Dear friends, Yesterday I reported that P’nai Or of Philadelphia, a Jewish-renewal congregation led by Rabbi Marcia Prager and blessed with a strong tikkun-olam (“Heal the World”) committee, will carry the Prophet Isaiah into the streets on Yom Kippur.
The crucial Prophetic reading for Yom Kippur is a passage of Isaiah in which he warns that fasting is not the point of the Great Fast --- justice and compassion are the point. Only when the whole society descends to the depths – – actively standing with the poor, the outcasts, the desperate – – can the whole society rise to experience the spiritual heights of Shabbat, the sabbatical year, God’s radiance. (For an “awoke” translation of the Isaiah passage, see <https://theshalomcenter.org/isaiah-lives-challenge-yom-kippur>)
Although time is short for other congregations to plan this kind of action before this Friday evening when Yom Kippur begins, it may still be possible. So I thought it might be useful to provide the crucial graphics and instruments by which P’nai Or will step forward -– literally! -- to pose a challenge in Isaiah’s name. And congregations of other faiths and traditions might consider this or some analogous action.
First, a leaflet to explain what will be happening and invite congregants to take part. (For those who don’t choose to, prayers will continue inside the synagogue.)
TODAY we will hear the words of Isaiah
after the Torah service:
“Let the oppressed
Break off every yoke!
Share your bread
with the hungry.
Do not hide yourself
THIS YEAR, LET’S TURN THESE WORDS INTO ACTION AS WE
BECOME MODERN DAY ISAIAHS!
ALL WHO ARE ABLE WILL MARCH FROM OUR SHUL
INTO PUBLIC SPACE AT NEARBY SHOPS & STORES --
TO SPEAK OUT ABOUT CURRENT YOKES OF OPPRESSION
(APPROXIMATELY 3:00-4:00 PM)
Several members will speak out about actions we can take this year to promote social justice in the Delaware Valley. All those who march can participate as witnesses and by handing out information to shoppers.
This year, we will also share a collaboration with the High Point Café which will be collecting donations
for food for the poor and homeless of our city.
Those who remain at shul will send us off with blessings and continue with the Yizkor ritual where small groups share events in their lives that were joyous and those that brought grief.
We on the march will gather to observe Yizkor outside for our beloveds and for those who have died this year in the name of social justice and due to hurricanes and earthquakes.
We will return to join in El Maley Rachamim, the memorial prayer for the dead, with the whole community.
And here is what the community will carry when its members walk forth. One congregant, Tobie Hoffmn, stands before the Ark and the Torah Scroll, holding one of the placards of Isaiah’s teachings:
Why is this happening?
We are living in a moment of American history when the power of the US government is devoted not to compassion but to contempt; not to justice but to subjugation. Many different American communities have worked out ways of publicly condemning and resisting this attempt to fasten despotism on a free people:
· Women marched in defiant millions on the day after the Inauguration of a President given to bodily sexual abuse and political hostility to women’s rights.
· Thousands gathered at airports to welcome immigrants and refugees who had been barred by the new government.
· Football and basketball players have taken to kneeling instead of standing for the “National Anthem,” to challenge endemic racism, police violence, and the contempt poured on peaceful protest by the President.
· And for Jews, as the Days of Awe and spiritual Transformation come alive in the spirals of our calendar, many rabbis and congregations have drawn on ancient and recent Jewish wisdom to speak out in love of immigrants, in pursuit of racial justice, in support of underpaid and overworked workers, in commitment to heal the sick, in affirmation of religious freedom for Muslims as well as Jews, in concern about the devastation that global scorching is visiting through flooded cities and countries, parched crops, and desperate famines.
Mostly this speaking-out has been happening within the walls of synagogues. P’nai Or of Philadelphia decided to encourage its Yom Kippur congregants who chose, to take another step –- literally.
Torah teaches that thousands of years ago, Abraham began his great adventure when he heard the Call to “Lech l’cha! Walk forth into your deepest self!”
Isaiah walked into the midst of a crowd that thought it was obeying the rules of fasting for Yom Kippur, calling out to them to feed the hungry and break off the handcuffs of those imprisoned by injustice —and he kept walking and speaking even when some in the crowd shook their fists at him and threatened violence.
Just fifty years ago, Abraham Joshua Heschel understood the Selma March for racial justice as a time when “My legs were praying.”
So some who gather at P’nai Or on Yom Kippur to chant and fast and bring food to feed the poor of the city will also walk forth into their deepest selves, carrying the words of Isaiah into public space.
May their legs be prayer, their message be heard, and may all American houses of worship and justice and compassion and healing walk forth into their deepest selves.