Posts

On Reconciliation, Building, and Bereishit

 

Yesterday was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, commemorating the painful and tragic legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 140 such schools operated between 1831 and 1998. Over that time over 150,000 Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) children were taken from their homes and subjected to systematic erasure of their cultures, languages, and for too many, their lives. It is believed that more than 4000 children died. Among those who survived, many suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of their “teachers.” 

Yesterday honoured the memories of the children who died, the survivors of Indian Residential Schools who carry these scars, their communities, and their families. As I stood on Parliament Hill on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, listening to the moving testimonies and calls to action of survivors of Indian Residential schools and Indigenous community leaders, I took in the collections of teddy bears and drawings, and hundreds of pairs of shoes — intimate and heartbreaking representations of children and childhoods taken away. Overhead, I kept looking up at the construction cranes and scaffolding flanking the Centre Block of the federal Parliament buildings. Their presence seemed especially fitting. 

The Centre Block is currently being taken down to the studs, to its very foundation, to be rebuilt for the needs of the future while maintaining its essential elements. Harmful and obsolete materials are being removed from within the building’s stone walls. It is the most significant renovation since the whole of Centre Block (save its Library of Parliament) was rebuilt after burning to the ground in 1916. It will take at least a decade.

True reconciliation in Canada, for the systemic harms and genocide committed and continuing to be committed against Indigenous peoples, will also take time. The very foundations of our country are in need of rebuilding and renewal. Systems — legal, educational, health and more — need to have their obsolete and harmful elements removed so that they can be rebuilt with the promise of the future.

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, emphasized the ongoing effort needed to achieve reconciliation:

Reconciliation requires effort every day, and this effort we must carry out for all time, for it has no end date or finish line. 

On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I urge you to pause and reflect on Canada’s full history. Do it to honour those Indigenous children who experienced or witnessed cruel injustices. Many emerged traumatized, many still suffer pain. 

As we strive to resolve the tensions of the past with the promise of the future, we can stand together and move forward with grace and humility.

Make reconciliation a way of life.

On Parliament Hill, amidst the ceremony and the construction, I reflected on my responsibility to make reconciliation a way of life. My Judaism, particularly the arc of time from the month of Av in the summer through rebirth and renewal in Tishrei, gives me a frame for that.

The most recent events that led to the ceremonies on Parliament Hill were the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked childrens’ graves at various former Indian Residential Schools this past summer. This time corresponded with the months of Av and Elul. Av contains the spiritual low point of the Jewish year. On the 9th of Av we remember the destruction of the Temple, caused by sinat chinam / baseless hatred: the failure of people to see the fundamental holiness in each other. In Elul we focus on teshuvah, literally “returning,” repenting by acknowledging where we have missed the mark and taking concrete steps to correct past wrongs. 

The Talmud teaches that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul אלול represent the verse אני לדודי ודודי לי – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Songs 6:3). At the core of the teshuvah process is a focus on connection and repairing relationships, with each other and with God. Yet before we are able to repair relationships and reconcile differences, we must first acknowledge the truth, the emet, of what caused brokenness or rupture in the first place. Only by facing the truth of what we have done can we embark on a journey of teshuvah, reconciliation and repair. 

This year, September 30th coincided with the end of Tishrei: a lived metaphor for how we embed the journey of emet to teshuvah in all aspects of our lives, year to year, cycle to cycle. It also coincided with restarting our Torah cycle with the first parsha, Bereishit, and its fundamental teaching that we are all created in the Divine image — all deserving of respect and love. 

As local Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda emphasized speaking on Parliament Hill, creating space for truth and reconciliation, for emet and teshuvah is ultimately a gift to enable us to heal and grow: “Take this beautiful gift we are offering you; learn, listen and we will walk together to turn this country into a beautiful country for all our children.” Similarly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 final report calls on us to work together “to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.”

As I looked up at teddy bears and drawings and shoes and cranes and construction on Parliament Hill, all together, I wondered, will Canada rebuild in a way so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace and prosperity? 

Our Sages taught that while it may not be upon us to complete the work, we are not free to desist from it (Pirkei Avot 2:21). It is aleinu, on us, to make that happen. And every year now, during our season of teshuvah surrounding the High Holidays and on September 30th. we will be able to take stock of our rebuilding and reconciliation together.

 

Resources:

 

And from work together this past summer with campers at URJ Camp George:

A land acknowledgment created and prepared by teen campers for camp. Inspired by a local indigenous name for the region, the background of the plaque evokes a glowing light.

a banner, on a background of orange handprints from all of camp, with the text “Every Child Matters” along with a quite from the Talmud (Berakhot 64a:14)- אַל תִּקְרֵי ״בָּנָיִךְ״ אֶלָּא ״בּוֹנָיִךְ״ – “Don’t call them your children, call them your builders,” which speaks to the fundamental role that our youth play in our present and our future. This quote from Talmud also inspired the name and mission of Bayit: Building Jewish!

 

 

Rabbi Dara Lithwick is on the Board of Bayit: Building Jewish. When not at work as a constitutional and parliamentary affairs lawyer, she is active as an outreach rabbi at Temple Israel Ottawa. Rabbi Dara is also chairing a Canadian Council for Reform Judaism group to develop a Tikkun Olam strategy for Canada and is the Canadian representative to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action. (Find her whole bio on our Board page.)

Psalm 27 – a new translation by Rabbi Jamie Arnold

Here’s a new translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Psalm 27 is traditionally recited daily during Elul, the month leading up to the Days of Awe… though the introspection and teshuvah work that this psalm cues us to do can be a meaningful part of spiritual practice all year long.

 

PSALM 27 – For love’s sake

the courage to live as if… / Bitachon

 

My deepest fear?

The energy illuminating everything

            cannot be seen or named.

When all I see is reflection and refraction,

who am I to be afraid

            of dark or light?

            of seeing, being seen, or not?

 

Silence is the mother of all sounds,

            syllables, names.

When a wisp of breath and unspoken incantation

guards the fortress of my life

            Who shall I fear?

            Which ‘I’ is the one that worries?

 

Fear and worry come fast, consuming my flesh from within,

            thieving me of ease and joy.

If only they would stumble, topple like the walls of Jericho.

For now, they have set up camp, settling in,

            starving head of sense

            and heart of wonder.

If you force upon me this unwanted war,

I will trust in… this, this mystery

            of light and sight, hidden forces

            made visible through masks of refraction.

 

My deepest desire?

One?  If granted one last wish,

this would be my re-quest:

 

To sample sabbath rest

            in the house of wonder

            every living day,

to see with eyes of equanimity and ease

            waking me to each new dawn

            in a palace of delight.

 

Point me north to find shelter from my worst fears

            under a blanket of stars-promising-progeny,

            winking at me through the leafy roof of a succah

Let me hide in the hidden folds of this makeshift shelter,

            tent turned tabernacle, sanctuary erected on

            and protected by a mountain of smooth, solid sandstone.

 

There now.

See my head rise above engulfing echoes of oys and veys

Releasing, sacrificing wants no longer suited for service

Fragmented breaths pressing through parsed lips into a horn

            transforming silent fears into jubilant song. Teruah.

I will sing. Zivchei teruah.

Atonement through attunement.

Shema qoli. Hear my voice

            turning silence to song

Choneini. Fill me with an easy grace

            in the face of my unfulfilled desires

Aneini. Gift me with a humble responsiveness

            to your unmet needs.

 

Your Deepest Desire?

Voice whispers through my heart and says,

            Seek my face.

I will seek your face, the hidden light,

             reflected in every face, revealing light.

Do not let anger distract me from seeing your majestic face

            tucked away in the creases of faces furrowed

            by anger in the face of injustice

            and a fear of being forgotten.

My father, my mother, yours, all beloved

            parental protectors will die.

            time will orphan me if I live that long.

And yet, magnetism prevails, a law of nature

            in-gathering, out-glowing

            showing all the wisdom of your ways

            paths paved by and for service and song

Don’t let worry distort these nefesh-soul, body-based truths

            with false testimonies, hyperboles, and half-truths

            blowhards fermenting fears to safeguard their power.

 

Our Declaration:

Lulei.  What if? What if it were not so?

Doubt. Division. Danger.  Death.  As if!

I choose to live as if I have the courage

            to act in the face of doubt

            to see the hidden connections and blessing

            to belong and be beholden to the living land, eretz chaim.

Together, let us draw new kinds of lines in the shifting sands.

I choose to trust you, to empower you, to re-see you,

            to celebrate your courageous heart, amatz lev

            to reshape this longing in your likeness.

 

Rabbi Jamie Arnold, who serves Congregation Beth Evergreen, is translating the psalms anew and posts his translations periodically at his blog. He participated in Bayit’s first online class for clergy, “Entering the Psalms.” (The next session of that class will begin in late October.)