To Challenge International Horror With Domestic Hope

Sermon by Dana Snyder-Grant

I was awakened on Sunday, October 5 by the news that Israel had attacked a training camp inside Syria. Israel suspected that the site harbored terrorists. The raid was in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Haifa the day before.

I groaned, then inhaled deeply and shut my eyes again. The violence was relentless. How would it stop? A playground mentality was in motion in the Middle East. You’ve hit me, so I’ll hit you. But my thoughts were not so dispassionate, either. I felt a touch of security that Israel was defending herself. As a Jew, I carry a history of genocide with me and the desire to never again see hate tear through our world. But it was clear to me that Israel’s defensive posture was also offensive, allowing the cycles of hate and violence to continue. I was at a loss and feeling powerless.

My husband began to stir. I gave him a hug and murmured my distress over the news, which had slowly made its way into his consciousness. “We need to get up soon,” I said . I wanted to be at the Unitarian services by 10:30. They wouldn’t begin until 11:00, but the minister, Jenny, had asked me to give a reading to mark Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holiday. I wanted to review the order of the service with her. I was nervous and excited. Nervous to present myself in front of this large group—would I stumble on the stairs or over my words?—and excited to meld my Jewish roots with this humanistic faith of Christian roots.

When we arrived in the sanctuary, Jenny was talking with families whose children were to be welcomed into the congregation that day. When she had a free moment, I went up to her and introduced myself - we had only exchanged emails about my reading. She invited me to sit in the sanctuary for most of the service, but to come onto the pulpit after the child dedication, when I would lead the congregation in a responsive reading.

The service began with the musical “Prelude to Yom Kippur,” introducing this holiday and the Jewish New Year. Jenny’s comments in her call to worship reminded us of the day’s meaning, a day to reflect on the year that has past and the year to come. The junior choir’s rendition of Bashanah Haba’ah, “In the Coming Year,” brought me back to my roots. I spent several years in the junior choir of my synagogue, trying to follow the cantor’s lead, to manage the foreign sounds of Hebrew, and to live up to my father’s expectations about performance. I had loved the melodic tunes; all those directions had been worth it.

The religious education director told us a story about Jacob and the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown on this holiday. Alone, Jacob could not make this difficult sound, but when the rabbi also blew his shofar at the same time, the congregation heard the tones loudly and clearly. Together, their efforts mattered.

As I witnessed a Unitarian church incorporate my tradition into their faith, the powerlessness I had felt on hearing the morning news receded. Perhaps we could all come together in peace. This contradiction, along with memories of my father, the sound of this music, and these children’s bright and eager faces brought tears to my eyes.
My reading, “On Turning,” was from the Unitarian hymbook, from the section of readings for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. To turn is to make a change, to admit our mistakes and embrace a more purposeful and conscious direction in our lives. “Please join me in responsive reading number 634,” I invited the congregation. I was pleased by the unexpected, clear sound of my voice that the microphone projected. “Now is the time for turning,” I continued. When the congregation responded, I was delighted. I was their leader for the moment; I understood why a congregation was referred to as a “flock.” They ended the reading with “And turn us toward each other...for in isolation there is no life.”

Like Jacob and the rabbi, these Unitarians and I had come together in community to make meaning. On this day, hate and retribution dominated in parts of the world. I had to believe that our reconciliation and forgiveness, in this small corner of that same world, made a difference. Sometimes, there is horror and there is hope.

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