If you attend synagogue services, sooner or later you will encounter Adon Olam, an ancient hymn. It has been part of the daily service since the 15th century.
The words are beautiful, and in Hebrew they are perfectly metrical. Because it is a beloved prayer that scans perfectly to 4/4 time, (iambic tetrameter, for poetry geeks) it can be sung to any melody in 4/4 time. Beautiful melodies have been written for it. Here’s an example:
If you search for keywords “Adon Olam Traditional” on YouTube.com, you’ll find many more. Here’s one of my favorites:
Because it’s so perfectly regular, you can also sing it to pop tunes. Here’s one making the rounds of the Internet lately:
I’ll spare you the one of two tweens singing it to a Justin Bieber tune. Suffice it to say, you can sing it to anything from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
For many Jews, myself included, the words can be a mantra in time of trouble. In essence, they affirm a faith in a God beyond all human understanding who is nevertheless present to my distress:
Adon olam, asher malach,
b’terem kol y’tzir nivra.
L’et na’asah v’cheftzo kol,
azai melech sh’mo nikra.
V’acharey kichlot hakol,
l’vado yimloch nora.
V’hu haya, v’hu hoveh,
v’hu yih’yeh b’tifara.
V’hu echad, v’eyn sheni
l’hamshil lo, l’hachbira.
B’li reishit, b’li tachlit,
v’lo ha’oz v’hamisrah.
V’hu Eli, v’chai go’ali,
v’tzur chevli b’et tzarah.
V’hu nisi umanos li,
m’nat kosi b’yom ekra.
B’yado afkid ruchi
b’et ishan v’a’irah.
V’im ruchi g’viyati,
Adonai li v’lo ira.
Translation: (note: Hebrew is a gendered language. In the interest of giving a fairly literal translation, I employed masculine pronouns. However, God is beyond all gender.)
The Eternal Ruler who reigned
before anything was created:
When all was made by His will
“Monarch” he was proclaimed to be.
And when everything is no more
He still all alone shall reign.
He was, He is,
and He shall be in glory.
And He is one, and there’s no other,
to compare or join Him.
Without beginning, without end
and to Him belongs dominion and power.
He is my God, my living Ransomer.
my solid Rock in time of trouble,
and He is my miracle and my refuge,
who answers on the day I call.
To Him I commit my spirit,
in the time of sleep and at waking,
And as with my spirit, so my body:
God is with me, I shall not fear.
Do you have a favorite tune for Adon Olam? What’s your favorite Jewish song?
In the Jewish calendar, Av is the month of “Terrible Things Happening.”
Given the fallible and fragile nature of human beings, those terrible things are often the product of human behavior. And faced with terrible things, we human beings are prone to blame. We point our fingers at one another, like Adam and Eve in the garden, who tried to blame each other, the serpent, and even the Divine for their misbehavior. Adam’s protest, “That woman YOU gave me did it!” is both funny and tragic.
We approach the end of the month of Av 5774, and this year, all I can say is “Thank Goodness.” Tuesday evening we shall begin a new month, the month of Elul.
Elul is the month that we begin our fall journey of teshuvah, a process of sorrow, responsibility, and change. We notice that we cannot control the behavior of others. We can only control ourselves, and that only imperfectly. We still have our emotions, and we still have our memories of hurts past. But in Elul we are called to ask, “What is my share of this?” and then, “What can change?”
The challenge of Elul is to stop pointing fingers. What have I done, what have we done, and what can be different going forward?
Image by Ian Muttoo, some rights reserved
:לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ
Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Lev. 19:16
Yesterday, I posted a link to a blog post by Michael W. Twitty from Afroculinaria.com. He titled it #Ferguson: My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint, and it is a moving piece. It began with an image someone sent via Twitter to him: a racist manipulation of the image of Michael Brown’s dead body lying on the pavement.
I’ve received a share of hate messages via social media. They were nasty bits of Jew-hatred, woman-hatred, or fat-hatred, and occasionally a rancid mix of the three. But none were as violent, as personal, as those sent to my friend. I deleted them and blocked the source, if I could. Then I tried to push the image, or the words out of my head: easier said than done.
But Michael Twitty took this ugly, hateful, personal image and used it as a starting point to talk about the dignity of human beings. He made use of his own experience as an illustration, but it wasn’t “all about him.” He took a very personal attack and turned it into a lesson on social justice. It was a raw, truthful piece of writing, his hurt and anger quite visible in it, and it moved me to some serious thinking about what I was going to do about the dignity of human beings.
Tonight I learned that in the first 24 hours after posting the piece, Michael Twitty has received death threats in response. One message suggested that he should be lynched.
What has happened to us?
The names keep piling up: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, on and on and on. What they have in common is that they were unarmed and unresisting when they were executed. They had no due process, no trial, no appeals. They were assumed dangerous because they were African American males.
Fifteen years ago, in Oakland, California, I attended a meeting about a couple of break-ins on my street. My neighbors, mostly elderly and white, talked nervously about “those kids from the high school.” The police had given us no idea whom to blame for the burglaries; the assumption was that “those kids” were to blame. No one needed to say “black kids” – that was a given. We discussed the pros and cons of hiring a security service, since the Oakland cops were never seen on our street.
I was on the fence – private security? really? – when an elderly gent leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t you worry, honey, I see any of those black boys on our street and I’ll shoot them before they get to your house.” My stomach twisted. My sons had friends that came and went from our house, some of them African American.
“Don’t you dare,” I hissed. “They’re my sons’ friends. I swear I will testify against you if any such thing happens.”
That decided my vote. Naively, I thought it was better to have a private security service than to have Mr. Green running around playing vigilante. In retrospect, I see that instead I was voting to PAY someone to play vigilante. They were still going to be a danger to any young dark-skinned man who came our way. The sickness in our society runs very deep.
[Added note: At the time, I thought I was being a nice liberal person, pretending not to notice that everyone in the room was talking about black men, until someone said "black." I knew darn well what they were talking about, and I didn't say anything until it was unavoidable. By making that choice I was complicit in their racist talk and behavior. Mea culpa. That was wrong. I will not do that again.]
News flash, America: you cannot tell if a man is dangerous by the color of his skin. And even if he IS “dangerous” in your opinion, he has the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that every other person has. Until he breaks the law, under the law he’s exactly like you and me. And if he does something to break the law, then he’s still innocent until proven guilty.
We in the US seem to be able to hold onto those ideas when a person has fair skin. We seem totally incapable of it when a person has dark skin. Heck, we don’t even want a dark skinned man to express an OPINION. Hence the horrible mail that Mr. Twitty has been getting since he wrote that post.
The Holiness Code in Leviticus 19 tells me that I may not stand upon the blood of my neighbor. Look where we are standing, America: our shoes are covered in blood.
I invite my readers to chew on the words of Michael Twitty. He never lacks for flavor, and this post is especially good, engaging as it does both the head and the heart.
Originally posted on Afroculinaria:
“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.” James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972
I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion. I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements. This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy. This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice. It is clear to…
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