Few people have a profound impact on one’s life. One such person who made a strong impression upon me was Aubrey Nelson.
I met Aubrey a few years ago at Chabad of West Hampstead. Sadly he passed away last week on Tisha B'Av, the day when the Jewish people commemorate the destruction of both our temples. He was ninety eight years old.
Aubrey was unique in many ways. Born in the 1920’s in the East End of London, his upbringing was old school and authentically Jewish. He once told me that as a child he could not remember ever wearing new clothes.
Aubrey had a profound impact on all who knew him because he was authentic. In a world where so many live to make an impression on others, Aubrey was content to be himself. Nothing about him was pretentious. In a world where ‘fake’ is ‘normal’, Aubrey was refreshing because he was ‘real’.
When my son became Bar Mitzvah last year, I asked Aubrey to give him some words of advice. He thought for a moment and then as if he was transported back in time, he conveyed the message which he had received from his Rabbi close to ninety years ago.
He said, “Being Jewish means to always do what you believe is right. Never be afraid of what others may think”.
Aubrey uttered those words as if they were embedded in his heart and soul. Indeed his life was an embodiment of that message.
We live in an age where ‘fake’ is ‘normal’. Not just in the world of media, but also in our everyday lives. Indeed our personal lives have been subsumed by the ever increasing powerful forces of AI and social media.
The only antidote to these corrosive forces is by strengthening our Jewish identity. Being Jewish means to be ‘real’. To be yourself. Not to be afraid of what others may think.
Yes it may be especially challenging for young people today. In a world where values are determined by what feels good in the moment. Where there is little concern for sustainability.
As the same time it has never been so vital to plug in to that timeless message of what it means to be Jewish. To reconnect with those values which resonate deep within us. To live our lives accordingly without any fear from others.
In doing so together, we will one day create a ‘new normal’.