When I was a child in public elementary school, every May 1 we would dance around a Maypole, twirling colorful ribbons attached to the pole. My school was merely one among thousands all across America that celebrated a survival of the pagan earthy ceremonies of ancient Britain before the Roman conquest and then Christianity.
In those ancient days, the pole and dancing young girls welcomed Spring with a barely cloaked fertility ritual in which a tree was central. The Puritans of New England outlawed the Maypoles as licentious, though it seems no orgies took place. During my childhood, the American Civil Liberties Union did not protest this merger of religion and the state in our schools.
There is another May Day, more overtly political and much more controversial. Yet at its deepest roots it is connected with the early May Day. Most US businesses, governments, and even labor unions have treated its presence on American soil as a foreign invasion. But it was born right here. And it has taken on new energy in our own American generation.
In 1884, at its national convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886."
Workers all across the country struck and demonstrated for the 8-hour day. It took more than 50 years to become US law, and still gets eroded or ignored for farm workers, domestic workers, “contractors” like Uber drivers, etc.
Why do I think the two May Days may have the same roots? Because in Spring the blossoms rise up against winter, and the people rise up against pharaoh, boss, commissar.
Passover -- the festival of simplest matzah from new-growth barley, of newborn lambs, and of a newborn people seeking freedom through Exodus. Freedom is always new, unknown – – growing beyond the Tight and Narrow Place to be reborn. The festive festival to chant the Song of Songs, an erotic poem led by women who probably danced under a Tree, a Pole.
The Song Beyond All Songs, voted by the Sanhedrin to be included in the Hebrew Bible on the day when its members forced their tyrannical Chairman to resign.
Both May Days joined at the root.
It is no accident, then, that May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the day when four nonviolent student protesters opposing the US War Against Vietnam were killed by troops of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. Rabbi Lee Moore, a member of the Board of The Shalom Center, will be leading an online Shabbat morning prayer service in their memory, and to honor all of those traumatized by the events of Kent and Jackson State – a Black university in Mississippi where two students were killed several days later for similarly protesting the war.
She will lead the service at 10 am on Shabbat, May 2, in a traditional, yet accessible Jewish format will offer simple Hebrew prayers with English explanations and transliterations. The service will be musical, contemplative, and connective.
Rabbi Lee Moore was born and raised in Kent, attending nearly every May 4th Memorial in the 1970's, 80's and beyond. She returned to Kent after her ordination in 2010 to serve as the Rabbi at Kent State's Hillel for seven years. She is an inspiring prayer leader (even on Zoom) and currently serves as the Interim Spiritual Leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community in Vermont. People of all backgrounds are warmly invited to join her and the BAJC to honor Shabbat and this important history that has shaped all of us.
To join, use this Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/4300550548
Or dial in to (312) 626-6799 or
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aDGFQQLVR
What is a gorgeous Spring day without a song of hope and joy? Insurgent Spring and Insurgent Humanity are joined at the root in this song, woven to fit the melody and rhymes of the socialist Internationale, while celebrating a more loving revolution:
The Earth Internationale
(New words by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)
Arise, ye prisoners of pollution;
Arise, ye poisoned of the Earth!
We dance to make a revolution—
A joyful world’s in birth!
No more the corporate smoke shall blind us,
We can hear the trees and oceans call --
Humankind amid Earth's breathing life-forms—
Together we are all!
As we face the crisis of all history,
Let us rise to heal our Place.
To save our deeply wounded planet
We must wake the human race!
[Creative Commons Copyright (c) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow 2018;
to be freely used with inclusion of this notice.]
Time to sing -- and to act. In this time of Coronaplague, the Hyperwealthy are bailed out and the Plague is turned into a war against the American poor -- made to suffer even worse than usual:
Good yontif! And blessings for a May Day and months to come of joyful uprising -- Arthur