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Welcome from Rabbi Aura
June 30, 2015
Last week, there was an historic moment worthy of our celebration: Marriage equality was affirmed by the Supreme Court as the law of our land. At services both Friday night and Saturday morning, our congregation stood in a circle, joined hands, and we sang a Shehechiyanu prayer, some with tears streaming down our faces. I felt proud of our country, and joy to be celebrating with everyone.
Last week we also mourned the nine people murdered at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston. In connection with our local AME Church, I and several other clergy, elected officials and people of faith joined in a memorial service last Sunday afternoon, called “Rising in Love Together.” The two-hour service featured prayers from rabbis, Christian clergy and an imam; music from the Rondout (Bruderhof) Youth Choir as well as the A Cappella Choir of the New Progressive Baptist Church, and an inspiring message delivered by Rev. Dr. Faye Banks-Taylor of the St. Marks AME Church of Kingston. The church that hosted the gathering, the Fair Street Reformed Church of Kingston, was packed, perhaps with 150-200 people, of all backgrounds, faith communities, colors, and countries of origin.
I was asked to offer the closing benediction for the gathering. I chose to sing the Three-fold Blessing, otherwise known as the Priestly Blessing, which is found in Num. 6:24-26.
“The Eternal bless you and protect you! The Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you! The Eternal bestow [Divine] favor upon you and grant you peace!” (translation Plaut)
This is the oldest prayer in our tradition. I chose it in part because it pre-dates Christianity and Islam, and therefore is part of a common root for all three of these monotheistic faiths.
I also chose it because the closing word in this blessing, ‘shalom,’ not only means peace, but—as it is used in this blessing—also holds the nuance “friendship.” So the final sentence can be read, “[May] the Eternal . . . grant you friendship!”, which many churches refer to as “fellowship.”
Through the words of this prayer, we can read friendship as God’s promise to us, and to all people of goodwill, who gather to hear the sacred call. Because Torah teaches us that we are each made b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image, we fulfill that promise when we seek each other out in friendship and fellowship. It is our very relationships with each other, which can affirm God’s presence in the world. Rev. Dr. Banks-Taylor put it most eloquently when she said, “We’re called to practice the presence of God in love.”
May we remember that we encounter the Divine whenever we meet each other. May we meet in the spirit of friendship, and be worthy of practicing the presence of love.