For our community, for our teachers and students: those who receive and learn and hand down the teachings of all who have gone before us;
For those who explain, those who discern, those who make connections, those who draw out the truths patiently waiting to be revealed;
For those who challenge words that cause harm, those who reinterpret, reframe and redeem meanings that might otherwise lead us astray;
For those who learn through study and those who learn from experience, those who learn from all peoples, cultures and traditions, those who live out the wisdom they have gained, who know that every conversation, every move, every breath is a precious opportunity to learn Torah anew;
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.”
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.