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This Day in History Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Friday, August 7, 2015

During the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, the rabbis referred regularly to Megillat Taanit,  The Scroll of Fasts, whose origins is shrouded in mystery. Like the Torah portion Chaye Sarah, which means Sarah’s life, and is actually about her death, this text, called Taanit, Fasting, is a list of days on which happy things happened in Jewish history and on which is it forbidden to fast. During the many generations when community fasts were called frequently for droughts and other calamities, a list of the days on which you couldn’t fast was handy.

Megillat Taanit was arranged according to the months of the year, sort of like This Day in History but with a religious purpose. We mentioned it last week, as July 31st was Tu B’Av, one of those dates on which you aren’t allowed to fast. In its day it was considered one of the two happiest days of the year, though exactly why no one is sure.

Knowing what happened in past years on a particular date can bring up important connections to our past with implications for the future.

Today, August 7th , is the anniversary of the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 2012 and more happily of the first phone link between Israel and Jordan in 1994 completed after the signing of the peace treaty between Jordan’s King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin .

Actually this week has more than its fair share of history shaping days.

I think the most attention this year, went to August 6th, the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The development of the bomb was a result of Einstein’s warning  President Roosevelt about scientific work going on in Germany and many of the scientists were motivated to contribute to the Manhattan Project in order to defeat the Nazi’s. The first test of the bomb though came after Victory in Europe and whether its use in Japan was the key factor in bringing the war to a close remains a disputed question. Today, August 7th, the day after the bomb’s first use in warfare, along with August 10th, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki, might stand importantly as the anniversary of all of the second thoughts and concerns about what had been unleashed on the world, and of the continuing struggle for the prevention of nuclear proliferation.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6th, 50 years ago.  For many members of our community, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, it is an important time to focus attention on the need to restore this landmark law. Since Shelby v Holder, attempts to restrict the right to vote have proliferated. Dozens of states have changed voting procedures in ways that unfairly deprive citizens, particularly the poor and people of color, of their right to vote. Shorter voting hours, increased requirements for documentation, rolling back early voting and ending same day registration—all imposed without any evidence of significant voter fraud, are this generation’s equivalent to the literacy tests of the old South. This weekend is Voting Rights Sabbath around the country encouraging each of us to take action on this important issue.

Finally, this Sunday August 9th marks a more recent anniversary, one year since the shooting of Michael Brown by police office Darren Wilson in Feguson Missouri. Though other police shootings had preceded this event and been covered in the media- including the deaths of Eric Gardner and John Crawford, the man killed in the Ohio Walmart with a toy gun in his hand, Ferguson was a turning point. It created a movement, “Black Lives Matter”, that has become a force in American society. After a period in which color blindness was held up as the model for our society, there is a reawakened willingness to explore unconscious racial bias and to acknowledge racial differences in outcomes for members of our society. PACT, the association of communities of which our congregation was the first Jewish participant, has lead the way locally, working with the NAACP, in organizing on the theme of the Beloved Community, “Black and Brown lives matter”.

In light of all these significant events at this time of year in the past, I was thinking of the events of this summer and wondering what will be remembered, next year, the year after, or 50 or 70 years from now. Will the events of last week, the vigilante arson attack on a Palestinian home leading to an 18 month old toddler being burned to death, be the turning point in removing Israel’s blind eye to Jewish terror? Will the death of a 16 year old girl, Shira, a song yet to be sung, lead our Jewish community to see Jewish extremism and its dangers with more open eyes? After 43 attacks on Churches and Mosques in Israel over a period of just over 3 years, without a single arrest, the attention given to the burning of the Church of the Multiplication earlier this summer has finally lead to three arrests. We pray tonight that this summer may be a turning point for good, in combatting extremism.

I’d like to close with the song sung at Zion Square in Jerusalem at a gathering of over a thousand teens and young adults who placed candles on the plaza, spelling the 6th commandment, lo tirzach, you shall not murder. The song was sung at the request of Shira’s bereaved family, a song that is creating a new generation of activists in Israel.

The air stood still in Jerusalem’s Zion Square last night.

More than a thousand teens and young adults gathered there to attend a memorial service organized by the Jerusalem Open House. They came to grieve the loss of Shira Banki, the 16-year old girl who died yesterday afternoon days after being stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man at last Thursday’s Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride March.

They placed candles on the pavement in the shape of the words "לא תרצח" - "Thou Shalt Not Kill."  Then they hugged and cried.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a pre-recorded statement, offered his condolences.  His face was ashen.  His eyes betrayed the same shock and pain felt by all.

Shira’s family was grieving privately last night.  But they requested that Jonathan Geffen's song "Shir L'Shira" - "A Song for Shira" performed by Korin Allal (one of Israel's most beloved rock singers) be played at the gathering. Korin herself took the stage and sang:

Speak now, little girl, I hear you                          דברי עכשיו ילדה אני שומעת
The whole world is listening to your whispers.      כל העולם מקשיב למלמולך
Speak, my angel, I know                                   דברי, מלאך שלי, אני יודעת    
We didn’t always listen to your voice.                     שלא תמיד הקשיבו לקולך

Speak bare lips, speak eyes                        דברו שפתיים יחפות, דברו עיניים
As long as milk drips from you smile                       כל עוד חלב נוטף מחיוכך
Hug all of my fears in your two hands            חבקי את כל פחדי בשתי ידייך
Hug big bears in your sleep.                          חבקי דובים גדולים מתוך שנתך  

A new and better world I will give you                 עולם חדש וטוב אני אתן לך
Already in a blue gaze you discover                     כבר במבט כחול את מגלה
How important it is to suddenly                  כמה חשוב לראות פתאום חצי ירח
       see a half moon
winking, yellow yellow from                            קורץ צהוב צהוב מתוך האפילה
       within the darkness.

Be small, nothing will harm you                      תהיי קטנה מאומה לא יפגע בך
A butterfly pin tied to your hair                           סיכת פרפר קשורה בשערך  
Be small, nothing will escape you                   תהיי קטנה מאומה לא יברח לך
I will be an adult for you too.                               אני אהיה גדולה גם בשבילך

After songs were sung and speeches spoken, people went their separate ways into the night.  And out of shared pain and tears over the sacrifice of a 16-year old girl, a new generation of activists was born.


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