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To watch India’s tragedy is to experience emptiness

Ralph Genende
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Published: 7 May 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

RALPH GENENDE: This pandemic is a reminder that we are all interconnected and no country can go it all alone

One of the most poignant lines in one of our most poignant Jewish prayers is: “Do not turn us away, Oh, our King, empty [handed] from your presence“.

To be empty must be one of the most devastating conditions of being human. To be emptied of love, empathy or even anger and hatred is to be devoid of humanity. For a believer, to encounter the absence of God is one of the most painful experiences. Today, we would probably express this sense of emptiness as depression, desperation, burnout or flatness.

Just watching from afar the enormity of the tragedy unfolding in India is to experience emptiness. Listening to and watching the personal accounts of acute distress is unbearable. Emptiness is everywhere, from those empty oxygen cartridges to the void in the hearts of desperate relatives seeking treatment in overburdened hospitals. And there’s the sense that their government has failed them.

India may be far away, but it is close as a vibrant democracy, a neighbour, a friendly country, some of whose citizens have moved here. It is a country which many Australians have visited. It is an enchanting place filled with colour and vibrancy. Once you have made the passage to India, you are forever altered.
India’s pain is our pain, its tragedy is our tragedy, its horror encapsulates the worst fears we all have of Corona virus running unchecked through our lives. It is a reminder that the plague has not ended, that despite our good fortune we remain vulnerable. It is a  reminder that in this pandemic we are all interconnected, and no country can go it all alone. It highlights the errant thinking that the wealthy countries that can afford and have easy access to the vaccine can protect themselves alone. We have a global responsibility; we are all fragile creatures of our Creator. If we don’t work together to defeat this enemy, we will all fall and fail.

India’s pain is our pain, its tragedy is our tragedy, its horror encapsulates the worst fears we all have of Corona virus running unchecked through our lives. It is a reminder that the plague has not ended, that despite our good fortune we remain vulnerable.

This is a lesson that also comes out of countless Jewish texts. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the American rabbi and modern Jewish philosopher, often remarked that we have an obligation to be citizens of the world. As an example, he would point out that on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we read the book of Jonah and how a Jewish prophet is sent to a hostile city, Nineveh, to rescue it from self-destructing. Its message is strong and clear– how can you fast and ask for forgiveness for yourself if you don’t care about others, if you don’t care about the world around you, if you don’t care about the pain of a pandemic or the crisis of our climate and our beleaguered planet?

As the prophet Isaiah so eloquently declared: “Loosen the bindings of evil and break the slavery chain. Those who are crushed, release to freedom; shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed wanderer home. When you see a person naked, clothe him: do not avert your eyes from your own flesh” (58:6-7). This passage is also read on Yom Kippur. It resonates today for its reminder that we need to bring Australian citizens and wanderers  home as soon as possible.

The response across the world in supporting and helping India is heartening. Unfortunately, so much havoc and harm have already been caused.

These are dark days.. However, I take some comfort and draw some courage from that prayer of emptiness. Its opening is: “Listen to our voice, Lord our God. Spare us and have compassion on us and in compassion and favour accept our prayers … Do not turn us away … for You listen with compassion to the prayer of your people.”


Israel sends COVID-19 aid to India (Jerusalem Post) The aid to India includes thousands of group and individual oxygen generators, which the Indian health system needs immediately

Rabbi Ralph Genende is organising an online vigil for India on behalf of the Faith Council of Communities Victoria (FCCV) and the Multifaith Advisory Group to the Victorian Government. This will take place next Tuesday, 5.00 - 5.45pm on Zoom

The Joint Australia, JDC, is coordinating with the Indian Jewish community and local partner SEWA to deliver lifesaving aid. If you want to know how can you help CLICK HERE.

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