Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Repairing the World ... One Song at a Time
by Barry L. Schwartz
There is one who sings the song of the self.
There is one who sings the song of the people.
There is one ... who sings the song of humanity.
There is one ... who sings a song with all God's creatures.
There is one who rises with all these songs in one ensemble.
-- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
In the beginning, I have learned, there is song.
Song is what brought together a Cherry Hill rabbi and a Camden minister. In this case song is what bridged the gap between Jew and Christian, between black and white, between suburb and city. Song is what overcame ethnic fault lines and economic divides.
In the beginning, the friendship of rabbi and minister gave birth to an alliance of congregations when they simply sang together. Two great choirs became one. The Jews taught their African American Baptist friends some Hebrew. The African Americans taught the Jews how to move. Our Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, Shabbat evening at the synagogue, and Sunday morning at the church were never the same again.
First we sang together, then we studied together, then we acted together. The gift of music secured a person-to-person embrace: the heart. The gift of study, grounded in Bible study and book clubs, secured a mutual respect: the mind. The gift of activism, from quilt making to lobbying, doing the work of justice together, secured a shared sense of accomplishment: the spirit.
And so it came to pass that a rabbi and a minister, and with them two congregations, took the lead in helping the faith community intensely lobby the political establishment for passage of the landmark Camden Recovery Act. It was the culminating act of tikkun olam, repairing the world, in my twenty-five years in the rabbinate. Not because our world changed forever; Camden remains the poorest city in the country. But we had moved a mountain. We had shown what was possible. We restored hope. We acted as one community of Southern New Jersey.
And in the process, we discovered that our hearts yearn to sing, our minds yearn to learn, and our souls yearn to change.
Reb Gandhi taught, "Be the change you want to see in the world." One song at a time, until the ensemble in full throat becomes like the heavenly hosts before the Throne of Glory.
Barry L. Schwartz is a rabbi, author, and activist. His latest book, Judaism's Great Debates, will be published next year.
Source Citation: Schwartz, Barry L. 2011. Repairing the World … One Song at a Time. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.