[We are sharing with you today a poem by Rabbi Mike Rothbaum that powerfully addresses Yom HaShoah, the Memorial Day for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Rabbi Rothbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Mass. His poem, as its title points out, treats Yom HaShoah not only as a memorial for them but also as a warning to the future – and not for Jews alone. See my further thoughts along these lines after Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem. -- ED]
A Poem on a Day that I Saw Another Man Learn He Was Being Deported -- A Day that is also Yom haShoah:
By Rabbi Mike Rothbaum
The word/in Hebrew
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Border crossers/cross borders
Hebrews/Jews have been crossing
borders ever/since there have
From Abraham and/Sarah
He and her/up from Ur to
Haran to/Canaan to/Egypt
The Rhine/The Seine/Sana/Seville/
Ellis Island/Long Island/
Long Beach/Miami Beach
And as it is/the time
as it has/been time
order out the/nightmares
the knocks in/the night
that wake the/babies
sew your/soul into
the lining of your/coat
smuggle the children/out
under a heavy/wool blanket
of passion and/principle
and the/borders you
If you’re a Hebrew/Jew
you already know/what this hour means.
Your ancestors saw/it and
they buried it in/your body
for a time/such as now.
a manic/run for it
or see who’s/behind you
the hour/is late
and the Master/of the
You carry in your/hand
Written by the/Eternal
and stamped by/your ancestors
The word/in Hebrew
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Show them the/order
In Pharaoh’s mouth, “ivri” was contemptuous, like “rootless cosmopolites” on Stalin’s tongue (about Jews) and like “wetbacks” in US vernacular, about Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande to enter the United States.
Leaping back three millennia, notice that Pharaoh faced Egyptians who had lost their farms and homes as all power became centralized in Pharaoh's throne. (Gen 47:13-26) They were probably angrily muttering about their dispossession. So Pharaoh distracted them by pointing at a "foreign" community. He warned them about a community of immigrants, “border-crossers,” who spoke a strange language and observed a strange religion. There were too many of them, he said. They might side with Egypt’s enemies and become an internal threat. Even terrorists. Time for genocide. And it was two women -- midwives -- who were the first to birth Resistance. (Exodus I: 8-22)Sound familiar? Just the past?
Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem invites us to see the sacred day of a much more recent “history” as beckoning us to see the possible future. And not just a Jewish future. Walking this path, sacred days become not times for rote recitation of memories, but beacons of deeper spiritual activism for social, cultural, and political transformation.
That is one of the crucial aspects of a living, growing, self-transforming religion and culture. If we do this, members of our communities who have been sleepwalking through our sacred memories or who have out of boredom simply walked away from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can become “woke” to the energy within them. They – we! – can draw on that energy to save our lives and Mother Earth.
In these last weeks, The Shalom Center has joined in reawakening the energy of Dr. King’s wisdom by lifting up his 5Oth death-anniversary and connecting it to the vision of Passover, the agony of Good Friday, and the life-affirming joy of Easter.
We welcome you to read and see what these reawakenings have done:
For an on-line Tikkun Magazine article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Feb 2017, on preparation for MLK’s 50th yahrzeit:
For an online Sojourners magazine essay in March 2018 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on historic crises in 1968 and 2018 and their impact on Freedom Seders:
For a Philadelphia Inquirer report on the relationship between the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder and the sixth annual “Freedom Seder Revisited” program of the National Museum of American Jewish History celebrated in Philadelphia:
For a Washington Post review of the meaning of the original Freedom Seder and a report on the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder celebrated in the Washington DC area:
For the Washington Jewish Week’s coverage of the MLK Interfaith Seder near Washington:
For a long-range view of the meaning and impact and usefulness of the Freedom Seders, old and new, by Rabbi Jeff Salkin for the Religion News Service: <https://religionnews.com/2018/03/29/passover-pesach-haggadah-freedom-seder-waskow/>
For “Why I Wrote the Freedom Seder And Why It’s Still Necessary 50 Years After Dr. King’s Assassination,” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in March 2018: <http://religiondispatches.org/author/arthur_waskow/>
For two reports on a Freedom Seder held in 2018 in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron, by 100 Palestinians and Israelis, and a few American Jews:
Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur