Shopping mall hell and hope

As regular readers might know, I have huge concerns about how we consume. So a Sunday afternoon visit to Brent Cross shopping centre is rarely going to be my idea of a fun jaunt undertaken for entertainments sake. 
But today was different. On the one hand, as we drove into the multi storey car parks (at a crawl under the weight of traffic) we listened to the shocking news still coming from Nairobi; of massacres, hostages, militants, all in a shopping mall. So it was the perfect co-incidence that this Sunday, Finchley Reform Synagogue (where I helped to lead services over Yom Kippur) together with the Bravanese Somali Muslim Community, hosted a sukkah in the middle of Brent cross and brought a message of peace and co-existence. 
Er ... what? Why? What has any of that got to do with sukkot (the festival of tabernacles or booths). Well for one thing the idea of a sukkat shalom - a tabernacle of peace, isn't a new one.  But more importantly, sukkot is in large part about reminding us that none of us is entirely safe from the storms and winds that life might throw at us. Life is fragile and it batters all of us to some extent. The Bravanese Somali Muslim community know a thing or two about this, having had their own walls fall from around them earlier this year in an arson attack in quiet, leafy, Muswell Hill. Their experience was one Jews of the past have known about first hand, and so Finchley Reform just found themselves unable and unwilling to say no when the community needed help hosting Ramadan prayers so that it might be done with their 'minhag' (custom). The fact that there was already a connection between the communities via London Citizens also helped, reminding us that relationships are not about responding to crisis alone, but to building trust and reliability. 
So today, while many stood shocked at the violence meted out on shoppers in the misplaced name of religion, a small act of hope was offered in a corner of a big, busy, crowded north west London mall. It might not change the world, but it has already made a difference to those two communities, and on days like today it is so good to remember that while some will use religion to justify human horror, for many others it is the grounding that enables them to reach out, to make contact, to be brave and say 'yes' to those in need when many reasons could be found to say no. 
Thank you to all of you involved in today... You made my dreaded trip to Brent cross a lot more bearable! 

And this was in today's Sunday times:


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