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Yom Kippur as Transformation-time: 3 Keys to Unlock our Hearts

By       Message Rabbi Arthur Waskow     Permalink
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3.  The liturgy for Yom Kippur includes "Eleh Ezkerah, These we remember," often called "the Martyrology."

"Eleh ezkerah" recalls ten great rabbis who were tortured to death by the Roman Empire during its occupation of the Land of Israel, because they refused to abandon the teaching and practicing of Torah. They practiced what we now call nonviolent "satyagraha," soul-force, unto death.

We might add some additional names to the Martyrology this Yom Kippur -- names of some who died in a new kind of Jewish martyrdom. For a striking and moving video of a new Martyrology, created by Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents, please click here:

In most of Jewish history, those who died for kiddush hashem, were killed precisely because they were Jews who were upholding Torah for the sake of the Jewish people. Their attackers, like the Roman authorities two thousand years ago, were enraged by their Jewish commitment itself, and they died mostly in company with other Jews -- usually not along with those of other ethnic or spiritual communities.

One of the measures of a new turn in Jewish history is that the following people were murdered because they were acting out of a Jewish concern for universal values. Many were killed along with people of other traditions and communities not as a "side effect" but precisely because they were working together on behalf of the universal values of justice, peace, and the empowerment of the poor.

They were killed not because they were Jews, but because they were acting upon profound Jewish values. This is a new path of Kiddush hashem -- making holy God's Name -- well befitting a new world in which Judaism stands alongside and with other paths of decency and holiness.

Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner (both Jews), and James Chaney (an African-American) were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi June 21, 1964, while taking part in Freedom Summer in support of full civil rights for the Black community of Mississippi.

Allison Krause, a student at Kent State University, was one of four students killled by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970. The Guard fired on a nonviolent demonstration against the Vietnam War. Krause was a committed Jew, the daughter of a Reform Jewish family, who opposed the US war against Vietnam out of a sense of the meaning of Judaism.

Ronnie Karpen Moffitt, staff member and activist of the Institute for Policy Studies, was murdered along with Orlando Letelier (an IPS Fellow and the Foreign Minister of the elected Allende government of Chile, which had been toppled by a US-sponsored military coup). The car in which they were riding was blown up on the streets of Washington DC September 21, 1976, by the fascist Chilean junta.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, was murdered on November 27, 1978, because -- as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors -- he had supported the passage of a strong ordinance protecting human rights for gay people. Killed with him on that day was Mayor George Moscone, who had supported the new law.

Ben Linder, a young Jewish engineer from Portland Oregon, went to Nicaragua to help the Sandinista government develop hydroelectric power for poverty-stricken villages with no electricity. It was part of the Sandinista literacy campaign--people didn't have time to learn to read during daylight hours, when they needed to be out in the fields, and they, with Ben's help, were trying to bring electric light to areas that didn't have it so that people could learn to read in the evening. (Ben frequently entertained village children by juggling and riding his unicycle). He was ambushed and killed on April 28, 1987, along with two Nicaraguans, by the Contras who were receiving US Government support to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

His last letter from home, which arrived after his death, was from his sister, who mentioned a teaching of one of the great Hassidic rebbes, Nachman of Bratslav: "The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be consumed by fear." She added that Ben was walking that bridge with great courage.

Ilya Krichevsky, a 29-year-old Russian Jewish architect, was killed on the streets of Moscow in the early hours of August 21, 1991, alongside Vladimir Usov, 30, and Dmitri Komar, two non-Jewish Russians, by the Soviet Army tanks that tried and failed to carry out a coup against President Gorbachev so as to restore the Soviet dictatorship.

His parents got special rabbinic permission to bury him on Shabbat so that he could be buried along with the non-Jewish Russians with whom he had tried to block the Soviet tanks.

Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, was murdered by another Jew on November 4, 1995, because he was moving forward from a past reliance on military force to defend Israel, into an effort to make peace with the Palestinian people.

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, (more...)

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