Sunday 15th July at NWSS was a night to remember, for two reasons. The programme ‘Voices from the Dust’ was memorable because it was beautifully produced. In a most professional style, Anthony Sheppard, Anita Fox and Alex D’Olier presented their choice of poetry and music to mark the first nine days of the month of Av, when we traditionally remember tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. This period of mourning and reflection culminates in Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, one of the most solemn days in the Jewish calendar.
Anthony, Anita and Alex had selected a wide range of extracts to illustrate their theme. They read them clearly and expressively, which had great impact. Some, such as Josephus’ eye-witness account of the destruction of the Second Temple, commemorated disasters in Jewish history. Some, such as the piece by the Greek poet Seferis, highlighted tragedies that other peoples have suffered.
Others, such as Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ of the 1930s had striking resonance with today’s Windrush scandal, while ‘I am Syrian’ by Youssef Abu Yihea, alerted us to contemporary calamities and the continuing relevance of the Nine Days of Av.
The music too was varied, making for a powerful and moving experience. More traditional Jewish recordings included a cantor chanting from the Book of Lamentations, traditionally recited during Av. We also heard Sephardi and Israeli versions of Psalm 137, associated with this season. Not often do we hear Elgar, Bob Marley and a Yiddish song from the Lodz Ghetto in the same evening, but each piece played contributed to the emotional atmosphere.
So it was a night to remember also because the presenters had created a programme that focused our hearts and minds on the past suffering of the Jewish people in particular, and on the universal suffering of peoples over the centuries and in the present day. It was not an evening for discussion, nor even for raising hopes for the future, but just hearing the poems and the music made us all yearn for an end to conflict and human suffering, wherever it occurs.