The Statue of Liberty at Rosh Hashanah

American Wanderers: A New Covenant
by: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

 

Why the Statue of Liberty came to Rosh HaShanah

In preparing for High Holidays, I knew that we had to weave our liturgy into the presence of what America faces today. While reflecting upon social unrest, pandemic, political landscape, and economic hardships, I also found myself officiating Zoom funerals as well as live funerals for COVID victims. My heart broke with every story of someone who could not travel to say goodbye to a dying parent; for every individual that died alone; for the courageous staff of hospitals and caregivers. There is so much courage in our country through this time: the selfless love and serve attitude, the embracing of all peoples through sickness and health, the curiosity arising around implicit bias and racial relations. These spiritual giants in our midst made me think of how our country stands up for justice, and the image of the Statue of Liberty fixed itself in my mind. I thought of our prayer of life and death, the Unehtanneh Tokef  (the prayer that reminds us of our equality through our shared mortality), and I began to dream of a way to weave those two images together.

The Statue of Liberty is like Shechinah standing in NY Harbor. A feminine presence of godliness, she welcomes the poor, the downtrodden, the neglected, the stranger – of all colors, races and sizes. She lights the way for all. She is hope, she is courage, she is the New Colossus, steadfastly witnessing America’s vicissitudes. Upon research, I discovered a lesser known fact:
The Statue of Liberty was originally sketched to be an Egyptian woman of color.

Our Torah portion on the first day of Rosh HaShanah involves the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar is the mother of Ishmael, Sarah’s maidservant, and the woman Rashi teaches us becomes Keturah and marries Abraham after he buries Sarah. Hagar’s name means something like “The Stranger.”  Reading Savina Teubal’s (z”l) “Hagar the Egyptian”, I envisioned Hagar dressed as the Statue of Liberty singing to us at Rosh HaShanah services. I rewrote the lyrics to Don McLean’s “American Pie” to reflect our America today, and hired an open and gifted soul, KC Carnage, to dress as Lady Liberty and Deliver Us.

 

 

American Pie 2020/ Uneh Taneh Tokef 5781
Adapted from Don McLean for Open Temple High Holiday Ritual Lab 5781

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
Some music used to make me smile;
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make some people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while.
But February made me shiver
With words of virus they’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about how many died
Then Something touched me deep inside
The day that George Floyd Died

 

So
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die
Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
And do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me why he died so slow?

 

Well, I know that you all cared for him
‘Cause I saw you marching with your sin
Your White Fragility
Taking a sub 9-minute knee

 

It was Quarantine, and we all got stuck
With no TP,  fear, and just out of luck
But I saw just how much we sucked
The day that George Floyd died…

 

I started singin’
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

Now, for six months we’ve been on our own
Locked in our homes and all alone
But, that’s not how it has to be

 

When Kayne sang for the king and queen
In a ruse he borrowed from Putin
For a vote that comes from you and me
Oh and while the king was looking down
A judge raised up his broken crown
The courtroom was adjourned
Mueller’s verdict was returned
And while Bernie read a book on Marx
The donkeys protest in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day that George Floyd Died

 

We were singin’
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

Helter skelter in a summer swelter
Fires burning it’s a fallout shelter
Orange skies, people falling fast
Blake was shot before a lawn of grass
For Breonna justice did not pass
With jesters on the sidelines as cardboard masks
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While peaceful marchers chanted a new tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never had a chance

 

‘Cause too many players tried to take the field
Then bullets came and made us yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day that George Floyd Died

 

We started singin’
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys are drinking whisky and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

And there we were all in one place
A Tesla rocket launched in Space
Maybe no time left to start again

 

So come on: Derek be nimble, Derek be quick
Derek sat on a Roman candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend
Oh and as I watched him on the iPhone stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day that George Floyd Died

 

He was singin’
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

I’m just a girl who sings the blues
And I’m asking for some happy news
Cause I just can’t smile and turn away
I’m here at the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But my heart says that the music shouldn’t play
(Silence – then, a capella until final repeat verse)
In the streets orphaned children scream
The lovers cry, no poets dream
Not a word is spoken
Our lonely hearts are broken
And the three things I admire most
Liberty, Justice and the US Post
Were silenced out here coast to coast
The day that George Floyd Died.

 

And so we’re singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys are drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

Yes, we’re singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys are drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die.

 

U’tshuvah, u’tefilah, u’tzedakah m’avirin et roah ha’gezerah.
But Return, Prayer and Righteousness will reverse the decree.