June 15, 2008

El Na Rafa Na La -- Moses's plea for Miriam: "Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee."

Yesterday, Shabbat Beha'alotecha, my congregation helped to bring voice to to those whose lives have been touched by cancer. Our regular Shabbat morning service had a special emphasis. Initiated by congregants who are cancer survivors, we tried to use the liturgy and occasion to create meaning and sanctity out of the cancer experience. We invited anyone who has been touched by cancer to participate.

At a Conservative synagogue like Beth Shalom, there are multiple opportunities for people to participate in services. We are member-led, not rabbi-led, and so the child of a cancer survivor led shacharit. Another led the Torah service. Several people, both in treatment currently and survivors, were honored with aliyot. Others chanted from the Torah and Haftorah and read prayers in English. The gabbaim were survivors. Even the guest speaker was a congregant who had just completed another round of treatment for his cancer.

Before the point in the service where we offer prayers for healing, the rabbi asked those living with cancer to stand. Then she asked those who were cancer survivors to rise, and then those who had lost someone to cancer or who had supported someone through a cancer experience. By this time about half the congregation was on their feet. It was a powerful moment.

Three women taught us a song of healing by Debbie Friedman. I led the musaf service. And the kaddish, the prayer mourners say, was introduced by a man who had lost his wife to cancer. All in all, it was an emotional and moving morning.

Being Beth Shalom, we also recognized a staff member who was moving to a new city; several families who were traveling to Israel; and high school graduation. How true that even when we sorrow, we see that life goes on and we celebrate it.

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