I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a Jew living in the United States of America.
In every service, we recite a prayer for our nation from Mishkan T’filah. I have shared, in previous years, on the Shabbat closest to July 4, a series of prayers for our country from past prayerbooks of the various Jewish movements in the United States. It is possible to look at a succession of meditations for our country from different prayerbooks, published at various times over the last century, and recognize specific values that are central to all of these texts.
Here is Professor Louis Ginzburg’s prayer written for the Festival Prayer Book, published in 1927 by the Conservative movement (translated in 2010 by Tim Daniel Bernard):
Our God and God of our ancestors: accept with mercy our prayer for our land and its government. Pour out Your blessing on this land, on its President, judges, officers and officials, who work faithfully for the public good. Teach them from the laws of Your Torah, enlighten them with the rules of Your justice, so that peace, tranquility, happiness and freedom will never depart from our land. God of all that lives, please bestow Your spirit on all the inhabitants of our land, and plant love, fellowship, peace and friendship between the different communities and faiths that dwell here. Uproot from their hearts all hate, animosity, jealousy and strife,in order to fulfill the longings of its people, who aspire for its dignity, and desire to see it as a light for all nations. And so may it be God’s will that our land be a blessing for all who live on earth, and that fellowship and liberty will dwell between them. Establish soon the vision of your prophet:`Nation will not raise a sword against nation, and they will no longer learn war’ (Isaiah 2:4), and, as it is said (in Jeremiah 31:34): `for all of them will know Me, from the smallest to the greatest.”
Gates of Repentance, our long-time Reform High Holy Day prayerbook, featured this meditation on our nation:
We pray for those who hold positions of leadership and responsibility in our national life. Let Your blessing rest upon them, and make them responsive to Your will, so that our nation may be to the world an example of justice and compassion. Deepen our love for our country and our desire to serve it. Strengthen our power of self-sacrifice for our nation’s welfare. Teach us to uphold its good name by our own right conduct. Cause us to see that the well-being of our nation is in the hands of all its citizens; imbue us with zeal for the cause of liberty in our own land and in all lands; and help us always to keep our homes safe from affliction, strife and war.”
This prayer for our country appeared in Kol Haneshamah, published by the Reconstructionist movement in 1994:
Sovereign of the universe, mercifully receive our prayer for our land and its government. Let your blessing pour out on this land and on all officials of this country who are occupied, in good faith, with the public needs. Instruct them from your Torah’s laws, enable them to understand your principles of justice, so that peace and tranquility, happiness and freedom, might never turn away from our land. Please, Wise One, God of the lifebreath of all flesh, waken Your spirit within all inhabitants of our land, and plant among the peoples of different nationalities and faiths who dwell here, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. Uproot from their hearts all hatred and enmity, all jealousy and vying for supremacy. Fulfill the yearning of all the people of our country to speak proudly in its honor. Fulfill their desire to see it become a light to all nations. Therefore, may it be Your will, that our land should be a blessing to all inhabitants of the globe. Cause to dwell among all peoples friendship and freedom. And soon fulfill the vision of your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Let them learn no longer ways of war.”
I created this invocation for the Temple Beth-El Board of Trustees meeting on June 21. This was my attempt to look back, to consider the present in which we live, and to look towards the future:
Eternal God, Guide of the seeker; Protector of those fleeing the danger in their homes; Beacon to wanderers, parents and children, winding their way to freedom; Provider for our needs who works through us to offer hospitality to the destitute, the traveler, the refugee, the lover of liberty looking for security and safety: Open our eyes to a world where there is enough kindness to give to overcome the violence that others perpetrate in places far and near. Inspire in us the resolve to view others with compassion rather than suspicion, with understanding rather than rejection, and with a desire to work together rather than focusing on ways to drive us apart. Remind us of those who came before us, who prayed to You along their journey as they faced an uncertain future in a land they were told was golden, a nation that likely looked a little like paradise compared to the villages from whence they came. Help us to make this country a little more like the paradise our ancestors sought out through promoting greater respect, support and openness in place of fomenting fear and hatred towards people whom we really do not yet know. Reveal to us the best that is in us so that we will approach our fellow human beings with trust, with a heartfelt welcome, and with sincere smiles. May the borders of our souls be open enough to enable us to extend a hand to seekers, to wanderers, to travelers, to the destitute, to the refugee (as some of us once were), and to the lovers of liberty who believe that love is something we can share that will cause the divides between us to disappear so that we will, finally, truly reflect the Oneness of the One who made us to be considerate, hopeful, and whole.
All of these texts call on us to promote kindness, freedom, justice, and to try as best we can to dispel animosity and hatred, and they guide us to be a beacon of these principles for the world.
As Jews and dwellers in these United States, that is our ongoing charge and challenge.