Tonight, at Manchester Liberal Jewish Community, I won’t speak much, in order to give everyone a chance to express their sadnesses, fears and hopes. The Jewish community is still reeling from shock at the shooting at Eitz Chayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh. I know I am not alone in fearing the rise of fascists in Brazil, Italy and Hungary. People will need to name their fears and have them heard. But I will say a few words before we daven to set the tone. I share them here.
I have a secret love, perhaps unbecoming of a Liberal Jew. I love Chassidic house music. Shwekey, Nachas, Beri Weber… I love the upbeat, pop-py, happy tunes with Jewish liturgical slogans chanted over them.
A couple of months ago, a housemate came in to find me singing along to it as I cleaned the kitchen. I spritzed the table and mopped it up, chanting “Hashem melech! Hashem malach! Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed!” The song’s lyrics mean “God reigns, God has reigned, and God will reign forever.”
My housemate, who had grown up in Habonim Dror, a secular socialist Jewish youth movement, was horrified. “How can you say that? You of all people?”
I reflected on his question. Of all the Chassidic house music I’ve sung along to, this seemed the least offensive lyrics I could think of. These were words that we say regularly in prayer.
I think the problem is that we have different views about what God is. What he thought I was singing for was theocratic tyranny. If I imagined that God was that bearded, judgemental man in the sky, I would do everything possible to stop Him from reigning anywhere. Indeed, we have all seen what happens when religious people that do believe such things take power.
For me, God is not that judgemental man, but the force of love and justice that gives morality meaning. God is an indescribable binding power, an energy of love that hums beneath the chatter of man-made hate.
And yes, I believe that force reigns, has reigned, and will reign forever.
Today, when we see the rise of fascists and we mourn murdered Jews, the underlying force of love and justice is still there, and still has power.
In our darkest moments, when we have witnessed personal tragedies and collective atrocities, the power of morality still reigned. Our lives still possessed a deeper meaning.
And God – our God – the God of love – will outlive every antisemite, every president, every nation, every empire. No matter how dark things seem, I know that God will reign forever.
Let us pray.