I want to share a third prayer which I wrote to share with the Congregation on the first night of Rosh Hashana. This prayer, written in 2015, was based on a song: a beautiful song with a very simple but memorable melody. One of the song’s writers, the man who first performed it, had died a few months before. After I heard the news of his death, I found myself singing the song repeatedly for several days and decided to use his song as the basis for my prayer.
It is a song which continues to inspire and, in fact, just the other night while at a family wedding celebration, I heard the unforgettable introduction and watched as so many people of different ages started immediately singing along.
The song was inspired by words from Psalm 46 and from an old Christian spiritual. Its message of loyalty and love and connection speaks to all of us. It has been “covered” by more than 400 artists including Ike and Tina Turner, MeatLoaf, John Lennon, Tracy Chapman in an extraordinary performance on the David Letterman show just a few days, coincidentally, before the songwriter’s death and, last but certainly not least, Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King in a hilarious video.
To further solidify its place in my heart, in the mid 1980’s it became the title song to one of my favorite movies.
The song, as you might have concluded by now, is Stand By Me and the name of the man who died, the co-writer and original performer of this beautiful song was Ben E. King. .
Before I read the prayer on Rosh Hashana that year, I sang one verse of the song softly and invited the congregation to join with me, softly as well, addressing it both to God and to the people closest to us. I wanted the song to bring more meaning to this night as we ask God and our loved ones to sustain us regardless of what this year might bring.
Here is the text of the prayer from 2015:
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see.
No, I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you Stand By Me.
As we gather together at the beginning of this New Year, O God, help us to stand through the year.
Help us to stand by our family and friends, to share their joy and comfort them through sadness.
Help us, O God, to stand by and for our people and our faith. Let us express pride and remain always dedicated to our brothers and sisters, our tradition, our history and our commitment for our future.
Help us, O God, to stand by the values You and our great teachers have instilled in us: values which compel us to search endlessly for peace and justice and to hear the cries and concerns of all people everywhere, the hungry, the oppressed, the refugee, the unfairly and unjustly imprisoned and those who live in danger and isolation, and reach out a hand to help them.
Help us, O God, to stand by our hopes and our dreams. Help us not to give up the wild, revolutionary, and authentically Jewish idea that the world can be a place of perfection if we join hands with all throughout the world to make it so.
And, O God, stand by us as we navigate this frustrating, difficult, maddening and so, so beautiful world. When the night has come and the land is dark, help us to find the moon and stars to guide us one step at a time to fulfill our responsibilities and embrace our world with confidence and hope.
May we stand by those we love and may they and You, O God, always stand by us as this new year unfolds.