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

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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

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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.


Before Karpas: A Flash of Green

weed-growing-crack_shutterstock_60868711Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is an intro to Karpas (green vegetable dipped in salt water):

Keep looking out your window
even as the earth hardens into stone
even as the salt stings your eyes
even if it looks like nothing will ever grow again.

Just keep a sharp lookout
for that flash of green in the distance.
You won’t want to be looking away
when the message arrives at last:

Spring is coming.
It’s time dry your tears.
The season of our liberation is at hand.


Psalm 14: Lines in the Sand

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AA photo

In my weaker moments I imagine
that you sent this plague
as punishment for our iniquity,
but deep down in my heart I know
that’s not your way.

In fleeting moments of clarity,
I picture you gazing out at us
and ruefully asking out loud:

Don’t you know that I really don’t need
to inflict punishments on you?
Can’t you see you’re doing a pretty good job
inflicting punishments on yourselves?

Even now I’m astonished that
this terrible moment still hasn’t taught you
that no matter how hard you try
you cannot hide from one another.

Even now you cannot see
that the lines you’ve drawn
will not protect you,
that viruses care nothing for national borders,
that pandemics do not stop at walls
checkpoints and security fences.

I look on in wonder as the powerful,
your so-called leaders,
close the gates even tighter,
warning citizens not to congregate
even as they increasingly herd humanity
into prisons, detention centers
and refugee camps.

Even now I’m astonished
by the rampant ignorance of those
who still believe the absurd lines
they’ve drawn in the sand will
somehow keep them safe.

And now it has come to this:
you must sit closed up in your homes
keeping your distance from one another
that your communities might survive.

I can only hope that
in this moment of separation,
you will finally come to see
how connected you truly are –
for this may well be your final chance
to grasp the most basic of lessons:
that in the end,
you only have each other.


Psalm 55: Strange New Kingdom

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This prayer might be painful
for you to hear, but it’s all I have.
All I ask is that you listen to my words
and please don’t turn away:

A new and unfamiliar fear
has been growing within me.
Every day the walls close in,
every day the world bears down upon me
just a little bit more.

I’m staggering under the weight
of voices assailing me from every direction.
I’m unsure of what to do, what to think,
I don’t know what is real and what is false,
whether to stay in or venture out,
I can’t tell if my comfort is complacency,
if my worries are hysteria.

Every day I read of illness and death
and I dream of escape.
I see the birds building their nests
outside my window
and dream of flying far, far away,
to a place untouched by fear or sorrow.

Our leaders have utterly failed us;
they wander in confusion
without a care for our well-being.
I trust only in scientists and care-givers,
I depend only upon my friends,
my neighbors, my community.
I know we will only survive
if we care for one another.

How long will I dwell
in this strange new kingdom?
How many will be stricken,
how many will fall?
Will I make it safely
to the other side?

As I contemplate your familiar silence,
I realize I don’t really require an answer –
perhaps just the reassurance that whatever happens,
we’ll bear each other along the way
with kindness, decency and love
until our long sleepless night is through
and the warm light of a new day rises
to envelop us once more.


Psalm 122: I Will Fight for You

 

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photo credit: Gabriele Sesana

Even as they tell us to find safety
in separation, I feel your presence
and my soul soars beyond
these four walls.
And so with spirit ascending,
I’m sending out this song:

Pray for the peace of your community.
Pray for those you love
and for those you’ll never know.
Pray for those who are working overtime
to keep us healthy and safe,
for those who are fighting every hour,
every second, to keep us alive.

For the sake of my family and friends,
for the sake of all who dwell on earth:
I wish you peace.
I will stand with you.
I will fight for you.
Even if I cannot see you,
Even though I cannot hold you.
Your well-being is forever bound
up with my own.


Havdalah: Between Inspiration and Fulfilment

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Savor this eternal moment
and hold it close,
before you leave the world to come
and re-enter the world as it is,
before your sweet dream
reverts back to hard truth.

For this much we know:
long after the day is done
the melody of this song will
reverberate through our souls,
driving us forward until the day
that liberation is finally won.

One day very soon,
the song will lead us
to a dream fulfilled, to a place
where light and gladness,
joy and wonder, justice and salvation
flow without cease.

But for now we’ll prepare ourselves
for the work ahead –
let’s light the fire, raise the cup
and breathe in the sweetness
of this moment.
With strength renewed
and spirit re-inspired it’s time
to rejoin the struggle.

Blessed is the One who separates
between inspiration and fulfillment,
exile and return,
struggle and liberation,
hard work and sweet victory,
between the world we know
and the world we know is possible.


A Lament for the Detained Children

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My rendering of Lamentations 2, written and read for a Tisha B’Av vigil held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center, Kankakee, IL, August 11, 2019.

we are beyond humiliation
beyond shame
we incarcerate children without pity
we deport parents without a thought
and build systems that destroy families indiscriminately
now we truly know what it means to be dishonored
our so-called glorious past is now seen
for the sham that it was
the way of life we celebrate is but a privilege
for the few and the powerful
we can’t see that our own might
will be our downfall

we venerate leaders
who should be tried for their crimes
we never dared imagine a power
greater than our own
like so many before us
we conquered the land then drew borders
as a testament to our fear and dread
now we build higher walls
to keep out those who seek shelter
we built massive checkpoints
we lined up human beings
like cattle in cages
now children cry out for parents
who will never answer their calls
their voices echo endlessly
through the camps but there
is no one left to hear

we ask one another with bewilderment
have we ever seen such cruel violations
yet in truth we ourselves have inflicted
such cruelties on children here
and around the world
we sentence minors to life in prison without parole
we remain silent as a cruel occupation
abducts and imprisons children in military prisons
convicts them in military courts
and yet we dare to act surprised when
we hear news of children thrown into cages
at our southern border

our silence betrays us
these walls will soon encircle us all
soon there will be no one left
only a single mass of mourners
whispering broken hymns of lament
grieving what was lost
and what might have been
one day we will know the sorrow
of the dispossessed

we who never heard the cries of migrants
and their children will know what it means
to be uprooted detained and discarded
those who we scorned and abandoned
will bitterly welcome us to the world
of the dispossessed
the enemies we created
through our own fearful actions
will surely come back for us all

let us hope and pray
there is still time
let the cries of our children
pour into our hearts like water
the cries of any who have been forced
from their homes pursued
taken locked away sent away
anyone whose very lives are forbidden
forgotten forsaken
let their cries compel us
to take down oppressive systems
built by the powerful to maintain
the power of the powerful
let their cries remind us
that there is a power yet greater
that comes from a place that knows no borders
no deportations no barrier walls no prisons
no guards no soldiers no ICE no police

a place where we no longer need to struggle because
justice gushes forth like a mighty stream flowing freely
from the sovereign beyond all sovereigns
we beseech you chadeish yameniu
renew our days
that we may build the world
that somehow still might be
kein yehi ratzon – may it be your will
and may it be ours’
ve’nomar and let us say

Amen.


shalom aleichem/beyond borders

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photo: Love + Struggle

My invocation for the Action to End Criminalization, Detention and Deportations,
delivered at Daley Plaza, Chicago, July 13, 2019

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over those who find no rest
forced from their homes
forced to leave everything they’ve ever known
everyone they’ve ever loved
because poverty gripped their communities
because the military occupied their land
because agribusiness seized their farms
because the mining companies poisoned their soil
because the multinationals polluted their water
because they couldn’t leave their houses
for fear of the gangs who walked the streets day and night
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over them as they make their way
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over the young woman eight months pregnant
who begged her family for five thousand dollars
after her house was burned to the ground by the militia
who crossed nine borders in two months
from cameroon to nigeria to ecuador then by bus and by foot
through colombia panama costa rica nicaragua honduras guatemala
and finally to tapachula mexico
now she’s sitting on a concrete bench cradling her swollen belly
wondering what will happen when she gets to tijuana
will she be detained will she be allowed to cross will she
be granted asylum will she be sent back to face the death squads
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over her as she makes her way
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over the parents whose children
are ripped crying from their arms
just as they arrive at the border
who have no idea where their babies have been taken
who are not told where they are
or how they can reach them
watch over the children
who are left to fend for themselves
some too young to speak
without a guardian who knows them
without an adult who understands them
forced into backlogged courts
forced to sit in cold crowded holding cells for days
with no beds or showers where they can only
wait and hope and pray that someone will somehow find them
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
don’t let them be forgotten
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over those who live in constant fear
that those flashing police lights are meant for them
who wake up each day wondering is this the day
my children will be gone when i come home
is this the day i won’t come home
is this the day they’ll be snatched from the streets
from their cars from their workplaces
is this the day they’ll be shackled and thrown in unmarked vans
sent into detention cells onto airplanes and sent off into the night
for the crime of seeking a life of dignity for their families
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over them
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem to you angels of justice
angels of the most high
show us how to fight for the liberation of anyone
who has been forced from their homes pursued
taken locked away sent away
anyone whose very lives are forbidden forgotten forsaken
inspire us to take down oppressive systems
that were built by the powerful to maintain
the power of the powerful
remind us that there is a power yet greater
that comes from a place that knows no borders
no deportations no barrier walls no prisons
no guards no soldiers no police
a place where we no longer have to struggle for justice because
justice gushes forth like a mighty stream flowing freely
from the sovereign beyond all sovereigns
all of us angels of justice all of us
building the world we know is possible yes
shalom aleichem peace to you
peace to us all
this is our prayer let’s say amen