Towards Peace: Never Be Silent
Rosh Hashanah 5783 Prayer for Peace by Alexis Kellum-Creer
Praying for Peace implies a yearning for a sense of serenity and undisturbed calm, and an absence of conflict. Peace is something we, as social beings, yearn for as a mark of our gradual evolution towards perfection. And, particularly amid times of discord and uncertainty, it is important to see the beckoning possibility that Peace may yet prevail within our global community and upon our precious Earth.
But a yearning for peace in our own lives, as an end in itself, can prevent us, both as individuals and collectively, from extending our compassionate action in new directions.
In the face of conflict and upheaval in the world around us, it can be difficult to want to learn more about it. I know I find it tempting to avert my gaze, to avoid learning specifics, and pursue instead the peace of my own inner world, fortifying my mental and spiritual borders with a sense of isolated well-being – The people I love are safe right now, I don’t have the bandwidth to worry about anything else.
By avoiding awareness, I know that I escape responsibility. By the same token, I know that returning to awareness means returning to responsibility.
Turning our careful attention to upheavals in the world around us may well disrupt our personal serenity, but now, more than ever, disruption of our inner peace is necessary in order to take the next step in our progression towards the realization of that ultimate ideal of universal harmony.
We are called upon to pay attention to what is happening in the world – because once we are aware, as Jews, we cannot help but Act.
This Jewish value is one shared in many Indigenous communities, as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Justice Murray Sinclair, challenges us: “Now that we know about it, what are we going to do about it?”
Even now, we settlers are being made aware, across Canada and here in BC, of current and historical injustices, individual and institutional, on a tremendous scale that Jews are uniquely positioned to immediately recognize. These injustices follow an all-too-familiar pattern of Othering and persecution, and manifest in the immeasurable anguish that occurs when a political or cultural identity disregards the dignity of its fellow human beings and becomes blind to their humanity.
During the week of Tisha B’av, I came across this quote from Rabbi Arthur Green:
We know why the first two Temples were destroyed. Let us make sure the third one does not totter due to the great sin of our era, that committed by silent bystanders.1
In the face of injustice, and of the very real possibility of losing a livable world, each of us is now called upon to ask, In what ways might I be unwittingly complicit in the marginalization of my fellow human beings, or in the suffering of our beloved and irreplaceable Earth?
May we find the courage, as part of the blessed opportunity represented by Teshuvah, to examine and question not only the societal structures that are in place around us, but our cultural and our own personal narratives, and to rigorously uproot notions of privilege.
As Canadians and as Jews, my prayer is that we may find the courage to question all of our narratives, to challenge even those cherished stories on which we have been raised; stories that have given us the strength and courage to survive and to thrive; stories that have sustained our ancestors for generations; narratives that we pass down to our children to ensure that they feel beloved, unique, secure, and safe. And yet, because our community understands better than most others the dangers that can lurk inside any story that centres Otherness, I pray that we may also be watchful to ensure that these sustaining and life-giving ideas do not move into exceptionalism or entitlement, either in ourselves or in our children.
This is crucial to our survival, for as Gustav Landauer reminds us, The redemption of the Jew can take place only at the same time as that of humanity.2
So, in this moment, when humanity’s very existence is balanced on a knife’s edge, may we recognize injustice everywhere as an immediate and direct call to action to heal and repair our world and its peoples.
May we be willing to witness all suffering with empathy, whether people are suffering as victims or as perpetrators, remembering that if any suffering is happening on our watch, we cannot escape responsibility.
May we bring comfort and aid to those whose communities have been dispersed, uprooted, vilified, and subjected to exclusion and elimination.
May we reach out in solidarity to those communities while we continue to fortify our own as a stronghold and a beacon of tolerance, of endurance, and of the healing power of love.
May we find the boldness to uncover new ways of offering love and understanding; to extend our empathy into difficult situations; may we ask how we can enlarge our compassion by nourishing our curiosity about situations that defy easy answers.
We who are alive in this moment are entrusted with nothing less than saving and transforming our planet for everyone who comes after us. May we accept this responsibility joyfully, and with eyes wide open not only to the immensity of the peril with which we are faced, but to the promise of the world which, as one common humanity, we can midwife into being. May every nerve and fibre within us be awake to the possibility that this precious earthly kingdom with which we have been blessed can be saved – can only be saved – by us.
Ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer says, All of our flourishing is mutual. 3
Now is the time for us to recognize the spark of the Beloved in the Other. With clear-sighted understanding of the tasks before us, and in trusting relationship with all communities and allies who are choosing to embrace this opportunity – and this responsibility – by taking decisive action. Our collective sparks will become a wave of righteous action that must inevitably prevail over ignorance, brutality, extraction, and extinction.
Having witnessed injustice, experienced injustice, and time and time again survived injustice, may all Jewish communities the world over now bend our every thought and intention to consciously uprooting our own inner peace in order to ecstatically sow Peace elsewhere, for every generation to come.
The final Haftarah of the year centred on this reading from Isaiah, with which I would like to close:
For the sake of Zion I will not be silent,
For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still,
Till her victory emerge resplendent
And her triumph like a flaming torch …
Nevermore shall you be called “Forsaken”,
Nor shall your land be called “Desolate” …
Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen,
Who shall never be silent
By day or by night.
O you, the Lord’s remembrancers,
Take no rest
And give no rest to Him,
Until He establish Jerusalem
And make her renowned on earth…
- Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, p 186
- From the article “Heretical Thoughts”, quoted in Gustav Landauer: Anarchist and Jew, eds. Paul Mendes-Flohr & Anya Mali, p 74
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p 166