Invocation at the National Day of Prayer
May 3, 2018
Rabbi Noah Farkas
Today is Lag B’Omer the thirty-third day of the great ingathering of the barley harvest. Today we stand between Exodus and Sinai we mark our pathway between the splitting of sea and the holy mountain. We celebrate by lighting bonfires, but I asked the mayor if I could light one here in this tent. He said, “No” But, as we in our tradition light up the world we come here this morning to do the same. And so good morning to all of you.
The Rabbis teach that every important institution in one’s life is given the word ‘Bayit” or home. Jews go to school in the House of the Book. We pray in the House of Ingathering. Jews adjudicate their quarrels in the House of Justice. Your wedding canopy is called a home. A loving partner is called your home. And when you are buried by loved ones, you are brought into the House of Life.
Wherever we are, our hearts yearn in life and in death for the very word that comes to describe our communal gatherings for “bayit” for home. Where ever we are we yearn for home.
And yet, we look out upon our beautiful city, its shining beaches and wide boulevards and we see thousands and thousands of our fellow men women and children whose yearnings go unanswered.
Whose despair hardens their hearts as much as much as the pavement they sleep on.
Whose situation makes them feel as if they’ve been cast into a prison without walls.
For homelessness is an incarceration of a special kind where there is no wire there is no guard tower. No wall or moat. No orange jumpsuit.
But it is still a prison. While there is no physical obstacle that separates them from everyone else it is still a prison, a form of solitary confinement.
The homeless still wear the manacles of poverty and the chains of being poor.
They live in a bitter are still kind of cell where nothing separates themselves from the outside except a scratch of sidewalk. They are imprisoned in their own Special Housing Unit, solitary confinement in the middle of public space where no one talks to them, no one makes eye contact with them, no one smiles at them they just walk on their way, clutch their children in front of them.
Being homeless is solitary confinement of the strangest kind because the homeless see us, hear us feel us moving on our way they sit there alone in public. In prison in public.
Being incarcerated for being poor.
Traumatized for being traumatized.
Victimized for being a domestic victim.
Vandalized for being vandalized.
Turned out for coming out.
With nowhere to turn they serve their sentence while their heart still beats. Like all of us, it beats every second of every minute for home.
So it is so incredibly important that on this morning we gather in a house.
In this house here the Getty House there lived an oil tycoon, a philanthropist, and a mayor or two.
In this house have come thousands of activists, scholars, captains of industry.
In this house have gathered the well healed and the soft toed shoes to dance.
And now we have come into this house, the clergy of our city have come the prophetic voice.
To come together to sing a new song and rise and break the fetters of poverty and the shackles of oppression. To lift up those who still have not found a home their weary head. To sing and proclaim that from this house to every house, a new song shall be heard. We will sing a song that says all people are created in God’s holy image. A song that sings that all life is precious. This is the song that we sing together this morning. A song that says what makes our city great is not just our skyscrapers and palm trees, but the public will of politicians, business, and faith communities the greatest public will in modern history to free from invisible prison those who are not yet free.
So let us sing this new song today.
And so we gather this morning to pray for our leaders, for our Mayor and his family. For our City Council and their families. For the heads of agencies, commissions, communities of faith and industry who have come into this house. We gather this morning to pray for every Angeleno whose chests are filled with the same human heart that yearns for home.
And so pray with me. And let us say thank you.
Thank you God for giving us this house. Thank you God for protecting our city leaders. Thank you for softening our hearts and opening our eyes.
Thank you for reminding each of us that there is great work to be done, but from this house to every house we are taking the steps to find everyone a house for all who seek one in dignity, justice and peace.
Let us say,