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