Signs of the Times • 20 September 2017 • No. 137
¶ Processional. “Chaiyalim Adonai dances at Rosh Hashanah.”
¶ Invocation. “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” —Rumi
¶ Shana Tova! Happy New Year (5778 on the Jewish calendar).
The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah (have “a sweet new year”), which began at sundown yesterday, literally means “the head of the year.” The date is variable on the Gregorian calendar, since, like Easter in the Christian tradition, it is based on a lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the “10 Days of Repentance” (or “Awe”) where Jewish people acknowledge their sins of the previous year, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, marked by fasting to symbolize the longing for forgiveness. All together this season represents the “High Holy Days” of Judaism.
In Hebrew rosh has many meanings, including “head” or “first” or “start,” and shanah means “year,” with ha simply meaning “the.” In combination, the name of the holiday translates as “head of the year.”
¶ Call to worship. “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem,” Aish.com.
¶ “4 Things Jews Do on Rosh Hashanah,” Mayim Bialik. (Thanks Ivan.)
¶ How to say “happy New Year” in Hebrew. —Menachem Posner, chabad.org
¶ “Though it depends on which Jewish tradition is being followed, much time is spent at a synagogue. During services, a hollowed-out ram's horn, known as a shofar, is blown, symbolizing a call to repentance. Many Jews also observe a tradition called tashlich, meaning "casting off" in Hebrew, in which they go to a nearby river or lake and throw pieces of bread, which signifies the washing away of sin.” —for more see Matthew Diebel, USAToday
Apples dipped in honey, challah (round sweet bread), and/or pomegranates are consumed to symbolize the sweetness of the new year, the circle of life and/or the many seeds yet to be sown (and even fish heads, representing the “head” of the new year). —for more see Carol Kuruvilla, “The Spiritual Meaning Of The Food On Your Rosh Hashanah Table,” HuffPost
¶ Hymn of praise. “Psalm 104” (in Hebrew). Yamma Ensemble .
¶ Confession. "Days pass, and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles." —Jewish Sabbath Prayer
¶ Words of assurance. “Ya Rab” (“My Lord God” in Arabic), Yuval Ron Ensemble featuring Sukhawat Ali Khan & Najwa Gibran.
¶ While researching art for this issue, I found one image with the jar of honey and traditional blessing in Hebrew. But underneath, printed in the product’s distinctive typeface, is the wording “Say it with Coca-Cola.” The fruitful delight of creation transposed by the well-documented corporate marketing of sugar, which is at the root of our nation’s obesity health crisis. Then again, given the sugary, insubstantial character of much that passes for spirituality, maybe this is appropriate.
¶ I’ve long been taken with juxtaposing the Jewish “Days of Awe” beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur with the “Shock and Awe” military doctrine that launched the 2003 US attack on Iraq.
The “fear of the Lord” in Scripture, the basis for awe, is not a form of heavenly terrorism designed to keep humans in line. Rather, as Walter Brueggemann writes, to “fear God” is to take God and God’s intention with utmost seriousness, to be honored above all other demands for devotion and obedience.
“Shock and awe,” on the other hand, is a military doctrine entailing deployment of "instant, nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large, meaning its leadership and public, rather than targeting directly against military or strategic objectives even with relatively few numbers or systems." (With this background, can you see the brutal rationality of attacks by terrorists on crowded urban streets?) "Shock and Awe" language meets every definition of “terrorism.” —for more see Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance,” National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Study
¶ Hymn of supplication. “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, Our King”), Barbara Streisand. The song is a Jewish song of supplication, sung from Rosh Hashanah until, 10 days later, Yom Kippur. The Talmud (T.B. Ta'anith 25b) records Rabbi Akiva (died 135 CE) reciting two verses each beginning "Our Father, Our King" in a prayer to end a drought.
¶ Good news. “Meet the 14-year-old girl (left) from Odisha, India, who has invented a fuel-free bike. With the increasing levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the air, big cities in India have been suffocating with harmful pollutants. In these times, 14-year-old Tejaswini Priyadarshini has invented an ‘air bike’ which runs at up to 60 km per hour.” —Your Story
¶ Short story. “There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, ‘Why on our hearts, and not in them?’ The rabbi answered, ‘Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.’” ―Anne Lamott, “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith”
¶ Testify. “The apple symbolizes Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), which according to the Midrash has the scent of an apple orchard, and in Kabbalah is called ‘the holy apple orchard’. . . . When Solomon depicts the love G‑d harbors for His nation, he writes (Song of Songs 8:5): ‘Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love].’ Eating an apple on Rosh Hashanah is an attempt to remind G‑d of our age-old love.” —Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson, Chabad.org
¶ Hymn of intercession. Julie Geller, “Sheya'alu שיעלו” (“They Will Ascend”).
¶ The largely-unknown international hero of the 20th century. The world has only recently learned of the death of a Soviet soldier (pictured at right) credited with saving the world from nuclear holocaust, during a time of high tension between the US and the Soviet Union, 6 years before the Berlin War came down.
“Stanislav Petrov (Станислав Евграфович Петров), born in 1939, was the duty officer monitoring an early warning system from a bunker outside Moscow on September 26, 1983, when the radar screen suddenly appeared to depict a missile inbound from the United States.
“The Soviet Molnyia, vast elliptical orbiting satellites, were supposed to decrease the likelihood of natural phenomena being mistaken for a launch. However during that midnight Autumn Equinox in 1983, the sun’s reflection on high altitude clouds against the darkness of space mimicked the launch of first one, then later several, U.S. missiles on a trajectory toward the Soviet Union. It was a particularly volatile time because just three weeks before this incident, the Soviet Air Force had shot down Korean Air Flight 007 with 269 people on board, including US Congressman Larry McDonald and several other Americans.
“‘All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic,’ Petrov told the Russian news agency RT in 2010. ‘I knew my decision would have a lot of consequences.’
“The alert siren wailed. A message on the bunker's main screen reported that four more missiles had been launched, he said. Petrov had 15 minutes to determine whether the threat was real and report to his commanders.
“Petrov, thinking that any U.S. attack should have involved even more missiles to limit the chance of Soviet retaliation, told his Kremlin bosses the alert must have been caused by a malfunction. He persuaded Moscow not to shoot back.” —watch a brief (0:53) news video about Stanislav Petrov and read John Bacon’s “Stanislav Petrov, Soviet soldier credited with saving world from nuclear war, dies at 77,” USAToday , and Barbara Kaufman, “Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov: Not On My Watch: The Enemy Who Saved the World”
¶ Call to the table. “A New Year: Communities around the world celebrate the new year…in song,” 92nd Street Y.
¶ Pictured at left is a stained glass window in the sanctuary of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The bombing decapitated Jesus. Indeed, every bombing, anywhere, does the same.
¶ Last week marked the 54th anniversary of the 15 September 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four children, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, ages 11 to 14.
It would be another 14 years before a determined Alabama attorney general reopened the case and secured the conviction of the first of four suspects, Ku Klux Klan member Robert Chambliss.
During his trial, a witness said Chambliss told her that that he had "enough stuff put away to flatten half of Birmingham." A second suspect died before his trial. It would take another 13 years before the remaining two suspects were convicted. All together, it took 27 years, a shifting public consensus, and an attorney general with a conscience to meet the bare minimum of "justice."
¶ Watch this brief (3:24) video, “Birmingham Bombing 1963.”
¶ Between 1947 and 1965, there were 41 bombings (and one attempted bombing that we know of) in Birmingham, a city nicknamed “Bombingham.” Back then, such acts—and similar ones across the US—were not widely considered as terrorism, and no trillion-dollar war was launched.
¶ What is especially important to remember is the fact that this horrific bombing came just 18 days after the historic March on Washington which included Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I have no doubt that the march’s success played some role in galvanizing the resolve of the Birmingham bombers’ resolve for vengeance, since Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was a frequent gathering place to launch the civil rights marches now remembered by TV footage of police attack dogs and fire hoses being unleashed on the marchers.
Which is to say: Dreams that matter will provoke resistance. We should not be surprised at—and should be prepared for—the terms of death-defying endurance.
¶ News about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church so moved Welsh artist John Petts that he volunteered to create a replacement stained glass window for the one depicting Jesus that was destroyed. The editor of his hometown newspaper in Llansteffan, Wales, launched a front page appeal to cover the cost. Petts’ “Wales Window for Alabama” (left) depicts a black Christ, chest thrust out and arms outstretched as though on a crucifix, the right one pushing away hatred and injustice, the left offering forgiveness. —for more info see BBC News
¶ The state of our disunion. In his speech at the United Nations, President Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, home to 25 million citizens. At the outbreak of such an attack, North Korea's 10,000 artillery pieces (and maybe their thermonuclear warheads) aimed at the 25 million South Koreans in the metropolitan Seoul area would commence firing. Think about that for a minute. Then begin pondering what you can do about it.
¶ How does climate change make hurricanes worse? Here’s a brief (0:49) summary.
¶ Best one-liner. “They tried to defeat us. We survived. Now let’s eat.” —summary of Jewish theology by Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, UK
¶ For the beauty of the earth. “What A Wonderful World With David Attenborough,” BBC (2:00 video).
¶ Altar call. “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” —Abraham Joshua Heschel
¶ Benediction. “I want to be written again / in the Book of Life / to be written every single day / till the writing hand hurts.” —Jehuda Amicha, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
¶ Recessional. Cantor Avraham Feintuch, “Yom kippur Kol nidre prayer.”
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next (World Communion Sunday). “Our Presbyterian friends get credit for initiating [World Communion Sunday], back in the mid-1930s, then adopted in 1940—at the brink of world war—by the Federal Council of Churches (now National Council of Churches). I’m not sure if it’s celebrated much outside the US. And that may be because much of the world suspects that ‘world communion’ holds the same promise of what we call ‘globalization.’ A globalized economy is supposed to work for everyone. ‘Everyone has an even chance,’ so we’re told. But casino owners say the same thing, knowing the process is heavily tilted toward the house.” —continue reading “Remembering the Future: Bright with Eden’s dawn: A World Communion Sunday sermon”
¶ Just for fun. Comedic outbreak for train riders in Europe. Performers along a 30 killometer stretch perform theatre for train passengers. (0:58 video. Thanks Judy.)
Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Remembering the Future: Bright with Eden’s dawn," a World Communion Sunday sermon
• “If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem
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