Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prayer for our country

In the Jewish liturgy, the Mincha, or afternoon service, begins with a series of prayers for the congregation, the State of Israel, and for our country. Every siddur (prayer book) has a different version of the prayer for our country, but the essence remains the same. All over the world, every Shabbat, Jews pray for the government to be strong, fair, and just. Lately that prayer has really struck me as something I think we should all take to heart, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof.

The siddur that I like best is the Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, put out by the Rabbinical Assembly & The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. This is their version of the prayer for our country:
Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country—for its government, for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.

Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.

May this land, under your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom—helping them to fulfill the vision of your prophet: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more’ (Isaiah 2:4). And let us say: Amen.

I'm always glad to come to the Prayer for Our Country in the service for Sabbath and Festivals. I like the prayer as a prayer that means something to me each and every time I recite it. The words resonate with me because I believe so strongly that government should seek peaceful solutions, should protect it's citizens regardless of race or creed, should unite people in peace and in freedom, and should be a just body. I also have to admit to a certain unworthy tinge of SchadenFreunde that comes from my assumption that some of my co-congregants are less thrilled with the prayer than I am especially the part that says:

"this land, under your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom."
For some Jews, this particular line smacks too much of Christianity as it definately reflects the teachings of Jesus, but to me, it seems to be exactly what I believe is right and good about any country. This prayer, although in an American Conservative Jewish prayerbook, isn't an American prayer. It's said in every country in every language where Jews reside. Unlike most Christian churches, the Jewish liturgy doesn't deviate from congregation to congregation. Interpretations do exist, so an American Reform congregation's prayerbook is going to be different than a British Liberal prayerbook, but the essense of the services is the same.

This means that a prayer for our country, or our Government is said by Australians, Chinese, Israeli, Canadian, French and Greek Jews. The interpretation for each country might vary, but again, the message remains true.

When I read the prayer, I think about how much the United States needs to take this prayer to heart. We don't take care of our citizens with fairness or with justice. We leave many of our most vulnerable citizens swinging in the wind without health insurance, child care, maternity care, subsidized housing, and food assistance. We don't have much of a safety net anymore.

We're a racist society, even when we pretend otherwise. This morning I read a blog from a recent college graduate that claimed that Boston was the most racist city in America. Hundreds of commenters from all over the country disagreed, saying that Milwalkee, St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco are all more racist than Boston, and why. The view of American from these comments is that blatent racism might be less noticable than in 1950, but it has not going away. Just tonight on the news a woman was interviewed about supporting John McCain and her reason was "He's more of an American, like us." Meaning white. Racism is alive and well in the USA and that makes me horribly sad.

Saying a prayer for our country isn't something that most people do on a daily basis, but maybe it should be. Maybe if we took this prayer that emphasizes justice, freedom, peace and security for all it's citizens, the country might be in a better place.

It doesn't hurt to try.

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Blogger Jendeis said...

Love this post; love that prayer. Whenever I read it, I always hear the hum of the hundreds in our High Holy Day services reciting the prayer aloud.

I love that we include this prayer in our services, because it makes me feel like we can all be legitimate Jews outside of Eretz Yisrael. True harmony, what a wonderful goal to aspire to.

25/7/08 8:38 AM  

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