Praying for Israel, Part II

Last week, I wrote about a JTA article discussing communities that are rethinking the Prayer for the State of Israel, as well as Ariel Beery’s harsh critique of these groups.

The discussion hit close to home for me, because the lead group discussed in the JTA article was my own minyan, Altshul.

Some community members had raised concerns about the traditional Prayer for the State, because it emerged from a very specific religious Zionist ideology that, among other things, places the emergence of the State into a greater messianic context and reaffirms the hope for a sort-of universal aliyah.

Well, this past shabbat at services, Altshul member and AJWS educator Sarah Margles spoke about the solution adopted by the community. Sarah spoke with emotion and reverence for the process and issue. The stakes of this conversation extend well beyond liturgy. The real issue: A community trying to be loyal to tradition and open to contemporary concerns, a community trying to be as inclusive as possible, while containing a unified vision and spirit.

Mine were not the only moist eyes in the room, as Sarah announced the resolution:

We will stand together, pray silently and end together in song.

The new handouts have two tefillot [prayers]. One is the text which was first published in 1948 and is the one we’ve been using until now. It espouses a vision of Israel as the seed of our redemption. It prays for the victory of Israel over its enemies and the gathering of the exiles in the Jewish homeland.

The other prayer espouses a vision of Israel as a vital component of Jewish life. It prays for peace for all of Israel’s inhabitants and for the safety of Jews around the world. This prayer was published by the Reconstructionist movement in 1994. Much of the content has been used and adapted in a number of communities.

The song with which we have chosen to conclude is Yehi Shalom be’chay’lech, one for peace within God’s world. We feel that this song encompasses the primary theme of both prayers, and of all our hopes for Israel. For this reason, we will ask that we all join together, after our silent meditations, to sing for peace.

I will post Sarah’s entire speech on this blog independently, and it should be read — if not studied.

While not everyone was satisfied with the resolution, I believe the moment of silence, as we pray differently and together, will become an important communal ritual, a weekly reminder of Altshul’s diversity. The silence may have emerged from a place of contentious debate, but it will be experienced as a holy moment, proof that difference cannot — and should not — negate the possibility of shared purpose and destiny.

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