The Hope of How

“The Hope of How,” A prayer for Tisha B’Av
By Yehudah Webster and Zahara Zahav, members and leaders at JFREJ and graduates of the Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship.

“How?” (“Eicha?”) wonders the narrator of Lamentations which is read by Jews on Tisha B’Av, a day commemorating the horrifying destruction of the First and Second Temples.

This prayer weaves images and themes from the last year’s spate of racist violence with those of Tisha B’Av, hoping to draw strength from the knowledge that we have faced senseless hatred before, and new choices are now available to us for how to respond.

This is the definition of teshuva, repentance (literally “return”), that Tisha B’Av calls to us to do as we prepare for the High Holy Days.

“My insides are churning”
A most sacred home in flames deemed worthless, disposable
How?
A pastor and worshipers slain, heads bowed, in the sanctuary
How?
A mother sits in the street where her son’s soul was poured out
How?
A world turns its back again, again, again – there is none to comfort her
How?
A people shown their Black bodies, tears, families do not matter
How?
How have we fallen to such disgrace?
How long will we slink away from justice?
How do we allow?

How do we hope?
How do we dance when so heavy with grief?
How do we turn to face each other?
A woman climbs where no one dared, tears down a flag of hatred
How?
A mother refuses to back down, power yields to her demands
How?
A wave of clergy rise up to meet resounding call for a different world
How?
A movement plants seeds everywhere, sprouts flowers over burial ground
How?
A black man’s cry, “I can’t breathe” amplified in the streets for all to hear
How?

With this hope we pray that we do not reach the point of total destruction
We pray that we desist from senseless hatred and brutality
That sacred places remain holy, unstained from the blood of racism
That we do not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, taking instead honest account of our obligations
We pray that community, allyship and love forge new bridges of understanding and trust
That we continue to hope and believe in each other
Demanding as one that black lives truly do matter
All these things we pray in solidarity together

And let us say,
Amen