Most years, I write an original prayer to share with the congregation on the first night of Rosh Hashana.
I try to base the words of the prayer on something that has occurred during the past year or something that we look forward to in the year ahead. Occasionally, my prayer is in tribute to a person who died during the previous year and that was the case this year.
There were many influential people who died during 5775. Names such as Oliver Sachs, Sarah Brady, Leonard Nimoy and Theodore Bikel immediately come to mind.
But my prayer this year is a tribute to a man who died this past spring whose name is perhaps not quite as well known as the others I mentioned, but one whose work has touched me and I imagine many others, deeply over the years. His name is Ben E. King and he is best known for co-writing and performing a beautifully touching song with the simplest of melodies which has become a personal favorite of so many.
The song is entitled Stand By Me.
Stand By Me is so well loved that it has been “covered” by more than 400 musicians including John Lennon, Tracy Chapman (who performed it on the David Letterman show just a few weeks before Mr. King’s death), Ike and Tina Turner, and last but not least, Timon and Pumbaa from the Lion King.
Inspired by a Christian spiritual and by the words of Psalm 46, the song speaks of the power of loyalty and confidence inspired by loved ones and by God. As such, it seems perfect as a setting for my original prayer.
As we enter into 5776, I hope you will find the prayer meaningful and inspirational and I would not be surprised if you break into song upon reading it:
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 days and months ahead.
Help us to stand by our family and friends, to share their joy and comfort them through sadness.
Help us to stand by and for our people and our faith. Let us express the pride we feel in our tradition, our history and our commitment for our future. May we always remain connected and committed to our people throughout the world.
Help us 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 to those who live in danger and isolation. May we hear their cries and reach out a hand to help them.
Help us 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 and sacred world. When the night has come and the land is dark, help us, O God, 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.