“How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Our Rise from Rubble ritual started inside the Church Center for the United Nations yesterday with this sad song, words from the Psalms, just as resonant now as they must have been then for the exiled Judean poet on the banks of the rivers of Babylon.
How do we translate our legacy of loss and longing, so much Jewish suffering condensed into one fast day, to a global group of humans seeking ways to fix the broken pieces of our world?
Lab/Shul took a risk this year and adapted the fast of the Ninth of Av to the rubble of our larger reality – Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ teens, Islamphobia and domestic abuse, political violence and strife. All are temples shattered, rubble of visions and dreams gone awry, worthy of mending. We quoted Isaiah’s prophetic call, “‘make this a day to break off every shackle”.
By 3pm, mid-heat wave, the Church Center started filling with people of different faiths and color, some with Jewish prayer shawls and some in Christian clergy robes, some fasting, some not, all marking together the saddest day on the Jewish calendar as a shared human moment of loss. The ritual included live music, liturgy, reflections and conversation. Muslim and Christian voices, Zen meditation, Storahtelling style Torah verses telling us of second chances to rebuild trust, candles lit, slogans written out with prophetic calls for justice: a powerful and inclusive way to rise together.
Lab/Shul was created on the fast of the Ninth of Av four years ago. Our first gathering in a sweltering room downtown was created with the intention of starting from what’s broken so that we could rebuild together into the High Holy Day Season and the rest of our lives.
Four years later, with allies and partners, community regulars and new faces, we gathered to focus on the rubble of today and the tools for rising to the challenge of a better reality for all.
One highlight: listening to Yazmine Nichols, a passionate seminarian at Union Theological Seminary and a leader within the Black Lives Matter community, as she quoted Elie Wiesel’s Night and urged us not to silence the prophetic voices among us who are calling for radical empathy and change. After the ritual we spoke about what binds us and where we and our communities have a ways to go in standing together, shoulder to shoulder, for justice, not just on big holy days but all year round. I shared with her some of the tensions in the Jewish community in reaction to the recent Movement for Black Lives platform and its strong condemnation of Israel. She shared with me some of her thoughts and how good it would be if brothers and sisters could sit together to listen, share, dream, rise to the challenge.
I carried the Torah Scroll to the Isaiah Wall where hallowed words are carved in stone, as bystanders and onlookers paused to notice the strange procession of people in religious garbs and hand written signs gathered, singing “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” Some joined us. Others pulled out phones to capture the moment. Others watched from afar on Facebook Live. Our message was sent forth – live and virtual, poetic and prophetic and spontaneous – rising together to name the shame and sadness and commit to change.
The Ninth of Av marks the start of our High Holy Days. From the broken, within each of us and in the world, we rise to rebuild and renew both the year and our lives. We are committed to continue the multi-faith rising that we co-created yesterday not only this coming Yom Kippur at our Interfaith Prayer for Peace but all year round. And as this sacred work continues, it is so good to know that budding friendships, collaborative spirits, and voices harmonizing in song, silence and story can help the work continue so that, as Rabbi Kerry Chaplin reminded us yesterday – “Justice and Peace will kiss soon,” and often.
I am grateful to all the hands and hearts that helped co-create yesterday’s ritual and call for justice. So much talent and love in one space.
So let us gather together soon and often again In peace, respect and gratitude: May we rise from the rubble in joy and focus – together.
– Amichai Lau-Lavie