This weekend in the UK saw Children in Need Day and the 75th anniversary of Krystallnacht, when my father watched the synagogue burning. The significance of how we respond isn’t just the money. It also says something about who we are and our relationships with others
Today we’ll be hearing stories of Children in Need due to poverty, disease, family breakdown and abuse and we’ll be getting more news of the devastation in the Philippines, affecting old and young alike. It’s easy to wonder if our donations are more than tiny drops in a vast ocean of suffering and make little difference. Of course, even the largest oceans are comprised of a multitude of drops, but our giving also makes another kind of difference.
I come from a Jewish background, and 75 years ago this week my father looked out of his bedroom window in Berlin and saw flames sweeping through the synagogue across the street. That was shocking enough for a nine-year old; but he was even more shocked that the firemen did nothing to put out the flames. They stopped them from spreading to other buildings, but the synagogue could burn.
Most children assume that firemen, policemen and soldiers are there to protect them from danger. But on 10th November 1938 my father learned that, so far as the Nazi state was concerned, Jews were different. They called it Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, because across Germany Jewish windows were smashed and buildings burned to the ground.
When we respond to an appeal for people who are suffering, we’re making a statement that says exactly the opposite. We’re saying that we care, that we are connected to people in need, whether in this country or across the world, and that we’ll take our share of responsibility for them. One Buddhist teacher said that, if we see things in the round, acting with compassion is as natural as the hand rubbing the leg when it’s hurt. The truth is that we’re all part of the same human body.
That compassion is also part of my father’s story. Krystallnacht caused outrage and Britain agreed to accept children as refugees. Three months later my father was on a train bound for England, a part of the Kindertransport scheme. He was a refugee who would never see his own father again, but he was being accepted by a country that could not turn its back on suffering. That’s what we’re being asked to do again today.