Liturgist and poet Alden Solovy discusses the challenge of praising God during a period of political distress and uncertainty.
A strangely festive undertone animates the weekly Saturday evening demonstrations against the so-called judicial reforms here in Jerusalem. I’ve attended many of these protests in the thirty-two weeks since they began in January.
The post-Shabbat protests outside the president’s residence have become a place to catch up with neighbors and friends, hear music, cheer for speakers, blow kazoos in call and response with a circle of drummers, and chant slogans with enthusiasm.
Most of the demonstrations across the country occur without incident, while some have been marred by police violence and attacks on protesters, typically when major news breaks about the government’s relentless attempts to eviscerate the Israeli justice system or when protesters seek out government officials at their homes or when they are out in the field on government business. Here in Jerusalem, the typical mood at the weekly demonstrations is a strange combination of upbeat enthusiasm and downbeat disappointment, anger, and fear.
This dichotomy is manifested by the costumes that some protesters wear. While some are humorous digs at the government—a clown on stilts and various wild animals, for example—others are deadly serious, like the women dressed as “Handmaid” characters from The Handmaid’s Tale, silently calling attention to the potential of the “reforms” to erode women’s rights.
In spite of the onset of “protest fatigue,” people are still coming out to demonstrate. Each week, the protests take on a different tenor. Two weeks ago, around the country, the mood was more somber. In Jerusalem, the musical act was eliminated from the program in respect after a terror attack in Tel Aviv earlier in the day. We sang Hatikvah (“The Hope”), Israel’s national anthem, at the end of the rally and went home early.
The leaders have called the weekly protests a “festival of democracy”—a festival that comes hand in hand with dark fears for the future of the State.
Jews around the world will soon bring in the new month of Elul, beginning a forty-day period of introspection and change including the High Holy Days. Our traditional t’filah for Rosh Chodesh includes singing Hallel, psalms of praise and rejoicing.
How can we rejoice in the face of this deep fear, pain, and sorrow for the State of Israel? Much like the somber realities combining with the festive atmosphere of many of the protests, this year the traditional Hallel may need a more layered and nuanced set of emotions.
Two and a half years ago—in the heart of the pandemic—I asked a similar question in the context of COVID and the approaching Passover seders, during which Hallel is also recited. How can we sing Hallel with a full heart at socially distanced seders? I crafted an alternative called “Hallel in a Minor Key,” inviting singer-songwriter Sue Horowitz to compose music for the opening poem. Partnering with the CCAR, Sue and I offered the liturgy as a thank-you gift to the congregations, rabbis, cantors, and spiritual leaders who have used our work.
We offer this liturgy to you again in answer to a new question: How do we recite Hallel as we fear for the future of the State of Israel? You can download a PDF of the full liturgy, along with the sheet music. You can also download a recording of the music. Read about the spiritual and musical influences behind this liturgy in our original RavBlog post “Hallel in a Minor Key.”
We encourage you to add music or additional readings that would deepen the meaning of your worship. If you use this liturgy, we’d love to hear from you. Reach Alden at firstname.lastname@example.org and Sue at email@example.com.
Alden Solovy is a liturgist who made aliyah to Jerusalem in 2012. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine in Poetry and Prayer, and These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah, all published by CCAR Press.