Here’s a new liturgical element we’re trying out, in the slot for Blessing for Redemption. We sang in between the chunk of lines, because singing/chanting helps our minds and hearts and mouths and breath get back in sync with one another. This is what we sang, a rewrite of a familiar line:
אַדֹנָי שְׂפְתַּי תִּפְתָּח
וּפִי יַגִּד הַאֶמֶת
Adonai sefatie tiftach
ufi yagid haemet
God, open up my lips
and my mouth will proclaim the truth
This time around, we read these lines one per person, or one line per one or two people. We also left space to add our own lines, which went on for some time, as we all clearly have so much anger about this stored up. Talking about it afterward, we all agreed it was very cathartic to say these truths aloud within prayer space and in a moment tied to the idea of redemption.
The wording here is very carefully chosen (of course!). The trilogy of witness, silence, and complicity carries emotional, historical, and legal weight. The idea that Jews were silent, somehow “went like lambs to the slaughter” and didn’t resist the rise of the Nazis is a lie, but its implication continues to appear as the U.S. Left makes comparison to the our politics and the rise of fascism. For me, in my mid-50’s now, the shouted truth “Silence = Complicity” is so deeply ingrained in my understanding of how resistance and language work that I don’t even feel the need to add the word “complicity” to the opening formula – it’s there in the word silence, how can anyone not know that?
“Witness” is a double word play here. There are two kinds of witness in Jewish law, both of which are also there in English usage but more subtlety. There are testifying witnesses, those who see something happen and testify as to details and veracity. Then there are attesting witnesses, a legal role without which certain legal proceedings can’t be valid – a wedding isn’t real without witnesses. In my opening formula the word witness carries both meanings. We are attesting to the illegal status of these crimes as we are affirming that we have directly and personally seen them happen. We’re also creating a legal witnessing of our own resistance – if, in the future, we are charged with having been complicit, our witnessing here will be evidence that we were not silent.
Lest in the future our silence be held as witness against us we say:
It is wrong to turn away people fleeing violence.
It is wrong to imprison people who have done no wrong.
It is wrong to deny shelter to those in most dire need
It is wrong to replace asylum with incarceration.
It is wrong to steal children to force parents to comply.
It is wrong to steal children.
It is wrong to force parents.
It is wrong to name as “good” those who seek to do evil.
It is wrong to feed the mouths of corruption rather than the mouths of the hungry.
It is wrong to use the public trust for personal gain.
It is wrong to prioritize greed over need.
It is wrong to prioritize wealth over health.
It is wrong to lie.
It is wrong to lie and to lie again.
It is wrong to lie and to lie and to be proud of the lying.
It is wrong to destroy an office you took an oath to protect.
It is wrong to destroy.
It is wrong to destroy the water.
It is wrong to destroy the land.
It is wrong to destroy hope and dignity and basic human decency.
As we move towards the High Holidays I know I’ll want to use this, especially within the context of Yom Kippur. Within a big public space like that it won’t work to leave open space for impromptu additions – the power of the energy will dissipate, and people will inevitably descend into our own little grievances rather than the scope of the image of a Future Court asking us to prove ourselves. I do think I’ll write more lines and then let people call out those lines in any order, each person reading whichever words speak to them. In between, within the small and practiced community of Fringes, we’ll keep trying out different ways to create and pray these words.