A Jewish Prayer for Nakba Day

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Le’el she’chafetz teshuvah,
to the One who desires return:

Receive with the fulness of your mercy
the hopes and prayers of those
who were uprooted, dispossessed
and expelled from their homes
during the devastation of the Nakba.

Sanctify for tov u’veracha,
for goodness and blessing,
the memory of those who were killed
in Lydda, in Haifa, in Beisan, in Deir Yassin
and so many other villages and cities
throughout Palestine.

Grant chesed ve’rachamim,
kindness and compassion,
upon the memory of the expelled
who died from hunger,
thirst and exhaustion
along the way.

Shelter beneath kanfei ha’shechinah,
the soft wings of your divine presence,
those who still live under military occupation,
who dwell in refugee camps,
those dispersed throughout the world
still dreaming of return.

Gather them mei’arbah kanfot ha’aretz
from the four corners of the earth
that their right to return to their homes
be honored at long last.

Let all who dwell in the land
live in dignity, equity and hope
so that they may bequeath to their children
a future of justice and peace.

Ve’nomar
and let us say,
Amen.

Le’el she’chafetz teshuvah,
to the One who desires repentance:

Inspire us to make a full accounting
of the wrongdoing that was
committed in our name.

Help us to face the terrible truth of the Nakba
and its ongoing injustice
that we may finally confess our offenses;
that we may finally move toward a future
of reparation and reconciliation.

Le’el malei rachamim,
to the One filled with compassion:
show us how to understand the pain
that compelled our people to inflict
such suffering upon another –
dispossessing families from their homes
in the vain hope of safety and security
for our own.

Osei hashalom,
Maker of peace,
guide us all toward a place
of healing and wholeness
that the land may be filled
with the sounds of joy and gladness
from the river to the sea
speedily in our day.

Ve’nomar
and let us say,
Amen.

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Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb: A Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

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From the always eloquent Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb:

To cities and neighborhoods everywhere throughout the world, whose people suffer the aftermath of violent acts and face the carnage unleashed by all manner of exploding devices, we cry in anguished lament.

To the first responders who jump over barricades and cross fields of fire to rescue the wounded, may your acts of courageous compassion be received as a divine blessing. You are the guardians of healing.

And may all of us who have the strength, honor the people of destroyed cities and the first responders in their midst by pursuing healing and restorative justice with every nonviolent means at our disposal.


Wrestling Our Way Home: A Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5773

From my Erev Yom Kippur sermon last Tuesday:

I’ve often thought that there’s (a different Torah portion) that is just as appropriate – perhaps even more appropriate – for Yom Kippur.  I’m referring to the famous episode in the 32nd and 33rdchapters of Genesis, when Jacob wrestles on a riverbank with a mysterious stranger the night before he meets up with his estranged twin brother Esau.

Anyone who’s read or studied this text will attest that it’s a phenomenal story with deliciously rich spiritual symbolism.  Indeed, I often find myself returning to this portion for its insights on forgiveness, reconciliation and personal transformation.  All of which, of course, are central themes to the Yom Kippur holiday.

So on this Yom Kippur eve, please allow me to submit this story as an alternative Torah portion for your spiritual consideration. I hope its lessons will help us all engage more deeply in the spiritual work that lays ahead this coming new year.

Click below to read the entire sermon:

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Joseph’s Final Dream

he looks down at his kneeling brothers peels
off his robe of fine egyptian linen reveals his tattered
bloodsoaked coat and says i am your brother joseph the
one who has dreamed who has waited so long for this moment the
one for whom you never had one kind word the one
whom you cast into an empty lifeless pit the
one whom you sold to traders like so much dead
meat the one who was taken down to egypt in chains while
you sang so sweetly to our father your son was surely
gutted by a wild beast oh
yes i am the one who slept for years on that
stinking dungeon floor with nothing but these dreams
of vengeance to keep me alive and now you grovel
here before me asking for my food for my pity for my
compassion then joseph seized the child benjamin and
had him impaled outside the city gates his servants
woke him and said if you please master there are eleven
israelites asking for you and they claim to be
your brothers

(Genesis 45:4)


Locking Our Children Away: Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5772

Cedric Cal was born to a single mother, in a family that lived below the poverty line on Chicago’s West Side. His father had left the family, married another woman and had very little to do with him. His mother Olivia worked constantly, doing her best to keep her family together. As the oldest of four, Cedric became the de facto father of the family and was entrusted with protecting his younger brother, who was legally blind.

Cedric’s family moved around a lot and he learned very early on how to make friends quickly. He liked sports, particularly baseball – and when his family lived on the West Side, he played sports in the local Park District. When they moved to the South Side, however, there were no Park District services available, so sports were not an option for him. Still, no matter where they moved, Olivia became very adept at finding ways of getting Cedric and and brothers into decent public schools. From 5th to 8th grade, he attended Alcott Elementary. Minding his younger brother, he took the public bus every day on a long trek from the West Side to Lincoln Park.

Cedric’s mother taught him how to fill out applications and interview for jobs, but there really weren’t any to be found. And those that were hiring certainly weren’t hiring African-American teenage boys. He was never really successful at finding a real job,  but when he was 14 he learned that he could make money dealing drugs. He knew that his mother would be beyond furious if she ever found out, so he made sure to keep his drug dealing and his growing gang activity secret from her. Cedric never, ever, brought his earnings into their home – his mother had made it clear that drug money was not welcome anywhere near her house. Even when he bought a car, he parked it far away from their home.

I met and spoke with Cedric two weeks ago at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. He explained to me that as he continued to sell drugs, as he continued the gang life, little by little, he became “desensitized to the things my mother had taught me.” It was quite poignant and sweet to listen to Cedric speak about his mother. “My mother,” he said, “has a lovely spirit,” adding: “I was scared to death of my mother.” He told me of one instance in which Olivia confronted drug dealers on a street corner with a two by four in her hand. Cedric laughed and said that could scare even the toughest gang members in the neighborhood.

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For Elul: Robi’s Letter

Some more Elul reading material for you:

In March 2002 Robi Damelin’s 28 year old son, David, was shot and killed by a Palestinian while serving in the Israeli army. Robi has since become a leader in The Parents’ Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families whose lives have been torn apart by violence and now work together for reconciliation and peace.

As part of her own work, Robi decided to take the courageous step of writing a letter to the mother of the man who killed her son.  I can think of nothing more appropriate to this season of our reconciliation than Robi’s profound words.

An excerpt:

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. This is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person not a saint I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try to find a way to reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe, but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can chose, for if what I say is what I mean it is the only way.

Click below for the entire text:

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