Hallelu Avdei Adonai

This chant, which comes from Iraqi Jewish tradition, uses the phrase “Praise God, Servants of God” from Psalm 113:1 as a chorus and acrostic verses highlighting attributes of God: Mightiest of the mighty, Blessed among blessed, Greatest of the great…Guardian among guardians, Sustainer among sustainers. Here is a captioned version of the chant as presented in the 2000 “Tuning the Soul: Worlds of Jewish Sacred Music,” from Richard Kaplan & Michael Ziegler.

This video adapts, with permission, the one found on Kaplan’s YouTube channel by adding the lyrics with no other changes.

A note on teachers and transmission: I first learned the chant from Amy Smith and Bill Savedoff who taught it to Fabrangen Havurah for the high holidays years ago. Members of Fabrangen reported hearing the tune from a nearby synagogue when they were living in Jerusalem and helped our son share it during the service when he was bar mitzvah….again, years back. This video was prepared to share with Hill Havurah, 5781/2021. But a video with the fast-paced lyrics might be of use to many.

Whence Comes Help: After Tisha B’av

With Tisha B’av behind us, we are meant to be climbing upward, from the calendar’s deepest point, toward the new year. But how can we begin the climb while disasters mount around us and reasons to mourn continue to grow? Psalm 121 speaks to a moment such as this. I’ve found myself turning again and again in recent days to the Nefesh Mountain version of “Esa Einai.” And to this idea that there is stability, despite the constant change…even the mountains are shifting:

“Change is ceaseless, and transformation knows no pause. The dynamism both exhilarates and exhausts the spirit; no wonder that we seek stability amidst this endless process.” Thus writes R’ Everett Gendler in a commentary on Psalm 121. He then suggests that Psalm 121’s expression “mei-ayin” — usually translated as “from where?” — carries “echoes of the Creative Nothingness, the Divine Void, the AYIN” and that God’s four-letter Name [YHVH] hints at “stability amidst ceaseless process.” (Full comment found in Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim. Reconstructionist Press, 1996, p.215.)

Thanks to Nefesh Mountain for creating their uplifting music, and for permission to share their “Esa Einai” along with this commentary as part of an effort to begin looking upward.

Learn more about Nefesh Mountain, and check out their newest album, “Songs for the Sparrows,” just released in June.

Eicha for my city and others, 5781

1
Alas! How lonely sits the city
Once great with joyful people!
New horrors fill horizons now
while old pain never left
Each new loss diminishes
the streets themselves bereft

Bitterly we weep all night
cheeks wet with tears unseen
If we are to join together,
we must widen this choir of woe
When some cries are background noise
what’s the meaning of “friend” and “foe”?

City crying out with loss:
six-year-old child shot to death
joining a list, far too long,
of youth killed in past years.
Community grief so deep for some
while others escape most tears.

Down our roads, more peril
desolation, violence, fear
systems that crush and jail
separate, cage, and hate
Borders come in many shapes
Too often closed, that welcome gate

Evidence mounts. But do we act?
ICE camps remain; racism persists.
Policing prospers, yet safety eludes
Some thrive, while too many do without.
Must we ignore some of our truths
in chasing a joint goal to shout?

Forging coalition is struggle, tougher in anguish.
Inside affliction, can we hear another cry?
It is painful and complex, but we must keep trying
trying to heed the whole sound
I know you can hear it, God once declared loudly:
that voice of a sibling crying up from the ground

–V. Spatz, songeveryday.org CC-BY-SA


Back in 2019, a number of Jewish communities were marking Tisha B’av with vigils and protests, attempting to demonstrate that Jews will not turn our backs on refugees arriving in this country and on immigrant neighbors already here. The original “Eichah: for my city and maybe for yours” (2019) asked us to consider the following:

  • Recognize many ways our country has long separated families, caged and brutalized people?
  • Cry with our local, national and international communities, refugees and not, who lend different voices to the chorus of “How lonely sits this place!”?
  • Send prayer energy to our many beleaguered communities, near and far?
  • Commit to exploring, in the days to come, ways in which we are complicit in so much suffering and ways we might take up action for repair?

On this Tisha B’av, 7/18/21, DC-area Jews please acknowledge:

  • Nyiah Courtney, age 6, shot to death in Ward 8 on 7/16/21 (the 108th homicide in DC, 2021)

And remember:

  • Makiyah Wilson, age 10, shot to death in Ward 7 on 7/16/18
  • Karon Brown, age 11, shot to death in Ward 8 on 7/18/19

Here is the 2019 version, “Eichah: for my city and maybe for yours.” And here is a PDF to use and share of this version.

Reparations Background

New page, just posted, shares resources about reparations, from Jewish and non-Jewish or more general sources. REPARATIONS RESOURCES

RECONSTRUCTIONIST NEWS: Save the Date – Day of Learning on Reparations Join Reconstructing Judaism for a Day of Learning on the topic of reparations as we move into the month of Elul on Aug. 8 starting at 11 a.m. EDT. Stay tuned for more information and a link to register for this event! — from ReconstructingJudaism.org

REFORM NEWS: The Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution on studying the issue. The resolution itself includes some background and references. The resolution then called for Reform congregations and members to support HR40; to “take active steps to redress the destructive effects of historic and ongoing systemic racism, including through education…”; and to commit to “assessment and evaluation to strengthen our own institutions’ efforts to combat implicit and explicit bias and promote racial equity.” There must be a report somewhere on what congregations and members have done in response in the ensuing year and half; will share when found.

See also —

Remembering and Reckoning

“Until That Day: What Are We?”

A first draft, April 17, 2021 of a poem in response to Yehuda Amichai’s “And Who Will Remember the Rememberers?” (associated with Israel’s Memorial Day, 4th of Iyar) — V. Spatz


“Until That Day: What Are We?”

Verses for a Day We Don’t Yet Have,

have yet to acknowledge we need.

Generations of memory-veterans stagger

with weights carried by elders and ancestors

and boulders we watch children try to bear.

The current generation of fresh loss has members

of ripe old age who mourn alongside children

some still in a school team’s bright colors.

Who, beyond the circles of near loss, acknowledge the rememberers?

//

How does a monument come into being?

A bullet shatters a life and a lamppost sprouts

flowers and stuffed animals, balloons and banners.

A mirror’s adornment or a headlight’s unblinking stare

lead onto a road some call “hope,” but too many know as “dread.”

Vigil upon vigil and protest unending, the battle never recedes,

and tears rarely dry in some communities

while others pause now and then to note the numbers

maybe read the names.

But who, beyond the circles of near loss, acknowledge the remembers?

And where is that national day of reckoning

as yet unimagined?

//

How would we stand on such a day?

Erect or stooped, in mourning or guilt.

Collective protest of death lost in recognition

of our long participating in a system that kills.

//

Every joyful birth sends another child into a jumble,

a landscape lush with potential deaths:

“They looked suspicious.” “I thought it was my taser.”

“I feared for my life.” “I gave 12 seconds of thought.”

When, beyond the circles of near loss, will we truly acknowledge

Adam Toledo, James Lionel Johnson, Dominique Williams,

Rakia Boyd, Terrence Sterling, Anthony Louis,

LaQuan McDonald, India Kager, Oscar Grant,

Archie Williams, Gary Hopkins Jr., Alonzo Fiero Smith…

Can we ever truly mourn and still continue to live

in a system that kills this way?

Until we all remember the rememberers

until we all stand in a day of reckoning,

what are we?

If one is unprotected: a prayer for DC and beyond

As the District of Columbia begins absorbing crowds seeking to engage in “wild protest,” DC’s mayor is asking locals to “stay home” or “stay out of the downtown area.” Community and religious leaders were encouraged to share the “stay home and stay safe” message.

The DC Council’s statement also urges people to avoid protest areas but includes some nuance: “We recognize that downtown is home to residents and businesses whose rights must be respected and protected as we work to keep all safe, including residents who are currently homeless,” they write, asking the mayor and police to prioritize the protection of these groups.

Black Lives Matter-DC, earlier issued a call “asking all DC residents to hold the city officials and businesses accountable” for the failure to oppose white supremacist attacks in November and December. In addition, their statement “also calls upon Black and brown people, if possible, to avoid Trump support rallies and actions. They ask that Black and brown residents stay alert and vigilant during the upcoming white supremacist invasion.” Full statement here —

With these three calls in mind, and in solidarity with religious institutions who are attempting to respond to the threats, I share this prayer. It is based on one from Jewish morning prayers:


Blessed is THE SOURCE OF ALL, who forms humans in wisdom, with possibilities for communication and connection. Before the vastness and weight of THE DIVINE, we recognize and acknowledge essential networks, within us and around. Any disruption or blockage threatens survival and health of the whole.

None of us are free, if one of us is chained.

We are never truly safe, if one is unprotected.

Amid sources of division, keep us mindful of interconnectedness, collective responsibility and strength.

Blessed is THE HEALER and THE SUSTAINER of ALL CONNECTION.

For a more visual presentation, here’s a JPG with the text on a background image of a network, with denser connections at center. Text is identical to that above; image is by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Here’s a PDF with background image and full text for easier sharing.

Psalms for Contemplation

Excited to share news of a new publication, Psalms for Contemplation: Invitation to an Intimate Reading of Selections from 36 Psalms, by Max D. Ticktin (z”l, 1922-2016), edited and introduced by Deborah McCants and Ruth Ticktin. Preface: Rabbi Edward Feld. Poetica Publishing, Dec. 2020.

Video overview of Psalms for Contemplation by Max Ticktin

More about Max Ticktin and the book

Doubled Sacred Space

Sacredness is a tricky concept, made more complicated when a single place or story, concept or ritual is prominent in more than one belief system. Throughout history, conflict around sacred visions has led to much violence. An example is unfolding today in the U.S. capital.

For months now, the District has been home to an informal memorial to individuals killed by police, as well as related artwork and signage in support of Black Lives Matter. Names and pictures of those lost had been posted with loving care over the last five months, and many thousands made pilgrimages, some regularly, over the months.

The weekend of Nov. 13-16, protesters with the #MillionMAGAMarch and related demonstrations destroyed the memorial, while actively disparaging those it honors. This was accomplished with the acquiescence, and sometimes assistance, of DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). And this destruction, and MPD’s participation, has been met with silence on the part of DC leaders….and, so far, most of our faith communities as well.

The memorial is under reconstruction….meanwhile, here is (STILL DRAFT) background of the fence, pictures of what happened over Nov. 13-16, and a call to attention and action.

Multiple Folds on BLM Plaza

Conflict over sacred space appears in the story of Abraham, in the Hebrew Bible, seeking a tomb for his deceased wife, Sarah (Gen 23:1ff). The spot he chooses is “Me’arat Ha-machpelah.” Me’arah is a cave (or den). The root — כפל [kaphal] — in Hebrew means “fold” or “double.” Traditional etymology suggests that the cave’s name reflects the burying of couples (Biblically, Sarah and Abraham; Isaac and Rebecca; Jacob and Leah, with Rachel buried elsewhere; Talmud and later text includes Adam and Eve) or that it was composed of two chambers, either side-by-side or an upper and a lower. The doubling, or folding, also appears in other aspects of this story and sheds some light on the BLM memorial conflict.

In the process of negotiating, Abraham declares himself “גר־וְתוֹשב [ger-v’toshav] — “stranger” and “resident” — which is a kind of folding in this one individual’s status. Likewise, DC folks might be residents, on the one hand, and simultaneously strangers in public spaces where we are excluded from full representation; some visitors here for the MAGA events, on the other hand, might be strangers in DC neighborhoods, while simultaneously appearing to feel at home, even proprietary, in public spaces.

Abraham negotiates to purchase the cave and the surrounding land and trees. Eventually, the field and cave are confirmed as Abraham’s, “from the children of Heth.” This transfer results in a kind of double identity: It’s Abraham’s and it’s former Hittite property. A similar pattern shows up in many layers at BLM Plaza: On one level, it’s part of the L’Enfant plan for the U.S. government seat and it’s Anacostan/Piscataway land. On another, it’s District property and a response to the White House. It’s both a mayoral action and the people’s response to that action. The horizontal stripes are part of a DC flag and remnants of an equal sign, simultaneously a city-sanctioned design and a reminder of the guerilla “DEFUND THE POLICE” briefly equated with “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” (“BLACK LIVES MATTER = DEFUND THE POLICE,” lasted a single day before the city repainted.)

Another “doubling” can be seen in the dual nature of the historical Machpelah site (in the city of Hebron): known simultaneously as “Tomb of the Patriarchs” and as “Ibrahimi Mosque,” the site is recognized as sacred to both Jews and Muslims. In a somewhat similar vein, we see several “doublings” of meaning for BLM Plaza and Memorial Fence.

The yellow paint has one meaning for the movement for Black lives and another for DC’s mayor; trying to honor both at once results in serious conflict and insult to one vision or the other: On the one hand, consider again how the predominantly white Nov. 7 celebration was experienced as erasure by BLM supporters; on the other hand, protesters have faced months of police violence, suggesting that the mayor’s vision for BLM Plaza must be something quite different from BLM-led action.

Mayor Bowser has been sued for allowing a “cult for secular humanism” by plaintiffs who argue that the BLM Plaza “equates to endorsing a religion.” Brought by a small group, the suit represents a larger movement, in- and outside of DC, believing the yellow paint a provocation for those who “Back the Blue.” Other “Back the Blue” supporters declare no value in the lives memorialized on the fence, seek to actively erase anything associated with them, and join the current president in treating Black Lives Matter as “terrorists.” They are actively trying to reclaim the space for their vision of the United States.

Abraham negotiates in front of a gathering at the city’s gate. Do we have a “city gate” for considering the BLM Plaza conflict?

Abraham never has to argue for Sarah’s humanity. What does it say about DC and the nation, if we are silent while memorials are dismantled amid calls of “time to take out the trash”?


PS — this was written (and I thought, posted) a few days back; must have failed to hit “publish.” Sorry for delay.

For those so inclined “Protect the Fence” gofundme.