On the eve of the inauguration of a disastrous president of the divided states, my Mom took me to see a 7th-Day Adventist gospel choir at a South American synagogue in Miami. The largely African-American choir and their crack band blew the roof off the joint. In Hebrew.
As they clapped and swayed and soared on stage, the synagogue’s hyperventilating cantor led the prayers: running up-and-down the aisles, belting out a sizzling smorgasbord of Judeao-Christian greatest hits, bent over backwards, in a swirling prayer shawl. The ecstatic rabbi (a dead-ringer for a Latino Bernie Sanders) was over the moon. I think I can speak for the sky-high congregation when I say: we sing the same song. Music rocks the soul. Spirits unite.
It was healing, on that terrible day, my agnosticism eclipsed. Then, the rabbi grabbed the mic and sermonized about the joy of bringing people of different religions and cultures together and the vital importance of building bridges to peace, and I was feeling it, really feeling it, until – he brought up Israel and pledged the congregation’s undying support. I’m not sure it extended to governmental policies towards the Palestinian people, or not, but, all too often it does. I thought of my Palestinian friends, and my heart sank. I have Israeli friends, too.
Trauma breeds trauma, on both sides of every wall. Division between people starts early, triggered by the legacy of violence and fear, while the power of love is stomped on or ignored. Like many of us, I grew up being told only one side of a story. That is why I have always sought out the other, why I want to hear your story, your song: why I want to tell you mine.
What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine.
Last weekend’s anti-human, Muslim ban in the USA and the ensuing massacre of six Muslim men by a white-nationalist in Quebec underlines that every effort of the toxic American administration to divide and conquer is a monumental call to bring us all together to overcome it. The history of the refugee and the fascist, the song of the slave and the master and the indomitable struggle for peace and love are the stories of our world.
Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1725–1807), a white slave-trader-turned-clergyman. In it, he wrote that no matter the sins committed, it is possible to be forgiven and redeemed. Read more of the fascinating story of a song, here.