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London Burning

London Burning

What does it take to realize that the world is my responsibility?


We Jews don’t believe in coincidences. On the recent day of Tisha B’Av, the plumes of smoke only a few miles away from my home in London spoke to me in a very tangible way. Watching humans act in the most base and immoral of ways in the streets was a grim reminder of the potential violence that underlies our society. Clearly, the veneer of “civilization” in our society can peel away in the blink of an eye. Who would have believed that the Germany of the early 20th century – cultural, educated, sophisticated, technologically advanced – could so easily have turned into the Third Reich?

These UK riots might have been fuelled by an “underprivileged” class, and in any riot there will always be ringleaders, as well as thieves who see an opportunity arise and grab a plasma TV. But we are seeing a cross-section of society participating – young and middle-aged, lower and middle-class, male and female, Asian, black and white.

It seems that people with perfectly clean records from stable backgrounds were simply in the right (or rather wrong) place at the right time and made a knee-jerk decision to get involved. The question is: Why?

Choosing Godliness

In truth, this is not much different than what happens in all our lives (albeit usually in less extreme circumstances). An opportunity arises and we are put in a position of making a decision to either engage in something wrong (but very appealing), or to do the right thing and walk away.

We are all made up of a Godly soul and an animal soul. In the heat of a moment, it’s hard to know which will win out. When the animal inside of us flares up, it can be very hard to control. When the chips are down, we’d like to think we will act in a certain way – but we cannot be sure. Every person has that animal part and the more aware we are of its existence, the more likely we are to be ready when its impulse tugs hard upon us.

We ran out of space for all that was donated.

Then there is the other side – the Godly side. My organization, Tikun-UK, put out a call for the Jewish community to donate clothes and bedding for those who have been made homeless. Within 24 hours, we were running out of space for all that had been donated. And it was incredible to see the armies of people turning up, brooms in hand, to assist, making good the destruction that had been wrought.

The ultimate success of society depends on our ability to appreciate the nature of our choices and the challenges we face in making them. We need to have deep enough and strong enough reasons that – when faced with spur-of-the-moment decisions – we will choose Godliness over base animal passion.

I was once asked what I would do if someone held a gun to my head and told me to bow down to an idol or he would kill me. There is only one true answer to that question: “I don’t know.” Of course, I’d like to think that I have the strength of conviction to say that I would die for my values. But that’s all nice in theory. We don’t know what we are really made of until we have faced a test in actuality and passed it or failed it. As the Sages say, “Don’t trust yourself until the day you die.”

Lead by Example

The urgent message to me, as a Jew, is that we still have a very long way to go. We live in a seemingly comfortable world and we indeed have a great deal to be thankful for. But the core values don’t seem to have penetrated deeply enough. While we might know how to teach people to be great doctors, lawyers and accountants, we do not necessarily yet know how to teach them to be great human beings.

The riots gradually moved closer and closer to my neighborhood, but, thank God, finished a few miles away. Do I need to wait until they are on my doorstep until I wake up to the fact that our world is my responsibility? I know that I must contribute meaningfully to the solution, or I will have no one to blame but myself if I am swallowed whole by the problem. The police may have gained control of the streets but the problem has not gone away.

As a Jew and a rabbi, I feel a unique responsibility; we must reach out more, educate more, set higher standards for ourselves, and lead by example. On the wall of our educational centre, we have a quote from Martin Luther King Jr: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?

August 14, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 42

(27) TMay, August 19, 2011 7:54 PM

names of books and articles Dalrymple has written and websites

Theo Dalrymple(Theo) talks about how the UK is going under because impulse control has not been taught to the young, the breakdown of family, the lack of discipline, the drugs, the alcohol; the narcissistic no restraints no standards do it in the street mentality that is evident in the London Riots. He has written about the London riots. As the son of a Holocaust survivor he has always tried to understand human evil and that has made him an observer, plus he is highly intelligent, and highly articulate. Here is a write-up on him by Alfred Applegate Theo has written books and articles and still does. Our Culture, What’s Left of It The Frivolity of Evil All Sex, All the Time *Life at the Bottom The New Vichy Syndrome Not with a Bang but with a Wimper: The Politics of Decline Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality He wrote: The British Left Goes Anti-Semitic Socialism and anti-Semitism are closely related worldviews. 23 July 2002 “Political Correctness - The Revenge of Marxism” He was interviewed on Frontpage regarding one of his books. He predicted the behavior in the London Riots, summer 2011. He has written about the French riots and the London Riots specifically. British Degeneracy on Parade The Barbarians Inside Britain’s Gates And he is still writing about them. Youtube Once a civilization and its civilizing forces are removed it is very difficult to get it back. Stop rewarding bad behavior and allow rewards for good behavior. Stop teaching self-pity to groups. Go back to tradl values. Britain needs to recommit to values with a proven record of working, love and marriage together, and fathers.

(26) Anonymous, August 19, 2011 7:51 PM

Theodore Dalrymple excellent current British writer observer

Read writer Theodore Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels [Theo] who has long written in UK. No one knows what happened with the police as the investigation has to be completed. I, Theo, Holocaust Survivors agree about the thin veneer of civilization which needs our help and about the reality of evil, while the Left appear to think that people are born good, society parents cause evil, and they can have all the fun of tearing down society and expect that it will survive. I think they are wrong. I did not know that England was glossing over WWI WWII in educating its young to create the EU. No wonder England appears lost. They don’t know their own strengths. They were not introduced to their Greatest Generation. They forgot to teach their young and immigrants that Britain had a unique civilization and values. My mother, born in N.America, child of immigrants was grateful to teachers for introducing her to the culture she found herself in. Now the teachers seem to think that minorities have a culture but seem unaware that White Protestant English speakers have a culture with its values, holidays, language, heroes, as fish are unaware of the water they swim in. And English youth have been brought up w/o belief in God which a person referred to as belief in “the unseen enforcer”, which in the past helped control behavior. They experience a meaningless life, ennui. And Theo says family life in England was been destroyed by the govt who took over so much, including “feeding“ so that people don’t sit down and eat a healthy meal together where a level of manners, discipline can be passed from the older generation to the younger, and talk. Re the breakdown of marriage, “single mothers in Britain surged from 10 per cent [per] to 25 in 20 years.” “87 per of teenage mothers in Britain are unmarried and 29 per of children are brought up in single mother households in contrast to 1900, when the illegitimacy rate was 3 per.“The Illegitimacy rate in Sweden is 54 per.” [Walter Williams]

(25) Do Lern Hwei, August 17, 2011 11:15 AM

We Should All Do Something

Glad that the Jewish Community in the UK is ready to help in the crisis. I read of the unrest in the papers and went to the UK Youth Parliament website to see what they are doing. Unfortunately I had a return email from a Ms O'Leary that she is on leave till Aug 20. The problem I believe is not materialism but overdependence on the State to provide jobs, unemployment benefits and heavily subsidised education. I believe that we could help by getting young people in UK to study and work overseas. Just help by ensuring they get good deals like overseas workers' union support. Do email me if you think we can work together.

(24) Paul, August 16, 2011 11:21 PM

Greed is good?

Having read the comments on the article, I feel that averyone has missed the point that sickness that has pervaded British society since the 1980's. Materialsim rules! The only things that matter are wordly possessions. It's OK to fiddle your claims or steal from a shop, and only wrong if you get caught. What I find so sad is that all people have lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. This seems to be equally true of the MPs who fiiddled their expences, the executives who go into sound companies, ruin them and get huge bonuses when they leave, as well as those who loot smashed in shops, rob innocent people in the streets and vandalise cars. As a nation (regardless of our religious beliefs) must look at ourselves and ask how much further down the drain must we allow ourselves to go.

(23) Anonymous, August 16, 2011 11:09 PM


"Shoot to kill the looters? The lives of the looters are more valuable then the items stolen." YOU CAN shoot to protect property IF arson is being committed. You do not know if someone is inside a building being torched. Then lethal force can be used. As far as I have read, the English cops did NOT use lethal force in any circumstances. I would also infer that a lot of folks HAD wished that some looters HAD been shot.

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