Category Archives: Prayer

A Confession of Communal Complicity: A New Al Chet For Yom Kippur


Photo credit: The Times, Middle East

I’ve written a new Al Chet prayer that we will be using during Yom Kippur services at Tzedek Chicago. The Al Chet is part of the Vidui – or Confession – in which the congregation stands up and publicly confesses the sins of their community. It is at its core, an open statement of communal complicity. 

I’ll say no more because I think the words really do speak for themselves. Feel free to share and use.


We say together:

עַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha…
(For the wrong we have done before you…)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for forgetting that we were all once strangers in a strange land;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for preferring militarized fences to open borders.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for supporting trade policies and murderous regimes that uproot people, families and communities;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for drawing lines and turning away those who come to our country seeking a better life.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for demonizing migrants as threats to be feared;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for labeling human beings as “illegal.”

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for internalizing and assenting to racist ideologies;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for allowing oppressive systems to continue unchecked.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for our complicity in regularly profiling, incarcerating and murdering people of color;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for denying fair housing, public schools and greater opportunity to our black and brown communities.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for dehumanizing, excluding and murdering gay, lesbian, trans and queer people;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for shaming and stigmatizing the infirm, the mentally and physically disabled, and the elderly.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for buying into and promoting the ideology of American exceptionalism;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for oppressing other peoples and nations in the name of American power and influence;

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for profiting off of weapons of death and destruction;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for contributing to the increased militarization of our nation and our world.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for expanding our military budget while we cut essential services here at home;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for believing that militarism and violence will ensure our collective security.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for the destruction of homes, expropriation of land and warehousing of humanity;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for a brutal and crushing military occupation.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for blockading 1.8 million Gazans inside an open air prison;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for repeatedly unleashing devastating military firepower on a population trapped in a tiny strip of land.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for wedding sacred Jewish spiritual tradition to political nationalism and militarism;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for rationalizing away Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

For Tisha B’Av: A Lamentation for Gaza


This Monday night begins the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av: a day of mourning for the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries. Among other things, the traditional Tisha B’Av liturgy includes the chanting Biblical book of  Lamentations.

Given the profoundly tragic events currently unfolding in Gaza, I offer this reworking of the first chapter of Lamentations.  I share it with the hope that on this day of mourning we might also mourn the mounting dead in Gaza – along with what Israel has become…

A Lamentation for Gaza

Gaza weeps alone.
Bombs falling without end
her cheeks wet with tears.
A widow abandoned
imprisoned on all sides
with none willing to save her.

We who once knew oppression
have become the oppressors.
Those who have been pursued
are now the pursuers.
We have uprooted families
from their homes, we have
driven them deep into
this desolate place,
this narrow strip of exile.

All along the roads there is mourning.
The teeming marketplaces
have been bombed into emptiness.
The only sounds we hear
are cries of pain
sirens blaring
drones buzzing
bitterness echoing
into the black vacuum
of homes destroyed
and dreams denied.

We have become Gaza’s master
leveling neighborhoods
with the mere touch of a button
for her transgression of resistance.
Her children are born into captivity
they know us only as occupiers
enemies to be feared
and hated.

We have lost all
that once was precious to us.
This fatal attachment to our own might
has become our downfall.
This idolatrous veneration of the land
has sent us wandering into
a wilderness of our own making.

We have robbed Gaza of
her deepest dignity
plunged her into sorrow and darkness.
Her people crowd into refugee camps
held captive by fences and buffer zones
gunboats, mortar rounds
and Apache missles.

We sing of Jerusalem,
to “a free people in their own land”
but our song has become a mockery.
How can we sing a song of freedom
imprisoned inside behind walls we have built
with our own fear and dread?

Here we sit clinging to our illusions
of comfort and security
while we unleash hell on earth
on the other side of the border.
We sit on hillsides and cheer
as our explosions light up the sky
while far below, whole neighborhoods
are reduced to rubble.

For these things I weep:
for the toxic fear we have unleashed
from the dark place of our hearts
for the endless grief
we are inflicting
on the people of Gaza.

For the 4th: “A Hemisphere Where All Live in Harmony”


New American citizens say the Pledge of Allegiance after taking the oath of citizenship at a U.S. naturalization ceremony at Austin’s Delco Center on April 26, 2011. The ceremony included 984 people from 105 countries. (Photo by Jay Janner)

This morning we sang this song at our interfaith vigil at the Broadview, IL immigrant detention center – a powerful reworking of “America the Beautiful” by Sister Miriam Therese Winter.

I encourage you to sing it at your 4th of July gathering today – a profoundly aspirational prayer for the America/s – “A hemisphere where all people here/all live in harmony:”

How beautiful, our spacious skies,
our amber waves of grain.
Our purple mountains as they rise
above the fruited plain.
America! America! God’s gracious gifts abound.
And more and more we’re grateful for
life’s beauty all around.

Indigenous and immigrant,
our daughters and our sons;
Oh, may we never rest content till all are truly one.
America! America! God grant that we may be
a sisterhood and brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

How beautiful, sincere lament,
the wisdom born of tears.
The courage called for to repent
the bloodshed through the years.
America! America! God grant that we may be
a nation blessed, with none oppressed,
true land of liberty.

How beautiful, two continents,
and islands in the sea
That dream of peace, non-violence,
all people living free.
Americas! Americas! God grant that we may be
a hemisphere where all people here
all live in harmony.

Interfaith Prayers for Immigrant Justice

This morning I attended the Immigrant Justice prayer vigil of which I’ve written several times before. It’s been taking place every Friday morning at 7:00 am at a local immigrant detention center to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants as they are in the process of being deported – and to protest the national shame that is our nation’s current immigration policy.

This vigil previously took place at the Broadview detention facility just west of Chicago, but for the past several months undocumented immigrants have been held and processed at the Federal Building on 101 W. Congress Parkway. If you live in or around Chicago, I encourage you to join us.

Though the vigil was originally established by Catholic activists and featured the recitation of the rosary, it has long included attendees of many faiths. Just recently the first Friday of every month has been formally designated to be an interfaith ceremony. Today’s service included Christian, Muslim and Jewish participants – truly an inspiring show of prayerful solidarity.

Some years ago, I wrote and delivered a prayer specifically for this vigil.  JRC member Gonzalo Escobar recently translated it into Spanish and this morning we read a bilingual version of it together. I’ve included it below, along with other powerful prayers that were recited during our ceremony.

Again, if you live in the area, please join us on Friday mornings at 101 W. Congress and help us raise a prayerful voice all the way to Washington…

Continue reading

“The Interrupters”: This is Prayer in Action

Just saw “The Interrupters” – a new documentary that highlights the work of “CeaseFire,” an organization that works indefatigably to reduce urban violence in Chicago. I’m still sorting through the experience: it’s quite simply one of the most spiritually, politically and ethically powerful films I’ve ever seen.

I won’t say much more except that you need to find out when “The Interrupters” is coming to your town right now. (Chicago residents: it’s currently playing at the Wilmette Theater through Sept. 1.)

In the meantime, click above to see one of the many memorable scenes from the film. This is the force-of-nature-amazing Ameena Matthews – the daughter of a notorious Chicago gang leader and former drug ring enforcer who has found courage and strength in her Muslim faith and now works as a CeaseFire “Interrupter.” Here she leads a neighborhood prayer vigil for a young boy who was killed in the crossfire of gang violence – then confronts friends who are seeking revenge for his death.

Now this is prayer in action…

Liberate Yourself With New Passover Resources!

With the first night of Passover fast approaching, check out these great new seder resources you can bring to the table:

– Hot off the presses: the Jewish Voice for Peace 2011 Haggadah. One powerful excerpt – a new Passover poem written by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for her “Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach“:

In remembrance of the 2011 protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Gabon, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere.

Liberation comes when people gather
by the tens and by the thousands
demanding that the despot who’s held the reins
step down, and in between the slogans
they dish out lentils cooked over open flame,
and homes open up so the protestors can shower
and members of one faith link hands
to protect members of another faith at prayer.
Liberation comes at a cost: not only
the horses and chariots swept away, but
innocents gunned down by their own army,
panicked children lost in the roiling crowds
activists imprisoned for speaking freely,
and when the world stops watching
they may be beaten—or worse.
It’s upon us to at least pay attention
on mobile phones and computer screens
as real people rise up to say
we have the right to congregate and to speak
we will not be silenced, we are not afraid.

A “Food and Justice” seder from Uri L’Tzedek;

– “The Labor Seder” by Jews United for Justice;

– American Jewish World Service’s “Slavery, Freedom and Migration;”

A Haggadah Insert by Jewish Solidarity with Native American People;

The 2011 Tikkun Magazine Haggadah supplement which, as always, has enough material for 10 seders.

May it be a liberating Pesach for us all!

A Blessing From Wisconsin

The following blessing was just sent to me by my friend and colleague Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, of Reconstructionist congregation Sha’arei Shamayim in Madison, WI. It was said during the Shabbat morning Torah service for all those who participated in the many protests, vigils, or hearings at the Wisconsin State Capitol last week.  Laurie reports that 90% of the congregation and guests came up for the blessing.

Mi sheberach Avoteynu Avraham, Yitzhak, v’Ya’akov
May the One who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

V’Imoteynu Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v’Leah
And our foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah,

Bless all of you who have come up to the Torah this morning.

No matter what happens in the next week may you be reminded that even tiny actions can affect others, create ripple effects, and make a difference in our world.

May you take responsibility for what you say, for how you behave, for what you do and for what you do not do.

May you pursue justice, act with integrity, and work hard to create a society where all are cared for, where every person has the resources that he or she needs.

May you remember to take care of yourselves and your families so that your work is sustainable.

And may you heed the words of Pirke Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

And let us say, Amen.