Letter from Scotland
I just recieved a letter from a woman who works with the Liberal Jewish community in Edinborough - and she sent me her speech at the World Disarmament Campaign. She deploys the kaddish translation I penned a few years back in a lovely way.
Talk given at the World Disarmament Campaign interfaith occasion 29 Jan 2006, on behalf of ELJC.
This is the first time Judaism has been represented by our community at this annual event. Other faiths represented were Christianity, Baha’i tradition, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam. (The invited Sikhs were unable to attend).
‘Swords into Ploughshares’
This Jewish prophetic image has come to symbolise Christian peace activism. I’ve been mulling over what it signifies in a Jewish context.
Micah and Isaiah’s vision of universal peace and justice for the future sits side by side with, and I believe arises from, their criticisms of social injustice and awareness of political instability in their own time.
We cannot imagine what peace and justice can really mean if we don’t engage our full attention with the world as is it now, and recognise injustice when we see it.
This contrast reminds me of Kaddish, a prayer of mourning in Aramaic, and how Jews use it. Bereaved Jews say Kaddish according to particular ritual procedures, and usually we say Kaddish for a particular person, a close family member.
And yet the prayer itself doesn’t mention death, or even encourage reflection about the person who has died. In the midst of their grief, it enables mourners to affirm to their community the greatness of God, with nothing less than exuberance, and it wills the coming of universal peace.
In the world we live in, lives are cheap; so may disempowered people have been killed in the last year, the collateral damage of territorial disputes and global power struggles, or they have simply failed to stay alive for lack of basic human resources, their extreme poverty the collateral damage of a violent global economy.
They are mourned by their families, such families as remain, sometimes bruised again and again by relentless war and poverty. Here in comfortable Edinburgh, we cannot meaningfully say Kaddish for them. But I am going to read you a translation of Kaddish, by Rabbi Daniel Brenner, together with his introduction to his translation. Rabbi Brenner is director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and a reconstructionist rabbi.
The translation that I am presenting here is an attempt to put the kaddish into plain English, colloquial, slang, street, to translate it the way it might be spoken. In translating it this way, I hope to capture the desperation and heartbreak, and the hopes for peace and restored order, that I see reflected in its words.
Make the God-name big.
Big and holy.
Do it in this world,
This creation sprung from consciousness,
And bring some order to this.
Do it fast, soon, in our lives, in the days ahead, in the life of the people we call home.
Everybody join with me: May the name be blessed forever and ever!
Blessed, whispered, sung out, shouted, honored, this holy name.
The name is beyond any song, poem, or comforting words we could ever speak.
Eveybody say: That's the truth!
May a big peace descend from the heavens, a life-giving peace for all of us, for our beloved people,
Let everybody say: May it be true!
Make that peace in the heavens, great peacemaker, great One who brings wholeness to our people.
Everybody pray: May it be true.