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.

Yotzer Or: Such Exquisite Radiance

As every living thing
bends toward the light,
we turn to you,
sending forth our praise
as you open the gates of heaven,
renewing your work of creation
with faithfulness and love.

Nothing is untouched by your presence:
from the luminaries on high
to the sand beneath our feet –
no boundary can contain your radiance,
no border can hold back your light;
it shines upon us all, 
every ray an angel singing out 
from the heavens:
the whole earth is filled
with your glory!

So let a new light shine upon us –
may it illuminate every corner of creation,
that every land may be a Zion, 
that all may be worthy to bask 
in the warmth of its glow.

Blessed are you, forever recreating our world
with such exquisite radiance.

Ahavah Rabbah: A Wild and Boundless Love

You love us with a wild and boundless love
and care for us with unending, unconditional compassion.
You show us your ways so tenderly, guiding us
just as you guided countless generations before us.
Teach us with a passion that will resonate
deep in our hearts, inspire us to see
and hear and learn and teach and
act with love now and always.

Open our hearts as one to your light
and keep us far from confusion and shame.
May it lead us toward your justice,
toward liberation for all who dwell on earth;
that all who are exiled and dispossessed
may safely find their way home
that all may rejoice in you
and celebrate your holy name as one. 

Blessed are you, who loves us all
with a fierce love that knows no bounds.

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.

A Prayer for Striking Nursing Home Workers

I offered this prayer on Thanksgiving at the picket line for striking nursing home workers who work for Infinity Health Care Management. Over seven hundred frontline, majority black and brown workers from the Greater Chicago area called for a strike on November 23 after months of bargaining in which management repeatedly ignored their calls for pandemic pay, proper PPE, adequate staffing and living wages.

Click here to learn how you can lend your support to these courageous workers, whose struggle is literally a struggle for their very lives.

May the One who blessed our ancestors,
bless all those who put themselves at risk to care
for the elderly, ill and infirm.

Bless the health care workers,
the nurses and orderlies,
bless those who navigate the unfolding dangers
of the world each day
to tend to those they have sworn to help.

Bless them as they go to their work,
bless them in their coming home.
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Source of all breath, healer of all beings:
protect them and restore their hope.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
keep them in health, that they may bring healing.

And bless them in their struggle, 
in their just demand for fair wages,
as they are forced to work without pandemic pay 
in the midst of a pandemic,
even as they put their lives on the line every day
to take care of our most vulnerable family members.

Strengthen their resolve, and strengthen ours 
as we stand with them in their fight for just wages, 
which is a fight for their very lives.
Help them know again a time 
when they can breathe without fear. 

May this plague pass from among us, 
speedily and in our days. 

And let us say,
Amen.

Kiddush: The Sweetness of our Liberation

When the sixth day came to an end,
God ceased the work of creation,
though the depths of tehom
had not yet been tamed
and chaos not fully vanquished.

Then God blessed the seventh day and said:
we don’t have to struggle on without end;
let this day fill our souls, that we may, with joy
glimpse the world complete.

Blessed are you, Creator for the fruit of the vine.

And blessed is this day that you have set apart with love,
inviting us to cease the work of a week now past,
that we may dwell in a world reborn,
that we may taste the sweetness of our liberation.

Blessed are you, who inspires us
with the possibilities of a world yet to be
on this sacred day of Shabbat. 

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.

Don’t be swayed by 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 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
and 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.