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אם אין מילים, יש שירים. || when there aren't words, there are songs.

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

This sermon was delivered on the first Shabbat after the war in Israel broke out. The songs were sung acapella, and intentionally excerpted with only select verses. 

All week I have looked with dread and anticipation toward this moment. 

What words could I possibly add at a time like this? 

What words do I have to interpret or counteract what we have learned in the many infographics and  think pieces and by watching the videos and photos that have emerged over the last six days? 

What words do I have to add to the ongoing flurry of text messages and WhatsApp's between me and my family here and In Israel making sure that everyone is OK, whatever OK might mean at this moment?

I have a clarity about this moment that sits heavy on my heart right now, because clarity does not mean answers. There are things that I know to be true right now. 

Many people are terrified, sad and suffering. This is true. 

There are families who are grieving, and perhaps, worse, sitting in the fear of the unknown. This is true. 

There are too many people suffering tonight, all sitting on the same tiny strip of land at the edge of a continent, and suffering knows no borders. 

As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg remarked today, “we can refuse to root for the safety and lives and rights of human beings as if they were sports teams. In which there are winners and losers, in which safety is a finite resource that must be hoarded.”

Or, as I said to our teens this week: our capacity to care about human beings is not pie: we won’t run out of slices by caring for the suffering of all humankind. 

This is true. 

When we sit with this many heavy truths, at the same time, it can feel like there are no words.  And when I feel like there are no words, I turn to music. I turn to melody and harmony and silence to give me a space to sit with all that is true.

And I really love Israeli music.

I have tons of different playlists with music ranging  from old Kibbutznik folk songs  to the newer pop songs that my kids come home from camp having learned them as Israeli dances. 

And so I turned to music this week, and yet found myself unable to settle– clicking ahead as so many songs like old friends sang out to me, but didn’t sound right. 

My first click: 

al tagidu yom yavo

havi'u et hayom!

ki lo khalom hu.

uvekhol hakikarot,

hari'u lashalom!

Lachen rak shiru shir lashalom

Al tilhashu tfila

Lachen rak shiru shir lashalom

Bitze'aka gdola

Let the sun rise

Light up the morning

The purest of prayers

Will not bring us back

Don't say the day will come,

Bring the day about!

For it is not a dream.

And in all the city squares,

Cheer for peace!

​​So just sing a song for peace

Don't whisper a prayer

Just sing a song for peace

In a loud shout

I love this song. 

Shir l’Shalom- a song for peace, 

written originally as an anthem for Israel’s anti-war movement in the late 1960s, I thought surely, this would land. 

But as the song played on, all I could think was “not yet”. 

Next click: 

Uvetardemat ilan va'even

Shvuyah bachalomah,

Ha'ir asher badad yoshevet /nitzevet

Uvelibah chomah.

Yerushalayim shel zahav

Veshel nechoshet veshel or

Halo lechol shirayich ani kinor.


The first three verses of this song were written by Naomi Shemer and sung by Shuli Natan at the Israeli Music Festival in 1967  shortly before the Six Day War.  Only 3 weeks later, the Israel Defense Forces  captured the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Old City from the Jordanians. 

Under the period of Jordanian rule, 

Jews had been barred from entering Jerusalem, and many holy sites had been desecrated.  At that time of Jerusalem's liberation, Shemer wrote the final verse.  When the old city was liberated, shofars indeed blew from Temple Mount, which is part of what inspired Shemer to write the line about shofars sounding from the mountain top. Shemer said she had thought of the 2,000 years the Jews were absent from Israel, and not the 19 years since the declaration of Israeli independence. 

The song was once considered by the Knesset as a possible replacement to Hatikva, Israel's national anthem. 

I love this song. On a purely emotional level, the tune brings tears to my eyes. 

But still, this wasn’t it. Not yet. 

Next click: a newer favorite. A song by Alon Eder

The chorus: 

Atah lo lavad

Tireh cochav katan echad

Bo ti’shaen. Midai pa’am c’she’mizdamen. 

You aren't alone, you'll see one small star on which you'll lean on from time to time when you're able

The song is called “Shir l’Ema”--- a song for Mom. 

A whole song of longings for the comfort of a mother,  with the smell of a cake baking wafting from the kitchen, and the everwatchful presence of a loving parent. 

The tears start to flow and I listen all the way through. 

And still, this moment- I want more. 

Al hadvash ve'al ha'oketsAl hamar vehamatokAl biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov.Al na ta'akor natu'aAl tishkakh et hatikvahHashiveyni va'ashuvaEl ha'arets hatovah.

Chorus:Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,Shmor nah li eyli hatovAl hadvash ve'al ha'oketsAl hamar vehamatok.

Over the honey and the sting, Over the bitter and the sweet. 

Over our baby girl, Guard us, Our Good Lord. 

Please don’t uproot what is planted

Please don’t forget the hope

Return me and I will return 

To this good land. 

For all these things, all these things

Guard me, my Good Lord

For the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet. 

Naomi Shemer wrote “Al Kol Eleh” in 1980.

A quintessentially Israeli theology: the full span of human life. The bitter and the sweet, a request for protection of all that is loved – family, home and land - and a centuries old promise: “bring me home and I will return to the wonderful land.”

Almost there. So close. 

But there was one more song I needed to hear. 

Kol od ba’le’vav p’nima,

Nefesh yehudi ho’miyah.

U’lefa-atei mizrach kadimah,

Ayin le’Tziyyon tzofiyah.

Od lo avda tikva-teinu,

Ha’tikvah bat sh’not al-payim

Lih-yot am chofshi b’ar-tzeinu

Eretz Tziyyon v’Yerushalayim.

כָּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה

נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה

וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח קָדִימָה

עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה

עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ

הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִם

לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ

אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם

As long as forward to the East

To Zion, looks the eye –

Our hope is not yet lost. As long as within our hearts

The Jewish soul sings,

As long as forward to the East, to Zion, looks the eye –

Our hope is not yet lost, it is two thousand years old,

To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

At this moment, this is the only song. 

HaTikvah— the hope. Originally titled Tikvateinu, Our hope. 

Our hope is wounded. But it is not lost. We’ll need to nurse it. To coax it back to health. 

To remember that we are part of a people who has survived the darkest days of human history, and we are resilient. 

To be a Jew, is to have hope: to hold on to it for dear life. 

To be a Jew, is to know that right now, in Israel, with rockets flying, and hearts broken, and children orphaned, and parents missing, there is also an incredible outpouring of love from neighbor to neighbor. Feeding one another, housing one another, providing chizuk and comfort to one another. 

This is what it means to be a part of Am Yisrael— the people Israel. 

Tonight happens to be my grandfather’s yarhzeit. My grandfather, Lou Gordon, was a real yiddishe kop, as they say. Not much of a zionist, at least not in my memory. 

But this whole week, his voice has been echoing through my head. And everything he said– everything he repeated and repeated my whole life about how important it was to be proud to be a part of this people, to be a Jew proudly,  and to stay close to my community and to our faith, it was all true.  

For two thousand years, we tended the fire of this hope. We tended it in the face of every imaginable evil, and we are still here. 

And so now, we’ll have to coax that tiny flame back to full force— rekindling hope with the stories of love and kindness that don’t erase the horrors, but help us to remember all of the good that still exists. 

Nefesh yehudi ho’miyah.

The Jewish soul still sings, and will continue to sing for wholeness and healing, freedom and peace. 

There will be time to sing out joyously bi’tzeakah g’dolah– to shout out loudly--- peace will still come. 

There will be time to imagine next year, sitting on a porch, singing out Bashanah Hab’ah neshev al hamirpeset. 

There will be a time, soon I pray, to look to one another and sing Ani v’Atah, nishaneh et ha’olam. You and I will change the world. 

And right now, it is time to bolster our hope.

To remember tikvateinu: that deep well of resilience, that deep well of hope. 

I want to invite you to join me now, as we sing these words together once more. 


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