The Song for our Troubled Times?
“Point a finger at someone and you’re pointing three fingers at yourself.”
Yeah I know, it’s one of those annoying aphorisms that appear on Facebook with some cute photoshopped image. But as in many annoying Facebook aphorisms, it has something to it.
I’ve been thinking about this physiological morality tale over the past few weeks. Like an evil wind, uproar against one Israeli ‘tribe’ or another has been whipping from headline to headline, stirring up anger then moving on to the next issue, leaving pointing fingers in its wake.
I keep returning to the Prayer of the Secular. It’s a song by Kobi Oz that, to my mind, manages to point a finger at everyone, and yet finds a space for self-critique and harmony. (For a less polemic interpretation of the song, feel free to pop over here, where you’ll also find a full written translation and explanatory footnotes.)
The song begins with the prayer, but swiftly moves into a full-blooded yet empathetic critique of the secular life-style. We take pills if we feel bad, we blame our parents for all our faults, and our values are for sale in a mall. We take no cosmic responsibilities, and (my extension of course) we’re no great advocates for women’s rights ourselves…
Oz imagines himself standing praying his secular prayer in a Jewish minyan. Next to him is a sweaty, slavish, over-reproducing Haredi man. All the (well-sourced) stereotypes spill out in three lines of verse. Yet before we have time to take a breath, the National Religious get it in the neck. They are accused of being vainglorious, valuing land over people, stuck in the past and pulling all of us into war.
Then just as the progressive Jew begins to giggle, the song cuts Reform Jews to the quick, with a suggestion that their Judaism may not be an alteration but instead a totally different religion. My translation, “A reform Jew with a brand new cover or a different book”, is less inflammatory than the Hebrew (what can I do? Child of my time, I was thinking of that great line from ABC…). The Hebrew reworks a phrase asking if Reform Judaism is a make-over, or a different woman entirely?
In line with our current issues in Israel, Kobi’s minyan includes and excludes the women, “rustling and whispering” behind the mechitza, contributing the “sensuous sound, the feminine voice of the non-counted”
What this song succeeds in doing where most of us in Israel have failed, is in both sharing out the blame and praying for peace. The accusations in the song – against the secular, the haredi, the modern orthodox and reform – do not cancel each other out. The fact that one is fatally flawed does not mean that the other is not. They all stand, together, in the same minyan, praying for fertile rain.