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, our Creator of 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. 

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.

Healing Prayer for a Time of Pandemic

AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

May the One who blesses all life bless those who are ill with a refuah sheleimah – complete healing of body and spirit. May they find the strength to move safely through this time of fear and pain, dis-ease and uncertainty. May their loved ones find comfort through the love of their families, friends, and communities.

Let us faithfully support our health professionals who put their own lives at risk to treat their patients. May we do what we must to ensure that scientists and researchers have the resources they need to diagnose illness and prevent its spread.

Let us demand that our leaders and officials honor the public trust we’ve entrusted to them by prioritizing the health of our communities. May we forever fight for the well-being of those whom our government has left behind: communities of color, the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the uninsured.

And when this pandemic is over – may it happen bimheira b’yameinu – soon in our day – let us commit to building at long last a society that takes responsibility for the health of all who dwell in our midst.

Ken Yehi Ratzon – may this be your will.

Ken Yehi Retzoneynu – may this be our will.

And let us say,

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.

Observing Passover in an Age of Pandemic

kadesh

I am currently working on a scaled down seder for Tzedek Chicago to use for Passover (via web conferencing) this year. Here’s a taste of my work in progress: an introduction to be read before the first component of the seder, known as Kadesh (the Festival Kiddish):

From the narrow place I called out to God, who answered me with wide open spaces. (Psalm 118:5)

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?

Let’s begin here: now more than ever, we must affirm Passover’s teaching that liberation is not only possible, but inevitable. We know from nature that spring will invariably follow winter. We know from history that the oppressed do not remain oppressed forever. So too, we know in our hearts and minds that one day we will eventually make it through this narrow place of pandemic and emerge into “wide open spaces.”

But as we also learn from our Passover story: this emergence never happens easily. It cannot happen without real struggle and hard work. We know that there will be causalities. We know, tragically, that the number of casualties is rising dramatically even as we gather together tonight. And while we know there is a new world waiting for us, we don’t yet know how many of us will make it there – or what that world will actually look like when we arrive.

For now, however, we do know this: like the Israelites of our story, we will not make it through without each other. So too, if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it is the lesson that was learned so painfully by the Israelites in our story: that we are all in this together. That my liberation is irrevocably bound up with yours. And that in the midst of the narrow place, there is no other way but forward.

So as we lift the cup to another Passover, let this be our blessing:

Blessed is the One who shows us how to stand together.
Blessed is the One who inspires us to show up for one another.
Blessed is the One who leads us all toward the wide-open spaces of a new day.

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.

psalm 95: dream of victory

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tonight we sing of victory:
a joyous delirious melody
to the moment we’re dreaming of,
the world we’re struggling for,
the place where deliverance has been
patiently awaiting our arrival.

tonight we sing out to a power
greater than any we can possibly imagine,
our jubilant notes of praise
guiding us like breadcrumbs over impossible,
impassable mountain peaks, through
the narrowest of narrow spaces
where creation once wrenched land from sea.

with wild abandon we’ll praise
the love that has nurtured us,
the strength that has somehow sustained us,
the journey that has been leading
to this one timeless moment.

for too long we’ve been stumbling
through the wilderness
hardening our hearts in doubt,
fearfully shutting our eyes to wonders
we’ve never dared imagine, to the signposts
that might otherwise show us the way.

so let’s stand down the voices
that whisper of our unworthiness,
we are the ones whose song
cannot not be silenced,
the ones who fight back and win, yes
we are the generation that
crosses over to the place
of joy everlasting.

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.