebrate and perhaps even her Majesty may dance in the streets the way she danced as a girl on the original VE Day.

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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