Thursday, January 26, 2012

One light above, Two Lights below - Symbols of Jewish Identity - January 26, 2012

When I wrote "Ami" (lyrics below),  I had just read THE JEW WITHIN, by Arnold Eisen and Steven Cohen. That book emphasized the concept in the Sociology of Religion of "The Sovereign Self," which suggests that people, more than ever, take charge of their own decisions regarding their participation in a faith community. Eisen and Cohen explained, "Jewish tradition is a meaning-making and interpretive structure through which they seek coherence in their lives." Ami was my attempt to show that there are still meanings that people share, and that when we choose to practice Judaism, it is as if we, whether male or female, are becoming like Ruth all over again, following a path as it we were doing so for the first time. I tried to think of three symbols, one for each verse of the song, that were central to Judaism to which, I felt, members of the Jewish community can and do easily relate. 
    First, I chose the Eternal Light ("One Light Above") and the synagogue/Temple, where that beacon that does not go out signifies our enduring communal commitment - there is always someone who keeps us going. It is also a symbol of God's presence with us when we join together as a community. 
    Second, I chose the Shabbat and Holiday candles, because they are central to Jewish observance in the home, which we call a "Mikdash M'at" - a small sanctuary. They are also beacons that signify commitment, but they represent the first place where children learn about their Jewish identity. When candles are lit in the home, they are like the Ner Tamid in the sanctuary, but they demonstrate the power of parents in the context of family to carry on a tradition, and to show that the warmth of the divine can be close at hand. 
    Third, I chose the moon, which is the marker of Jewish time. Any time we look at the sky and see the crescent moon just after new moon, it's the beginning of a new Jewish month and a reminder that we "tread to its beat" when it comes to the celebrations and special days on our calendar. We try to be "not quite out of step" with the secular or Gregorian calendar, but we always take note of when the holidays occur, whether early, late or on time, because we want to know - when do we get to hear the shofar? When do we build a sukkah? When do we light that first Chanukah candle? When do we cheer for Mordechai and Esther or show Haman our utter disdain? When do we celebrate our freedom as if we ourselves went out of Egypt to be slaves no more? We acknowledge God every step of the way through the blessings we recite, which infuse those observances with meaning, in relation to the values they teach, which we learn as members of families and as a community. God's presence is always there with us, when we are with our community, when we are in our homes, and when we acknowledge the special Jewish rhythm of each year. And as we join together, we hopefully find strength from our unity, and in that unity, we sense the unity of the divine which strengthens us and blesses us with every step we take along our life's journey.

Ami (By L. Karol)
One light above, suspended in time, leading us on the way 
In centuries gone, in ages beyond and burning for us today 
In this house, we dwell together - in our praise, a single voice 
from differing inspirations comes a common choice
B'ruchim haba-im b'ruchot haba-ot b'shaym adonai 
Ameich ami vayloha-yich elohai, ameich ami vayloha-yich elohai*
Two lights below, warmed by the hands that seek to sustain their glow 
Remembering days when we were not free and lessons from long ago 
In our house, we see reflections of sacred moments past 
Will the coming generations make these traditions last? B'ruchim haba-im...
One light above, still marking our time in a rhythm all its own 
We tread to its beat, not quite out of step, but feeling, at times, alone 
So we join the celebration, the silence and the song 
In the questions, not the answers is where we belong; B’ruchim ha-ba-im.... Ameich ami vayloha-yich elohai (2)
[*Blessed are those who come here in God's name - Psalm 118:26 Your people are my people - Your God is my God - Ruth 1:16]

Rabbi Larry Karol sings "Ami"

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