Ladies and Gentlemen:
The President and Council have done me a great honour by asking me to make this Kol Nidre appeal on behalf of both the Karen Morris Trust in England and the Shalheveth Project in Israel.
I remember as a young boy accompanying my father and brother to synagogue in Woodford, London for the Kol Nidre Service. On each of the seat backs was a numbered card with multiple punched holes each printed with a monetary value, and a long treasury tag on a chord to push through these holes in the card according to the sum the member wished to donate. It was with some glee that my brother and I used to take the card from my father and insert the thread through the highest denominations in and out as if we were weaving. I suspect that Dad, generous as he was, always undid our attempts to make him the top donor.
We hear many times during the Services on Yom Kippur how Penitence, Prayer and Charity can avert the awful decree, and this set my mind to wondering at a similarity between the practice of donating money at this time of year and the Christian medieval practice of doing good deeds such as giving to charity, in the belief it could outweigh the misdeeds of their life and gain remission for their sins. When the great church in Rome, St Peter's Basilica, was being built the then Pope, came up with the ingenious idea that you could pay in advance for sins you hadn't yet committed by giving money to the Church;
the so called Buying of Indulgences. This was one of the actions of the Catholic Church, which really got Martin Luther going and bought about the Reformation. The Mishnah however, is very clear that you cannot say " I am going to sin and then repent" nor "If I do something virtuous now that will balance the sin I am going to commit soon".
The practice of giving to charity is especially associated with the Jewish festivals, not just Yom Kippur. The poor should be assisted and welcomed by the rich to join in the festivities. Yom Kippur, being the Day of Penitence and a fast day, makes it not possible to actually dole out money, or to invite the poor in to eat during this day, but you can make charitable vows. We are familiar with the idea of this day being one of introspection on past actions and making resolutions to do better in the coming year. Hence the concept of using this day, when all Jews are in solemn worship together, to do a communal act of Charity, and this seems a particularly sensible and economical way to raise money for Good Causes.
This year, 2014, is special as it is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The first Kol Nidre Appeals were made during the early years of that war by rabbis in the United States to raise money to support their European Cousins whose homes and lives had been destroyed by the ravages of war.
We often translate Tzedakah to be 'Charity' but my research has suggested it means more than just charity; it also contains the concepts of Fairness and Justice. Tzedakah is an obligation whereas charity is typically understood as a spontaneous
act of goodwill. In Jewish law Tzedakah is not optional, it is mandated, a religious duty; Jews should support each other, Jew and non-Jew alike, when they suffer misfortunes; and this leads me to the specifics of the organisations chosen by the Council of the OJC to support this year, 5775:
The First is The Karen Morris Memorial Trust:
Karen was a young girl, bought up in Finchley, and a staunch and very active member of the Zionist Reform Movement,
Netzer. She studied French and History at Warick but her illness prevented her returning for her final year. She was diagnosed at the age of 22 in September 1997, just a few weeks before Yom Kippur, with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, or CML for short. Leukaemia put simply is cancer of the white blood cells. Because of the enormous over production of the white blood cells by the bone marrow, fewer red cells are produced and the earliest symptom of CML is often due to anaemia caused by the under production of the red blood cells. These symptoms include tiredness, weight loss, bruising and bone and abdominal pain. Often a blood test is the first indication of any abnormality, but once symptoms develop it can have a devastating effect on the individual and the family.
About 1000 people each year are diagnosed with CML. Most are in middle age, but it can affect all age groups. Current treatment is largely medical, but failure to respond well to anti cancer medication can mean the need for total body irradiation and a bone marrow transplant. Often this involves long periods in isolation in hospital, separated from loved ones, and it is
this aspect of the disease, the effect that it has on the entire family, that the Karen Morris Trust was set up to assist.
Karen began raising funds as soon as she was diagnosed, and initially supported the well-known Sue Harris Bone Marrow Trust. But whilst being treated at Hammersmith Hospital she realised that whilst her medical needs were catered for there very well, the family needs of both young and old patients with this illness were not. Sadly her disease was aggressive and she died almost exactly a year after it was diagnosed, two days before Rosh Hashanah 1998.
The charitable work she had started at Hammersmith Hospital continued and became the Memorial Trust it now is and t identified as its major project the development of what became known as Home from Homes" for leukaemia patients and their families. Places where the family could stay together ithin the grounds of the hospital delivering the necessary treatment, but with homely domestic facilities in addition to the necessary medical and nursing resources and staffing. The
first such purpose built unit was at the Hammersmith Hospital London, but was followed in 2009 by another at the Churchill Hospital here in Oxford, a third in 2011 at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and soon, a fourth will open in Birmingham.
The Trust also provides funds for specialist Leukaemia nurses, counsellors and therapists at seven other hospitals throughout the UK. These units are expensive to build, and the charity is constantly in need of funds to enable it to expand the number of units and also to fund the staff. CML is a disease that strikes suddenly at both young and old, and this is a cause well worth supporting.
The other charity you, the OJC is raising funds for today is Shalheveth
It is customary for the Oxford appeal to feature both a UK and an Israeli charity, and this year's Israeli charity is Shalheveth, a Jerusalem based programme designed to enable adults with severe physical disabilities to live like you and me. In fact the Charity's subtitle is just that "Living like you and me". It provides the necessary framework and services to allow severely physically disabled people to live an independent existence within the community.
Active since 1986, the charity both builds appropriately modified living accommodation and supplies the required physical and emotional support to allow those with the severest disabilities to live autonomously within the community at large. Additionally it provides the training that many of those suffering such disability have failed to acquire during their early years where no thought was given to the possibility that these individuals could ever live independently.
The target population is those adults in wheelchairs whose extreme physical disabilities, as a result of for example, cerebral palsy, polio, birth defects or brain tumours severely limit their function physically despite having full cognitive and intellectual function. They currently provide apartments for 14 individuals (including a married couple). Each apartment is self-contained with a room for a caregiver, if necessary, but there is also a wheelchair friendly communal area and garden in the complex. There is a long waiting list of people assessed as suitable for such accommodation. The organisation additionally runs suitable social and cultural activities and also a Shuttle bus service to transport residents to work, shopping and visiting families and friends, where other transport options are either not available or suitable.
I should like to tell you about Ari, who has spent the last nine years in a wheelchair, ever since a brain tumor robbed him of his ability to walk, his musical career and his marriage. But it didn't rob him of his optimism or his skill as a drummer. Now aged 41, Ari has a home in the supportive environment of Shalheveth's apartments on Jerusalem's Shimeoni Street.
Ladies and gentlemen; The Karen Morris Memorial Fund, and Shalheveth are this years two charities. I respectfully ask everyone here to emulate my brother's and my own mischief of our early years. Please put the metaphorical chord through the highest value metaphorical hole on your metaphorical donation card.
Please give as much as you can. Envelopes are available outside in the foyer for you to send the donation directly to the Hon Treasurer. I don't expect you to do it today, but I ask that you make a solemn vow to yourself to do it after Yom tov. These are worthy causes, please help them.