Civil Rights Trip by Rene Katersky (From Shabbat Services January 18, 2019)

Like my fellow travelers, I wrote a reflection which I tossed aside as I asked the same question posed at the end of Susan’s photo montage we just saw. Like David, I didn’t know, I did not know, but now that I do, what can we do?

I was reminded of a piece that we learned from my teacher and friend, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, at a prayer and study retreat I attended last September, that may be appropriate for this evening’s service theme to raise consciousness and hopefully inspire. It was composed with Jewish singer songwriter, Dan Nichols. Here is how it came about:

Over the years, Ellen had noticed discomfort among many with the wording in Aleinu L’shabei’ach (it’s on us, to praise), the prayer at the end of communal worship. We bow in acknowledgement that we have a unique obligation, that we are not the same as others, that we are special; many have seen this as chutzpa-dik…a holier than thou kind of statement. Perhaps this is not about privilege, says Ellen, but about responsibility.

In Ellen’s words, “ I hear Aleinu as an expression of appreciation for my community’s assumed responsibility for the betterment of the world. I am obligated L’shabei’ach/to sing praise. In reality, the attempt to live in that way IS the praise. We say Aleinu at the end of the service, with one foot out the door, to gather communal strength for the journey and be reminded of that responsibility. This may be my favorite prayer of all,” she says. “Especially in these troubled times, there is great work to be done.”

Dan shares the following:

“Ellen and I got together for a couple of days of creative work focused on what’s going on with Aleinu L’shabei’ach. Here’s what we came up with:

If Bar’chu at the beginning of the service can be thought of as “the call to worship,” then it might be reasonable to think of Aleinu at the end of the service as a “call to action.” We have shared our communal redemption story through moments such as Mi Chamocha; we have remembered the deeds and faith of our ancestors in the Amidah, and we have re energized our spirits in communal expression of our dreams and visions.  Hopefully, it has had some impact and changes us for the good. With that in mind, we crafted an English setting for Aleinu L’shabei’ach that intends to unpack the core themes of our responsibility and the world’s need for action.”

I hope these new words and melody may help to give us new meaning as we follow this with our traditional chanting of Aleinu. The words are in your handout.