03 February 2014

‘Let your mercy spill on all these burning
hearts’ ... introducing Jewish Spirituality

Rabbi Zalman Lent speaking to delegates from the Church of Ireland Interfaith Conference in Terenure Synagogue in 2010 (Photograph: Orla Ryan)

Patrick Comerford

As you came into the chapel this morning, the music in the background was Leonard Cohen’s song If It Be Your Will. It is a song, a hymn, a prayer of resignation with which he closes many of his concerts.

“This is an old prayer it came to me to rewrite,” he once told an interviewer. “It’s about surrendering … There is a moment when we have to transcend the side we’re on and understand that we are creatures of a higher order … In solemn testimony of that unbroken faith which binds a generation one to another, I sing this song: If it be your will.”

But we begin this morning by singing together.

Opening hymn:

The God of Abraham Praise (Irish Church Hymnal, 323)


While you are students here, you spend much of your time examining Jewish spirituality as it is presented in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, time looking at the spirituality of Jesus as a Jew, and some time – particularly in my tutorial group in some years – debating the clash of spiritualities in the Johannine writings and what is meant there by the Jews.

At the end of last semester, the Year II students, as part of the Liturgy Module, also visited the Irish Jewish Museum in Portobello, Dublin’s “Little Jerusalem,” and the synagogue upstairs.

Last week, many of you may have been aware of the Holocaust memorials in Dublin and throughout the world.

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki .... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Recent and contemporary Jewish spirituality need to be understood both within the Irish context and on their own terms as a modern current in spirituality and one that can both challenge and enrich us.

In our studies of the Scriptures, we sometimes forget that Judaism continued to grow and develop, and that there have been continuing, growing and evolving Jewish spiritualities over the past 20 centuries. An awareness of that will enrich our understanding of the traditions from which Christianity has grown, and contribute towards our own spiritualities.

The Jewish contribution to Western culture cannot all be compartmentalised into the wanderings of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, the movies of Woody Allen, amateur dramatic stagings of Fiddler on the Roof, the novels of Chaim Potok or James Heller, the songs of Bob Dylan, the poems of Leonard Cohen, Erich Segal’s Love Story, the politics and conflicts around Israel, or Madonna’s dabbling in the Kaballah.

But over the centuries, European civilisation and our spirituality have been challenged by, have been enriched by and have engaged with innumerable Jewish thinkers and philosophers, including:

● Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who declared that religious faith “consists in honesty and sincerity of heart rather than in outward actions.”

● Karl Marx (1818-1883), who irreversibly changed political and social thinking.

● Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the father figure of post-modernism, who argued: “We should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, way up there, transcendent and, what is more … capable, more than any satellite orbiting in space, of seeing into the most secret of places.” Instead, he said, we should see God as “the structure of conscience.”

Stars of David in the darkness of the night at the synagogue in Rathfarnham Road, Dublin ... the spirituality that sustained a people and a faith through the dark night of the Holocaust is rich, deep and profound (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last week [Sunday 26 January 2014], there were special commemorations ahead of Holocaust Day in Dublin. The spirituality that sustained a people and a faith through the dark night of the Holocaust must be very rich, deep and profound, and has to have something deep and beautiful to contribute to us today, and to say to us as we experience and live our lives spiritually.

There is a perception that Jewish religious activity is confined to concerns about the modern state of Israel or debates about the observation of kosher regulations. But there are other sources and strengths for the practice of Jewish spirituality today.

Any introduction to Jewish spirituality also needs to imagine the profound impact of the Holocaust on Jews collectively and on our society. And an introduction to Jewish spirituality also needs to take account of the Hasidic movement, which has influenced many writers outside its own circles.

In addition, an introduction to eight key personalities helps to illustrate this: Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Elie Wisel, Lionel Blue, Jonathan Sacks, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Michele Guinness and Leonard Cohen.

Judaism in Ireland today:

Terenure Synagogue, Rathfarnham Road ... I was born a few doors away in 1952 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There is a popular story that almost 60 years ago in New York, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, led the Saint Patrick’s Day parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue. in 1956. Two Jewish women were watching the parade.

One said to the other: “Did you know that Robert Briscoe is Jewish?”

“Amazing! Only in America,” replied said his friend. “Only in America could a Jewish boy grow up to be Lord Mayor of Dublin. And a politician too.”

Abba Eban, a future Foreign Minister of Israel, lived in lived in Kinnaird Street, Belfast, as a childhood evacuee during World War I. At same time, Maxim Litvinov, later the Soviet Foreign Minister under Stalin, was living on Cliftonpark Avenue.

Since the arrival of the first Jews in Ireland in 1079, a number of Jews have been elected to high office: William Annyas was Mayor of Youghal, Co Cork in 1555; Sir Otto Jaffe (1846-1929) was twice Lord Mayor of Belfast, in 1899 and 1904 (some of you may know the Jaffe Fountain in the Victoria Square Centre); in 1956 and 1961, Robert Briscoe of Fianna Fail was Lord Mayor of Dublin; in 1977, Gerald Goldberg was Lord Mayor of Cork; Ben Briscoe, a Fianna Fail TD, followed in father’s footsteps when he was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1988. In my own lifetime there have been Jewish TDs in all three main political parties: Ben Briscoe (Fianna Fail), Alan Shatter (Fine Gael) and Mervyn Taylor (Labour).

James Joyce made Leopold Bloom the archetypal “Dub” of the early 20th century when he wrote Ulysses. But real-life prominent Irish-born Jews include Chaim Herzog, President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, who was born in Belfast in 1918, and his father Isaac was the first Chief Rabbi of the Irish Free State.

The present Jewish community in Ireland dates mainly from the 1880s, when immigrants from Lithuania fleeing pogroms in the Tsarist empire found refuge in Dublin and Cork. At its highest point, the Jewish population of Ireland stood between 3,500 and 4,000, from 1911 until 1948. By 1991, this number had dropped to 1,581.

The traditional kitchen, with a typical Sabbath meal setting, in the Irish Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although the last census (2011) did not include a tick box for Judaism, many Jews filled in their Jewish affiliation, so the number of Jews in the Republic of Ireland was recorded at 1,984 in 2011, up from 1,930 in 2006 and 1,581 in 1991. In Northern Ireland, 335 people chose to identify themselves as Jewish, up from a previous estimate of 150. A further 1,069 Jews of Irish birth are living in England and Wales.

If we understand the role of immigration in maintaining Jewish numbers in Dublin, then it seems there are more Irish-born Jews living in England than in Ireland.

There are two main, public synagogues in Dublin: one Orthodox synagogue on Rathfarnham Road in Terenure, and one Liberal-Progressive synagogue on Leicester Avenue in Rathgar (Knesset Orach Chayim). There is one small synagogue in South Terrace, Cork, that rarely opens, and another synagogue in Belfast 49 Somerton Road. An earlier synagogue at Annesley Street, off Carlisle Circus, still stands today, and there was synagogue on Hawkins Street in Derry until the end of World War II.

The Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation (Knesset Orech Chayim) on Leicester Avenue in Rathgar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In addition, there are two smaller synagogues in Dublin: the Machzikei haDas Congregation in Rathmore Villas, behind Terenure Road North; and the synagogue in the Dublin Jewish Home at the Quaker-run Bloomfield Care Centre in Rathfarnham, where there is a full Kosher kitchen is provided and services are held each Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Other synagogues in Dublin – including the ones on Adelaide Road, Walworth Road, and on the South Circular Road (Greenville Hall) closed in the 1970s and 1980s. The synagogue on Walworth Road now houses the Irish Jewish Museum, which the Year II Liturgy Module students visited at the end of last semester. The museum was opened in 1985 by the former President of Israel, Chaim Herzog.

The museum was opened in 1985 by the former President of Israel, Chaim Herzog (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are Jewish cemeteries in Ballybough, with graves dating back to the early 18th century, in Dolphin’s Barn, which opened in 1898, and close to the Orlagh Retreat Centre, which opened in the early 1950s. Stratford College, on Zion Road, is a Jewish-run school. But Dublin’s kosher bakery, the Bretzel in Portobello, has been owned by non-Jews for two generations.

Most Irish Jews are comfortably middle-class, many are professionals or in business, and many are third- or fourth-generation Irish-born. But they are asking themselves whether Jewish life is going to continue in Ireland? And if so, for much longer?

Emigration, an aging population, intermarriage and assimilation have all taken their toll, and some estimates say that within a generation or two only a handful of Jews are likely to remain in Ireland. Raphael Siev, who founded the museum, has estimated “there are more Irish-born Jews living in Israel than in Ireland.”

But when the Church of Ireland Interfaith Conference in this institute in 2010 visited the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Rabbi Zalman Lent speculated that the decline has been arrested. He pointed out there is a young Jewish population in Dublin, and some Jewish immigration.

Personal encounter

A stained glass window in the Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road

I was born on Rathfarnham Road, a few doors away from the Terenure Synagogue. In my youth, I knew the streets of Little Jerusalem, off the South Circular Road and Clanbrassil Street in Dublin. There, in Little Jerusalem, my grandfather had cousins who shared a house with Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and cousins who lived two doors away from the house where James Joyce says Leopold Bloom was born.

The Torah Scrolls in the Ark in the synagogue in the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Over the years, I have visited the synagogues in Dublin at Adelaide Road and Walworth Road (both now closed), Rathfarnham Road and Leicester Avenue, Rathgar, and I have written about and visited synagogues and Jewish communities in Britain, Austria, China, Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong, Italy, Romania, Turkey, and Israel/Palestine.

Hasidism and the Lubavitcher movement

Rabbis from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement pose for a group photograph in Brooklyn, New York

The Lubavitcher movement is one of the largest Hasidic movements in Orthodox Judaism, and is based in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn, New York. The movement runs thousands of centres around the world, including community centres, synagogues and schools. This movement has over 200,000 adherents and up to a million Jews attend or Chabad-Lubavitch services at least once a year.

Chabad is an acronym for Hebrew words meaning Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, while the Lubavitch movement takes its name from Lyubavichi, a Russian town that was its headquarters for over a century.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement was founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who developed an intellectual system and approach to Judaism. While other Hasidic traditions focus only on the idea that “God desires the heart,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman argued that he also desires the mind, and that the heart without the mind is useless. He argued that “understanding is the mother of … fear and love of God. These are born of knowledge and profound contemplation of the greatness of God.”

Shneur Zalman was instrumental in the preservation of Hasidism within mainstream Judaism. Avrum Erlich writes that he “allowed for some of the mystically inclined Hasidim to reacquaint themselves with traditional scholarship and the significance of strict halakhic observance and behaviour, concerning which other Hasidic schools were sometimes less exacting. Shneur Zalman also provided the opportunity for traditionalists and scholars to access the Hasidic mood and its spiritual integrity without betraying their traditional scholarly allegiances.”

Shneur Zalman emphasised that mysticism without Talmudic study was worthless – even dangerous. He taught that Torah must be studied joyously – studying without joy is frowned upon. He provided a metaphor: when a mitzvah (commandment) is fulfilled an angel is created. But if the mitzvah was joyless then the angel too will be dispirited.

More recently, his descendant, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), sought to unite the mundane aspects of the world with the aspect of godliness in the world. He emphasised the concept of creating an abode for God in this world. He felt that the world was not a contradiction to the word of God, and it was to be embraced rather than shunned.

Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965), right, was an eminent philosopher, translator, and educator. He was born in Vienna, where he spent much of his childhood. Reading Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, he was inspired to study philosophy, and his doctoral work was on Jakob Böhme, the German Lutheran pietist who influenced the Anglican mystic William Law and John Wesley. Buber resigned from the University of Frankfurt am Main after Hitler came to power in 1933. When he was banned from lecturing, he moved to Jerusalem and died there in 1965.

Buber’s evocative, sometimes poetic, writing style has marked the major themes in his work: the re-telling of Hasidic tales, Biblical commentary, and metaphysical dialogue.

He thought the Zionist movement had the potential for social and spiritual enrichment. But he also admired how Hasidic communities brought their religious beliefs into their daily life and culture, and published collected stories of two Hasidic founding figures, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), and the Baal Shem Tov (d. 1760), the founder of Hasidism.

Buber valued the emphasis in the Hasidic tradition on community, inter-personal life, and meaning in common activities. For Buber, the Hasidic ideal was a life lived in the unconditional presence of God, where there was no distinct separation between daily habits and religious experience. This was a major influence on Buber’s philosophy of anthropology, which considered the basis of human existence as dialogical.

In 1923, he wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du (later published in English as I and Thou). In I and Thou, he introduced his thesis on human existence. He argues there that a person is at all times engaged with the world in one of two modes of being: one of dialogue (Ich-Du) or one of monologue (Ich-Es). Ich-Du (“I-Thou”) is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is an encounter in which infinity and universality are made actual, rather than being merely concepts.

Buber describes God as the eternal “Du,” and so one key Ich-Du relationship Buber identifies is that between a human being and God. He argues that this is the only way it is possible to interact with God, and that an Ich-Du relationship with anything or anyone connects in some way with the eternal relation to God.

On the other hand, in an Ich-Es relationship there is no actual meeting. Instead, the “I” confronts and treats the being in its presence as an object. The Ich-Es relationship, therefore, is a relationship with oneself; it is not a dialogue, but a monologue. In the Ich-Es relationship, an individual treats other things, including people, as objects to be used and experienced. Essentially, this form of objectivity relates to the world in terms of the self – how an object can serve the individual’s interest.

Buber argues that human life consists of an oscillation between Ich-Du and Ich-Es, and that Ich-Du experiences are few and far between. Buber argues that Ich-Es relations – even between human beings – devalue not only those who exist, but the meaning of all existence.

Simone Weil

Simone Weil (1909-1943), right, was a French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist, who was born in Paris into an agnostic Jewish family. She wrote extensively with both insight and breadth about the political movements she was a part involved in and later about spiritual mysticism. Her biographer Gabriella Fiori says she was “a moral genius in the orbit of ethics, a genius of immense revolutionary range.”

Despite her youthful pacifism, she fought in the Spanish Civil War. After clumsily burning herself over a cooking fire, she left Spain to recuperate in Assisi, and there, in the church where Saint Francis of Assisi had prayed, she had an experience of religious ecstasy in 1937, leading her to pray for the first time in her life.

She had another, more powerful revelation a year later, and from 1938 on, her writings became more mystical and spiritual. She thought of becoming a Roman Catholic, but declined to be baptised until the very end of her life – a decision she explained in her book Waiting for God. In World War II, she joined the French Resistance.

After a lifetime of illness and frailty, she died in August 1943 in Ashford, Kent, at the age of 34. The 1952 book Gravity and Grace consists of passages selected from her notebooks.

Weil does not regard the world as a debased creation, but as a direct expression of God’s love – although she also recognises it as a place of evil, affliction, and sees the brutal mixture of chance and necessity. This juxtaposition leads her to produce an unusual form of Christian theodicy.

Weil also writes on why she believes spirituality is necessary for dealing with social and political problems, and says the soul needs food just as the body needs food.

Elie Weisel

Elie Wiesel (b. 1928) is a Romanian-born modern Jewish novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of over 40 books. His best-known book, Night (1958), describes his Holocaust experiences in several concentration camps: “I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man.”

Elie Wiesel was the son of an Orthodox Jewish grocer and the grandson of a Hasidic farmer. In 1944, the family was confined to the ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz. From Auschwitz, they were sent to Buchenwald, where his father was murdered.

In one searing passage in Night, he recalls “the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky,” and says: “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever … Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

After World War II, he moved first to France, where he was persuaded him to write about his Holocaust experiences, and then to New York.

In 1955, Wiesel he moved to the US, where he has written over 40 books and was instrumental in the building of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. His writing is considered among the most important in Holocaust literature, and he is credited by some with giving the term “Holocaust” its present meaning.

His statement, “... to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all ...,” stands as a succinct summary of his views on life and serves as the driving force of his work.

Jürgen Moltmann, in The Crucified God, was the first theologian to adapt Wiesel’s graphic and horrific story of a Jewish boy hung by the Nazis along with two men in a camp. It took half an hour for the youth to die and, as the men of the camp watched his torment, one asked: “Where is God now?” Wiesel heard a voice within him answer: “Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows.”

While Wiesel interpreted his inner voice as expressing what has now become disbelief in a loving and just God, Moltmann used the story to argue for a God who suffers in union with those who suffer.

Jonathan Sacks

Lord Sacks (Dr Jonathan Henry Sacks), right, is the former (Orthodox) Chief Rabbi in Britain, and is a well-known spokesman for the Jewish community, as a frequent guest on television and radio shows, and for his regular newspaper columns. Lord Sacks stirred controversy in the Jewish community some years ago when he did not attend the funeral service of the Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn and wrote a private letter in Hebrew that suggested that Reform Jews are “dividers of the faith.”

On the other hand, some rabbis have accused Lord Sacks of heresy in his book The Dignity of Difference, in which he seems to imply that Judaism is not the absolute truth. He amended the next edition of the book, but refused to recall earlier editions. Some rabbis have also condemned him for engaging in dialogue with Christians.

In the 1990 BBC Reith lectures, published as The Persistence of Faith (1991), he argued that faiths must remain open to criticism, and while keeping alive their separate communities must contribute to national debates and moral issues.

Lord Sacks has also engaged positively with Hasidic spirituality, seeing the Lubavitcher spirituality as “bridging the gap between spiritual insight and daily behaviour [that] had always been a problem for Jewish mysticism.”

His predecessor as Chief Rabbi was Lord Jakobovits, who had previously been Chief Rabbi of Ireland. When he retired last year, Lord Sacks was succeeded as Chief Rabbi by Dr Ephraim Mirvis, another former Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1985-1992).

Lionel Blue

Rabbi Lionel Blue, right, is an English Reform rabbi from the East End of London, a journalist and broadcaster, and the first openly gay British rabbi. He is well known for his wry, gentle sense of humour on A Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4.

Through those contributions to A Thought for the Day for over 25 years, he has given hundreds of thousands of listeners their daily ration of spirituality and religion, and has bridged the gap between not only Judaism but all religion and the demands of the secular world.

“Well good morning Sue, and good morning John, and good morning everybody” is a typical opening for A Thought for the Day. He has said: “I don’t believe death is the end. This world is like a corridor, like a departure lounge in an airport. You make yourself comfortable and get to know people – then your number comes up and you’re called.”

Dan Cohn-Sherbok

Dan Cohn-Sherbok is a Reform rabbi and Professor Emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales in Lampeter. Contrary to the official position of Reform Judaism, he is sympathetic to Messianic Judaism and Secular Humanistic Judaism, and is interested in Jewish-Buddhist and Jewish-Christian dialogue.

He argues that today Judaism is pluriform in nature, that it no longer has an over-arching authority that can determine correct belief and practice, so that the Jewish community has splintered into a variety of groups, ranging from the strictly Orthodox to the most liberal, with some groups borrowing in a syncretistic way from other religious traditions.

In The Crucified Jew (1992), he challenges Christians to face up to 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. In Glimpses of God (1994), he invites a variety of writers, Jewish and Christian, to say whether we can find a glimpse of God in the everyday life.

Michele Guinness

And we come full circle with Michele Guinness, right, who bridges Judaism and Anglicanism in her own life story. A vicar’s wife and a broadcaster for many years, she has written eight books and is a regular contributor to television, newspapers and magazines.

In her best-selling book, Child of the Covenant (1985), Michele Guinness talks about making sense of being both Jewish and Christian. She grew up in a traditional Jewish family, observing all its rituals and culture. An encounter with a Christian raised many questions for her, and she turned to the Bible for the answers. She was baptised a Christian, but argues that as a member of the Church of England she has never lost her sense of being Jewish, and she continues to practice many aspects of her Jewish faith. She tells of a Jewish girl rediscovering her roots by finding Christ. As she came face-to-face with Christ as the Messiah, she tried to make sense of being both Jewish and Christian.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen on stage at the O2 in September 2013 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I have been a fan of his since the late 1960s, and I first became a fan through reading his poetry, so I know there is more to his spirituality than Hallelujah. Like most Jews, he has been irrevocably changed by entering into the shared, post-Holocaust experience. Like many Jews, he has tried to balance between a critical and an ambivalent attitude to the religious teachings of Judaism, but he has never abandoned it.

His poetry and his lyrics are deeply influenced by Hasidic ideas too, and even when he is apparently at his most bawdy he remains deeply mystical and spiritually challenging.

Leonard Cohen draws from Jewish religious and cultural imagery throughout his work. Examples include Story of Isaac, and Who by Fire, the words and melody of which echo the Unetaneh Tokef, an 11th-century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Broader Jewish themes are heard in the album Various Positions. Hallelujah, which has music as a secondary theme, begins by evoking King David composing a song that “pleased the Lord,” and continues with references to Bathsheba and Samson. The lyrics of Whither Thou Goest, first released on the album Live in London, are inspired by the story of Ruth and Naomi (see Ruth 1: 16–17). Our opening music this morning, If It Be Your Will, also has a strong air of religious resignation.

Leonard Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath, even on tour. He says the tradition of Zen that he has practiced in the past has “no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.” He is still Jewish, and says “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.”

At concerts in Israel in 2009, he prayed Jewish prayers and as a cohen he blessed the audience in Hebrew. He opened the concert with the first sentence of Ma Tovu (“O How Good”), the prayer expressing reverence and awe for synagogues and other places of worship. Later, he used Baruch Hashem (“With the help of Heaven”), and he closed the concert reciting the Birkat Cohanim, the blessing pronounced from a platform by cohanim (see Numbers 6: 23-27).

These days, all his concerts close with him singing his poem, If it be your will – itself a deeply moving prayer.

Closing music:

Our closing music this morning is a track from Leonard Cohen’s latest album, Old Ideas (2012). If you read the words of Leonard Cohen’s Amen as a prayer, you may even find a meeting point between modern Jewish spirituality and Christian spirituality in the thoughts of a singer-songwriter like this.

Closing Blessing:

May the Lord bless you and keep you …
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
(Yebhārēkh-khā Adhōnāy weyishmerēkhā ...)

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you …
יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
(Yā’ēr Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiḥunnékkā ...)

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
(Yissā Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiyāsēm lekhā shālōm.)

The Irish Jewish Museum and Heritage Centre is housed in the former synagogue on Walworth Road, which opened in 1915 and remained in use until the 1970s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Handout 1:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

“Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

“Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

“Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.

“Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself.

“Never.” – Elie Wiesel, Night.

Handout 2:

Leonard Cohen: If it be your will

If it be your will
that I speak no more
and my voice be still
as it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
if it be your will

If it be your will
that a voice be true
from this broken hill
I will sing to you
from this broken hill
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing
from this broken hill
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing

If it be your will
if there is a choice
let the rivers fill
let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
on all these burning hearts in hell
if it be your will
to make us well

And draw us near
and bind us tight
all your children here
in their rags of light
In our rags of light
all dressed to kill
and end this night
if it be your will

If it be your will.

Handout 3: Hymn 323

The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
to him uplift your voice,
at whose supreme command
from earth we rise, and seek the joys
at his right hand.

He by himself has sworn,
I on his oath depend;
I shall on eagle’s wings upborne,
to heaven ascend:
I shall behold his face,
I shall his power adore,
and sing the wonders of his grace
for evermore.

There dwells the Lord, our King,
the Lord, our righteousness,
triumphant o’er the world and sin,
the Prince of peace;
on Zion’s sacred height
his kingdom he maintains,
and, glorious with his saints in light,
for ever reigns.

The God who reigns on high,
the great archangels sing,
and “Holy, holy, holy,” cry,
“Almighty King!
who was and is the same,
and evermore shall be:
Jehovah, Father, great I AM,
we worship thee!”

The whole triumphant host
give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”
they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham's God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
all might and majesty are thine,
and endless praise.

Handout 4: Leonard Cohen, Amen

Tell me again
When I’ve been to the river
And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst
Tell me again
We’re alone and I’m listening
I’m listening so hard that it hurts
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you want me then

Tell me again
When the victims are singing
And the Laws of Remorse are restored
Tell me again
That you know what I’m thinking
But vengeance belongs to the Lord
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you love me then

Tell me again
When the day has been ransomed
And the night has no right to begin
Try me again
When the angels are panting
And scratching at the door to come in
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you need me then

Tell me again
When the filth of the butcher
Is washed in the blood of the lamb
Tell me again
When the rest of the culture
Has passed through the Eye of the Camp
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me that you love me then

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College, Dublin. This essay is based on notes for a seminar with M.Th. students on 3 February 2014.

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