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London's Burning

Monday, 8 August, 2011 - 6:55 pm

Regulars at my classes know that I love to make a good political statement.

Those who've seen my facebook posts or know my views will know that I have little patience for analytic psychobabble. The actions of bored youths who burn down their neighbours’ homes, destroy their high streets and scare the living daylights out of their communities can never be justified by blaming heavy-handed police and short-sighted government. Bloggers and journalists who insist on giving crime justified spin are actually fanning the violence with their idiocy.

As I posted on facebook this evening, anyone who supported the civil unrest for the past two years owes hurting London a huge apology. It’s time the liberal media etc. stop giving sophisticated analyses to justify downright violent criminal acts by bored youths on a boring summer of 'lack of content'!

This doesn’t mean we become so obsessed with the victims of the violence that we forget to address the underlying causes that triggered the unrest or the boredom. What is of vital importance is that civil unrest like this should never be tolerated, even while we strive to find solutions.

But this post, like much of my blog, is not about political statements. It’s about finding guidance for our own lives while reflecting on what’s going on around us.

In the early 1980s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched the Tzivos Hashem youth movement, lit. Army of G-d.

Still operating today, it provides a motivation system, with army style ranks and awards, to encourage Jewish children to develop, both as good citizens and as good Jews.

Someone wrote a letter to the Rebbe, in which he advised the Rebbe that the use of ‘army’ terms was unpopular and counterproductive. References to war, lieutenants and the commander-in-chief have no place in modern western society.

The Rebbe’s response was extensive. Any suggestion that he hadn’t thought this initiative through thoroughly was quickly laid to rest. “I have thought long and hard”, he wrote about his choice of theme and decision.

You see, the Rebbe’s view was that we’ve lost our sense of respect for our elders. Gone are the days when youths thought their parents knew better than them. Gone are the days when teachers weren’t just teachers of a subject, but were seen as role models and advisors. Today, you can shout at the Prime Minister and he’ll return next week to apologies to you. You can even superglue yourself to him and get away with it. It’s fine to throw rocks at Prince Charles and then complain that your sentence was heavy-handed.

You can disrupt the lives of others, because you’re downright selfish, and then cry out that it’s your basic right to freedom of expression.

What the Rebbe understood was profound.

If you don’t like it here, you’ll never respect those who run the place.

If you feel disenfranchised, discontent or just bored, you’ll never feel you owe this place anything. You won’t appreciate your parents. You won’t look up to your teachers. You’ll be easily convinced that the police are only out to get you, that politicians want you to live a miserable life and that the bankers only ambition is to keep you in poverty forever.

So why did the Rebbe choose the army theme?

To join, you’ve got to want to join. They’ll promise you the pension of your dreams; guarantee you and your family a great quality of life and benefits you couldn’t refuse. They’ll tempt you with team spirit and great friends and they’ll make you feel empowered.

So you’ll join because you love it and want to be part of it.

And that’s the last you’ll hear about yourself...

Until you retire, you’ll be required to follow every rule and every command instantly, without even blinking an eyelid. You’ll wake up at the crack of dawn, to the abusive shouts of your commander, and march ridiculous distances in harsh conditions before falling asleep at some unearthly hour on a bed that can hardly be called a bed. Failing to comply will get you subpoenaed, court-martialed and worse. And you’ll accept all of this because, after all, you love it here and chose to be here.

You’ll respect everyone above you and love everyone else, because you signed up for this.

So the Rebbe instituted the Army. Show the kids that they want to be part of their communities, their traditions and their identity. Teach them to appreciate it and love it. Then they’ll be more than happy to follow orders because they see themselves as part of it. They’ve been given the power and made the choice to accept the authority which they happily obey.

Guide the next generation in their devotion to the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ and they’ll happily comply with His wishes, because they signed up for it for life.

Fail to teach them and they’ll hate the country they live in. They’ll burn, destroy and devastate their own communities. After all, they don’t consider themselves part of it, so have no vested interest in respecting it.

I’ll refrain from making statements or offering advice to policy makers on how to run this country. (I suppose I’ve shocked you there).

Think about why you’re here. Meditate about it. Work yourself to a frenzy of passionate obsession with it. Teach yourself to love it. The rest will be as easy as walking into Curry’s for your free plasma TV.

Comments on: London's Burning
8/10/2011

moishe y engel l.b., california wrote...

good piece now i'm hooked on the rabbi's blog liked why shterna got locked out on rosh hashana didn't read all of them yet way to go lewis' of brighton