Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Avenge. Redress. Vote Democratic.

More Lessons, More Commentary: This has been a terrible week in the history of Jews, in the history of America, and in the history of Jews in America.

Many different people - Jews, non-Jews, Americans, Citizens of the World - have reacted to the Pittsburgh Pogrom, the Tree of Life Massacre, in many different ways.

Most have stressed the theme Stronger Than Hate. That is, Love Is Stronger Than Hate. Abq Jew takes little consolation in this sentiment.

So Abq Jew has turned to the traditional Jewish liturgy.

Av HaRachamim (אב הרחמים‬ "Father of mercy" or "Merciful Father") is a Jewish memorial prayer which was written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, after the destruction of the Ashkenazi communities around the Rhine River by Christian crusaders during the First Crusade. 
First appearing in prayer books in 1290, it is printed in every Orthodox siddur in the European traditions of Nusach Sefarad and Nusach Ashkenaz and recited as part of the weekly Shabbat services, or in some communities on the Shabbat before Shavuot and Tisha B'Av.
The Yizkor service on Jewish holidays concludes with the Av HaRachamim, which prays for the souls of all Jewish martyrs.
Here is an English translation of the prayer.
The Father of mercy who dwells on high
in His great mercy
will remember with compassion
the pious, upright and blameless
the holy communities, who laid down their lives
for the sanctification of His name.  
They were loved and pleasant in their lives
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions
to carry out the will of their Maker,
and the desire of their steadfast God.  
May our Lord remember them for good
together with the other righteous of the world 
Up till here, these are very nice, uplifting sentiments. If you're in the mood for Stronger Than Hate - if you find it comforting - you should stop here.

But Av HaRachamin continues.
And may He redress the spilled blood of His servants
as it is written in the Torah of Moses the man of God:  
"O nations, make His people rejoice
for He will redress the blood of His servants
He will retaliate against His enemies
and appease His land and His people".  
And through Your servants, the prophets it is written: 
"Though I forgive, their bloodshed I shall not forgive
When God dwells in Zion". 
And in the Holy Writings it says: 
"Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?'"  
Let it be known among the nations in our sight
that You avenge the spilled blood of Your servants.  
And it says: 
"For He who exacts retribution for spilled blood remembers them
He does not forget the cry of the humble".  
And it says:  
"He will execute judgement among the corpse-filled nations
crushing the rulers of the mighty land;
from the brook by the wayside he will drink
then he will hold his head high".

Redress and retaliate.
Avenge and render vengeance.

George Washington in the Oval Office. Doug Mills/The New York Times

Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times, endorses
George Washington for President
Patriots put love of their own people first, while nationalists put hate for other people first. 
Dear Reader. I think you know, after 23 years of my writing this column, that I’m not lazy. I always try to come up with fresh ideas. 
Today, though, I am fresh out of fresh ideas. 
More than any time in my career, I think our country is in danger. It has a disturbed man as president, whose job description — to be a healer of the country in times of great national hurt and to pull us together to do big hard things that can be done only together — conflicts with his political strategy, which is to divide us and mobilize his base with anger and fear. And time and again he has chosen the latter.
Mr Friedman calls for constructive action to avenge the blood. All the blood.
In the midterm elections, vote for a Democrat, canvass for a Democrat, raise money for a Democrat, drive someone to a voting station to vote for a Democrat
I repeat: In the midterm elections, vote for a Democrat, canvass for a Democrat, raise money for a Democrat, drive someone to a voting station to vote for a Democrat. 
I repeat: In the midterm elections, vote for a Democrat, canvass for a Democrat, raise money for a Democrat, drive someone to a voting station to vote for a Democrat. 
Beyond that, nothing else matters. 
He then cedes "the rest of his space"
... to President George Washington and the letter he wrote, after a visit to Newport, R.I., where he was enthusiastically received by, among others, members of the local Jewish community. It was dated Aug. 18, 1790. [You can read the full text here.]
But the key part - which we all know by heart is
For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. 
The letter ends with his blessing
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. 
May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
Finally - the protests in Pittsburgh, when the president and his entourage showed up - uninvited, and expressly told (as much as one can tell this president anything) not to appear - to "pay their respects" to the dead and injured Jews.

You may have wondered - what is that chant they're chanting? Well, Abq Jew is happy (as happy as he can be under the circumstances) to tell you.

The words, of course come from The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15). And, it turns out, the melody comes from New Mexico's Rabbi Shefa Gold.

Rabbi Shefa Gold
Rabbi Shefa Gold develops and leads Hebrew chants based on Jewish sacred texts for transformative spiritual growth.
With her focus on Hebrew chanting, Rabbi Shefa presents workshops based on chanting, ecstatic meditation, and Jewish subjects. Also, she is available for performing services as a rabbi. She developed and taught the Kol Zimra Chant Leaders’ Training program (through ALEPH) for many years.
May Rabbi Shefa's chant bring us peace,
as we prepare for the first Shabbat
after the Pittsburgh Pogrom.

Abq Jew does not use the word pogrom lightly or without forethought.

Stanford University's Steven Zipperstein (with whom, Abq Jew fondly recalls, he used to play guitar at UCLA Hillel in the 1970s,) writes:
Pogrom: The word's origins can be traced to the Russian for thunder or storm. A dark remnant of the Old World, it retains the capacity to feel as immediate as yesterday's outrage on morning services in Jerusalem
"The sight of Jews lying dead in a Jerusalem synagogue, their prayer-shawls and holy books drenched in pools of blood, might be drawn from the age of pogroms in Europe." -The Economist, November 22, 2014.
But we were talking about peace and harmony.

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