Tradition & Innovation

Eileh Ezkarah: A Martyrology Service for Our Time

Vivie Mayer is pictured from just below the neck to the middle of her torso. She is drapped in a white tallis and is clutching the corners and holding them close to her heart. Around her neck is a chain necklace with purple stones hanging from it.
I wrote this poem for Yom Kippur 2020 and recited it at Temple Beth El in Portland, Maine, where I was helping to lead services over Zoom. I ended up chanting it, and not simply reading, in place of the entire regular martyrology service. It is written from the middle of the pandemic, right before the presidential election.
We have only a few years to avert the worst of climate change. The martyrs speak to us, now.

Eileh Ezkarah: These I Remember

These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears:
The millions of adults, children, and babies throughout history 
who died because they were Jews
The rabbis tortured and slain by Rome
The countless souls murdered in the European crusades
The families hunted, exiled, or forcibly converted in the Spanish Inquisition
The Yiddin of the shtetl, persecuted in pogroms and conscription
The six million annihilated in the Shoah
The victims of the massacre at Tree of Life
And all who have been murdered by the senseless hand
Of violent antisemitism, over continents and millenia
These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears
On Yom Kippur we lift our voice to God
And remember them: these souls who were snatched 
violently from the bonds of life and hurled into the abyss
We lift our voice to them on high for we know that is their place now
We say: You have not died in vain.
We say: We remember you.
We say: Your lives had meaning.
We say: We will carry on your legacy.
This Yom Kippur, if we incline the ear of our heart,
We may yet hear a still small voice
A rustling under the wings of Shekhinah
A gathering storm of angels growing louder, stronger, becoming
A Great Assembly of Martyrs, mustering to pierce the veil
This Yom Kippur, as we teeter on the brink
They speak to us, not from the moments of each tragic death
But from the full stature and strength of each life
They say: You stand at the hinge of history.
They say: Life and Death are set before you.
They say: Racism, poverty, the broken tablets of a social contract.
They say: Fire and flood, the rising sea, pandemics, the sixth mass extinction.
They say: On the merit of our righteous acts we plead with you.
They say: On the merit of our holy deaths we entreat you.
They say: Let us not have died in vain.
They say: Choose Life that you may live, and that we may live in you.
They say: To what will you give your life?
They say: For what would you give your life?
These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears:
Eileh Ezkarah
It is a wail of grief
And it is a summons to life

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