This morning in synagogue I delivered this (reblogged below) as a sermon, with some slight changes. We had a Bat Mitzvah service for a young woman who, in a stunningly beautiful moment, received a tallit from her grandmother and recited the prayer below at the start of our service:
The Gift of Women
May God who remembered Sarah, remember us with blessing.
May God who prophesied to Rebecca, give us vision in our time.
May God who answered Leah, sustain the family of Israel.
May God who heard Rachel, help us in our need.
May God who honoured Shiphra and Puah, support all who resist oppression.
May God who healed Miriam, bring healing to those in pain.
May God who restored Naomi, bring comfort to those who mourn.
May God who guided Abigail, bring wisdom to those in conflict.
May God who responded to Hannah, bring redemption to our world.
(Taken from the Siddur: Forms of Prayer of the Movement for Reform Judaism, p. 158)
We also had an aufruf (call up prior to a wedding) for a couple to be married tomorrow.
After a terrible week for the world with acts of terror perpetrated in multiple places killing tens of people, I felt that both these simchas (joyful occasions) of lifecycle moments are symbols of hope and joy.
Afterwards I was asked about the reality of the violent and horrific crimes committed against people and the rising tide of antisemitism and bigotry. This came on reflection after a person said they sat on a train opposite a young veiled Muslim woman who was carrying a rucksack – the person talking to me told me how she deliberately overcame her fear and mistrust and remained seated opposite her.
That’s part of my point really – our default position is now that we automatically suspect people we meet and people we hear about of malign intentions. Of course there are terribly bad things that happen to people and that are perpetrated by others, but there has to be a counter voice to the overwhelming voice of negativity and mistrust. Otherwise the scales are disastrously imbalanced.
That’s the gift that Mira Awad gave us in her concert.
הַשְׁכִּיבֵֽנוּ יהוה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ לְשָׁלוֹם וְהַעֲמִידֵֽנוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ לְחַיִּים
וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ
Source of our life and our Sovereign, cause us to lie down in peace, and rise again to enjoy life.
Spread over us the covering of Your peace.(Evening service liturgy)
I’m about the same age as Mira Awad and our families have histories that are microcosmic reflections of the 20th century. Her Palestinian family were dispossessed in the birth of the State of Israel. My family were migrants, fleeing hardship and antisemitism in Eastern Europe in the turn of the 20th century and then dispossessed refugees fleeing the rise of Nazism in the mid-20th century. She and I have every reason to feel bereft of hope for humanity because the scars of family trauma run deep through the generations. Yet, I discovered quite the opposite as I sat with…
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