A Benediction

(This blessing was offered at the 2005 Illinois State Holocaust Memorial)

The root of the word benediction comes from Latin, meaning: “good speaking”. There has been much “good speaking” here today. It is my hope that these last words will also be good speech in our ears. I’d like to begin with a poem from a Siddur that a friend gave to me.

If the prophets broke in
through the doors of night
and sought an ear like a homeland –
Ear of mankind,
overgrown with nettles,
would you hear?

If the voice of prophets blew
on flutes made of murdered children’s bones
and exhaled airs burnt with
martyrs’ cries –
if they built a bridge of old men’s dying
groans –
Ear of mankind
occupied with small sounds,
would you hear?

If the prophets stood upin the night of mankind
like lovers who seek the heart of the beloved,
night of mankind
would you have a heart to offer?

Today is a day set aside for remembrance. But the call to remember is more than a call to a nostalgic commemoration, more than an invitation to make pious oaths and virtuous proclamations. The call to remember is a call to action. The plea made by Holocaust survivors around the world is a prophetic call, urging us to unstop our ears, to clear our blind eyes and to liberate ourselves from the bondage of lame excuses that prevent us from taking action. The pogroms and death camps could not silence the prophets who continue to cry out, calling our attention to the many places in this world where injustice reigns. From the killing fields in Darfur to the sweatshops in El Salvador to the inner cities of our own nation, human persecution continues.

May we go from this place, challenged by the call to action – and may our God give us courage to stand against injustice and having heard the voices of the prophets, may we respond with all our heart, with all our strength, indeed with all our lives. Now, let all God’s children say: Amen!

 (prayer poem from Siddur Sim Shalom: A Prayerbook for Shabbat, Festivals, and Weekdays. Edited, with translations, by Rabbi Jules Harlow. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of America, 1985)

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