A Letter to Gaza

I want you to know.
I want you to know I’m thinking of you.
I want you to know I think of you almost every day.
I want you to know I think of you even when the bombs aren’t falling.
I want you to know I remember.
I want you to know I remember the moment I tasted red tahini for the first time.
I remember Ali running out to a different restaurant so we could taste knafeh ghazawiya
I remember Firas’ baby daughter saying hello to each of us by name. 
I remember talking to the fishermen while they mended their nets.
I remember the exhilarating moment when we set out to sea,
the vicarious feeling of liberation even as we had to stay outside the firing zone.
I remember Erez, that dystopic funhouse maze
and your smiling faces greeting us on the other side. 
I remember the concrete benches lining the seaside,
painted with the names of cities and villages that are not forgotten.
I remember the restaurant outside Beach Camp, the perfect fish, the deep orange sunset.
I remember seeing Ashkelon’s smoke stacks off in the distance,
thinking to myself I am exactly where I need to be.
I remember walking back after dinner, the evening blackout, the hum of the generators.
I remember that final breakfast at the beach,
when I looked at the spot where the Bakr boys were shot down
and I thought of them playing football in Gaza shel mala – 
that is, the Gaza on high –
where there is nothing to fear from above
and how I will not rest until
heaven is brought back down to earth. 

A Lamentation for Gaza


Palestinian mourners carry the body of 11-year-old Hussain Hamad, killed by an Israeli military airstrike, during his funeral in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Gaza weeps alone.
Bombs falling without end
her cheeks wet with tears.
A widow abandoned
imprisoned on all sides
with none willing to save her.

We who once knew oppression
have become the oppressors.
Those who have been pursued
are now the pursuers.
We have uprooted families
from their homes, we have
driven them deep into
this desolate place,
this narrow strip of exile.

All along the roads there is mourning.
The teeming marketplaces
have been bombed into emptiness.
The only sounds we hear
are cries of pain
sirens blaring
drones buzzing
bitterness echoing
into the black vacuum
of homes destroyed
and dreams denied.

We have become Gaza’s master
leveling neighborhoods
with the mere touch of a button
for her transgression of resistance.
Her children are born into captivity
they know us only as occupiers
enemies to be feared
and hated.

We have lost all
that once was precious to us.
This fatal attachment to our own might
has become our downfall.
This idolatrous veneration of the land
has sent us wandering into
a wilderness of our own making.

We have robbed Gaza of
her deepest dignity
plunged her into sorrow and darkness.
Her people crowd into refugee camps
held captive by fences and buffer zones
gunboats, mortar rounds
and Apache missles.

We sing of Jerusalem,
to “a free people in their own land”
but our song has become a mockery.
How can we sing a song of freedom
imprisoned inside behind walls we have built
with our own fear and dread?

Here we sit clinging to our illusions
of comfort and security
while we unleash hell on earth
on the other side of the border.
We sit on hillsides and cheer
as our explosions light up the sky
while far below, whole neighborhoods
are reduced to rubble.

For these things I weep:
for the toxic fear we have unleashed
from the dark place of our hearts
for the endless grief
we are inflicting
on the people of Gaza.

Prayer for Homeless Persons Memorial Day

It was my honor today to write and deliver this prayer at a Memorial Service/Action sponsored by the recently (re)created Chicago Union for the Homeless. The Winter Solstice (today) has been designated Homeless Person’s Memorial Day to remember those who have died homeless in the past year.

Following the service at Chicago’s Thompson Center, protesters carried a symbolic casket in a silent march in honor of the deceased. At City Hall, representatives from the Homeless Union presented a petition demanding immediate housing and adequate mental and physical health care for all homeless persons in the Chicago and Cook County.

This new liturgy is based on the traditional Jewish memorial prayer, El Male Rachamim:.

El male rachamim shochen bam’romim
ha’metzei menucha nechonah
tachat kanfei ha’shechinah.

God filled with compassion,
whose loving presence ever surrounds us
bring perfect rest to all who have died unhoused
those who have died on the streets, in tent cities
public parks and under viaducts.

Protect these precious souls 
with the shelter they were denied in their lifetimes
gather them under the softness of your wings
show them love, bring them home.

Remind us that no one 
is forgotten in your sight
that all are welcome at your table
that each and every one of their lives 
is a story of sacred worth and meaning
that can never be lost.

May the memories of their lives 
shine forth like the brilliance
of the skies above
as we rededicate ourselves
to their memories now.

Turn our grief and anger into resolve 
fill us with strength and will and purpose
that we may once and for all 
end this endless night.

Never let us forget
our sacred responsibility 
to ensure that all are housed
and clothed and fed;
let us never stop fighting
for the basic essential dignity
of every living, breathing soul. 

Ba’al ha’rachamim tastireihem
b’seter kanfecha le’olamim.

Source of all compassion,
inspire us to extend your shelter
across this land and throughout the world
that all may know the blessings
of safety and security now and forever.

V’nomar, and let us say,
Amen.

For Hanukkah: Al Hanisim/For the Miracles

Strikers struggle with National Guardsmen at the Loray Mill Strike, Gastonia, NC, 1929

Celebrating the joy at the heart of every triumph,
and the fortitude that follows every defeat,
we offer our praise:

for those who danced in the streets,
for those who didn’t live to see the victory
but never gave in;

for those who toppled the tyrants,
for those who resisted the oppressor
knowing full well the cost;

for those who rededicated the Temple,
for those who learned how to live
in the wake of its destruction;

for those who made it home,
for those sustained
by the sweet dream of return;

for those who kindle the lights,
for those who meet your gaze  
in the deep darkness;

for all these miracles and more,
we dedicate our lives  
to those who fought before us;

sustaining us even when all strength is gone,
urging us on and on until
liberation is finally won.

Psalm 146: Hope in the Struggle

photo: Emma Lee/WHYY

Praise the world to come,
the world that might be.
Dream of it, fight for it
for it with every breath.

Pay no heed to the promises of tyrants
who care for nothing but their own power
who view humanity as expendable,
who stand guard over systems
designed to plunder and oppress.

All honor to those who summon 
the strength to fight 
until the battle is won,
who will not rest 
until every soul is counted.

Blessed are those who 
find hope in the struggle,
who remain faithful to the dream
of a world that is yet at hand:

the kingdom where justice reigns
for all generations,
where compassion flows 
without cease. 

Prayer to Get out the Vote

(photo credit: AP/Morry Gash)

To the One who urges us on 
toward struggle and transformation: 
never stop reminding us
just what is at stake
and what is expected of us 
in the days and months ahead.

May our vote remind us of our power 
to stand down those who govern 
with fear and dread;
may it fill us with the vision and purpose 
to build a power yet greater:
a power rooted in solidarity, 
liberation and love. 

May our vote give us the courage to know
that a just society is not beyond our grasp;
that we have the power to dismantle 
systems of inequity and greed;
that we create a world in which
our wealth and resources are dedicated
toward the well-being of all. 

May our vote make way for a world 
free of racism and militarization,
a world where no one profits 
off the misery of others,
a world where the bills owed 
those who have been colonized, 
enslaved and dispossessed
are finally paid in full. 

May our vote remind us 
that the struggle is never over;
and that when election day is done
no matter what the outcome,
we must never give up the fight
for the world we know is possible, 
right here, right now,
in our own day. 

May we never doubt
our ability to make a difference,
that we may transform your world
toward a future of equity, 
of restoration, of justice, 
for us, and for all who dwell on earth.

Amen.

Meditation Before Shabbat Candle Lighting

Shabbat Candles

Bless the fires kindled,
the energy generated,
the sparks igniting
the work of creation
day after day.

Bless the tasks completed
and the work unfinished;
the struggles ongoing,
the dreams of transformation
yet to be fulfilled.

Bless all you have made,
all you have created,
and let it go;
let it vanish into the past
like the sun sinking
behind the distant horizon.

Now bless your tired soul
in the sweet darkness
of this new day –
it’s time to enter
the world to come.

A Prayer for Reparation and Restoration

America Protests , Paris, France - 02 Jun 2020

photo: Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP/Shutterstock

To the One who demands justice:
inspire us to become rodfei tzedek,
pursuers of justice
in our lives and in our communities.

Give us the strength to resist power
wielded with fear and dread;
fill us with the vision and purpose
to build a power yet greater,
a power rooted in solidarity,
liberation and love.

Grant us the courage to dismantle
systems of oppression –
and when they are no more,
let us dedicate our wealth and resources
toward the well-being of all.

May we abolish all forms of state violence
that we might make way for a world
free of racism and militarization,
a world where no one profits
off the misery of others,
a world where the bills owed those who have been
colonized, enslaved and dispossessed
are finally paid in full.

Inspire us with the knowledge
that real justice is indeed at hand,
that we may realize
the world we know is possible,
right here, right now,
in our own day.

May our thoughts and our hopes,
our words and our deeds
guide us toward a future of reparation,
of restoration, of justice,
al kol yoshvei teivel
for all who dwell on earth,
amen.

Seder Readings for Passover 5780

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 8.17.44 AM

I’ve just finished “Fight for the Health of Your Community” – a new collection of Passover seder readings I wrote for members of my congregation. I’m happy to share them with the wider world as well – and sincerely hope you’ll find them helpful if you are holding/attending a seder this year.

It goes without saying that this year is a Passover like no other. As I wrote in the opening reading:

Before we raise the cup to another Passover, we must acknowledge that this night is very different from all other nights. In this extraordinary moment of global pandemic, we are literally dwelling in the “narrow place” of social separation. Thus, we come to the very first question of the evening: how on earth do we fulfill the mitzvah to observe the Passover seder? Where do we even begin?

Since the dictates of social separation render the group seders impossible, many families and groups are already planning to hold theirs’ via Zoom or other web-based platforms. There are already many online guides with tips on web-based seders that you may find useful. While I personally believe that there is no one perfect approach, I do recommend that seder leaders familiarize themselves with their specific online platform and to keep things simple and doable.

I want to stress that this particular resource is not a haggadah – and is not designed to be used in its entirety. I strongly agree with one online guide when it points out: “the seder should not be dominated by making connections of the virus to the Exodus story but it does need to be addressed in some capacity.” In this collection I’ve written one reading for each section of the seder and recommend picking and choosing the one/s you find most meaningful. While the extent to which COVID-19 is addressed will vary, I believe the most successful seders will be the ones that view the Exodus narrative as a spiritual frame to contextualize this unprecedented moment.

I wish you and those you love a happy, healthy and liberating Pesach. May we all make our way through this fearful moment together. And as I write here, “May this time of brokenness lead to a deeper solidarity between all who are ready to fight for a better world.”

Click here for a copy of the pdf.

For Passover: Opening the Door to a New World

open-door-revelation-3-rbs-blog-image__roan-lavery-776794-unsplash-1080x675

Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is meant to be recited at the point when the door would traditionally be opened for Elijah:

The door is opened and we say:

And when your children ask you what
was Passover like that year,
you will tell them:

Yes, we shared our meal at separate tables,
in separate homes, behind closed doors
and yes, at times it almost felt like we
were the Israelites huddling in the night
behind their painted doorposts,
hoping, praying that the Angel of Death
would pass them by.

Except it wasn’t like that at all:
there were no Israelites, no Egyptians
no capricious, punishing God;
just all of us telling the story together,
the way we did every year
even if we knew nothing
would ever be the same again.

Then when the time came,
we opened our doors wide
and called out from table to table:
Let all who are broken gather
each another’s scattered, shattered pieces,
let all who seek liberation
find a place at the table
let all who hunger for a new world
come and eat.