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Eicha for the Earth

By Tamara Cohen

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.

 

Blue ocean, source of life —
Endangered and imprisoned.

 

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 

Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 

Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

 

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered.

 

Earth's children ­ now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit.

 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v'nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path —
Help us, help us,
Help us turn to a new way of living
Make­ new, Make new,
Our world of life intertwining ­
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each lifeform.

 

Gone from Appalachia —
her mountaintop glory;
mined by Massey Energy
without compassion.
Children sick from air and water,
stumble weak before King Coal.

 

All that was precious in the days of our youth,
Earth recalls in woe and sorrow.

 

Her creatures die with none to help them,
at the hands of Exxon, now BP.
World leaders shrug
and look on helpless.

 

We have sinned greatly,
and so are ailing.
Our people who respected life,
have come to defile it.
We have stripped Earth naked,
she shrinks back.

 

Oily waves slap the sand like a soiled hem;
we were heedless of the cost of our appetite.
We have sunk appallingly, there is no comfort.
See, Breath of Life, this misery; how our avarice jeers!

 

Greed has laid hands on all dear to us.
Your sanctuary plundered by multinationals
full of contempt for Your holy community.

 

The Earth's poor cry out as they search for nourishment;
indigenous communities trade resources for food,
to keep themselves alive.

[Change melody to joyful]
Hashivenu Yahh elecha v'nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path —
Help us, help us,
Help us turn to a new way of living
Make­ new, make new,
Our world of life intertwining ­
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each lifeform.

Look, O Breath of Life, and behold,
what gluttons we have become.
Will we heed this warning, we who live as if unscathed ­
Will we truly look and know this agony as ours own?

 

We are afflicted by angry consequence,
The elements push back against their abuse.

 

Forest fires reach down and spread like fury,
Sprawl and refuse trap our spirits.
Great storms hurl lives backwards, upside down
survivors are left forlorn, in constant misery.

 

For these things do we weep
Our eyes flow with tears.
How far from us is any comfort,
the possibility of change that might revive our Earth?
The children are forlorn for their future is bleak
unless we act with speed and wisdom.

 

Alas, humanity in our reckless living
have brought shame over all.
Can we remember the holiness of your creation,
Your footstool, green and fertile?

 

We have razed woodlands to the ground,
profaned the Kingdom of Earth and all its creatures.
In arrogance we slashed the mighty Redwoods,
will we cease hiding our power from ourselves and befriend our Earth?

 

How can we wrestle with God and bring justice to others
If we don't quench the flaming fires,
and turn back from endless consumption?

 

Egrets and brown pelicans languish in salt marshes
From the depths, corals cry out.
"Where are the fish? Where are the clean waters?"
Languishing battle-wounded in the wetlands,
life runs out in ocean's bosom.

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v'nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path —
Help us, help us,
Help us turn to a new way of living
Make­ new, Make new,
Our world of life intertwining ­
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each lifeform.

Lead us, lead us, on a new path to Eden,
Teach us self-restraint in the very midst of abundance.
To "Ayeka — where are you?"
We will answer Hineni.
We are here to honor boundaries, not to devour all.

 

Open, open —
Our eyes to see in each creature,
Tree, Ocean , Mountain —
the Presence of the One.

 

 

 


 

 

Notes on conducting an Eichah for the Earth service


Choose a place for your gathering. (Things to think about: Do you want to meet at synagogue or community center? At a space that has been used for interfaith gathering? At a more public space in your community? At a riverside or lakeside outdoors? At a place denoting political power — e.g. a senator's home office, a regional Environmental Protection Agency headquarters? By a gas station or power plant or other visible symbol of fossil fuel and dirty energy in your local community?)

 

When community is gathered, or in an invitation/ advertisement you may choose to use part of the following background information: Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, has historically been a day to mourn the Destruction of the First and Second Temples, centers of Israelite practice before the rise of Rabbinic Judaism (First Temple 975 BCE ­ — 586 BCE; Second Temple 515 BCE ­ — 70 CE) and the exiles that followed those destructions. Over the course of Jewish history this day of mourning and fasting has also come to commemorate many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history.

 

This year we are beginning a new tradition. We are suggesting that in addition to, or instead of (depending on the norms of your community and personal practice) the traditional observance of Tisha B'Av, the time has come to use this powerful day to mourn the ongoing destruction of the temple that is our Earth, a tragedy for all peoples, creatures and living things, but one that is not complete and thus, with sufficient will and action, is in part, reversible.

Although this approach may seem highly untraditional, there are some Jewish textual sources that lend themselves to make the leap from the Temple to the Earth:

  • According to the Kabbalistic language of symbols, both the Temple and the Earth are embodiments of the Shechinah, the indwelling (feminine) presence of God.
  • According to some Rabbinic texts, the Temple was the center of the Earth, thus the destruction of carries with it the threat of the destruction of the rest. Without its heart, the body of Earth is clearly threatened. So a day traditionally used to mourn the loss of that heart can become a day to mourn the ailing body of the whole Earth.
  • And the Temple offerings represented an effort to heal the spiritutal defects of all aspects of earth — mineral (salt), vegetation, animal life and (through the songs of the Levites) the human community. In addition, we also draw on a midrash (rabbinic interpretation of biblical text) about the first word of the Book of Lamentations/Eicha, the traditional text read on Tisha B'Av. This midrash (Midrash Eicha Rabbah, Proems IV) links this first word "Eicha" (also the name of the book in its entirety) to the question asked by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden narrative.


Both words are written with the same exact Hebrew letters and are only differentiated through their different vocalizations.

The rabbis link these textual moments, the moment that God is searching for Adam and Eve after they have transgressed and eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with the opening "Alas" of Lamentations. By linking the exile of the Jews from Israel with the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Rabbis link the particularistic story to the universalistic story, giving us the seeds to link what has been a holiday about the particular suffering of Jews with the need for a day of mourning for the universal suffering of the Earth and all its peoples and life forms.

The midrash, read in the context of a Tisha B'Av for the Earth, also focuses our attention on perhaps a new way to read the transgression of Adam and Eve, as a story about the difficulty the first humans, like humanity in our day, were not able to honor the boundaries set out for them about what of Eden's bounty to enjoy and what to refrain from consuming.

If you plan to use our English readings as a supplement to the traditional Eicha, you can do that either by reading one section between each of the five chapters of Eicha, or by using the readings at the end or the beginning and end of your Eicha to frame or deepen the meaning of the reading. In this way, our Eicha joins the tradition of kinot (dirges sung after the chanting
of Eicha that often focus on other times of destruction in addition to the destruction of the Temples.)

You might also choose to show a slide show of images of the BP oil disaster and other threats to the environment, during or after your Hebrew reading of Eichah.

The English can be read responsively or with each person reading one stanza and going around in a circle and the whole group joining together for the repeating refrain of "Hashiveinu."

For groups that have generally gathered for a more traditional Tisha B'Av service, have a discussion, before or after your chanting, about what it means to bring this new level of meaning to the observance of Tisha B'Av.

Some possible questions for your discussion:

  1. Do we need a day of mourning for the Earth? If so, what do you think it should look like? What is the relationship between such a day and Earth Day? What are other contemporary resonances you see for Tisha B'Av? Can it work for you as a day about the Earth and about senseless hatred between Jews or is that too much for one day to hold?
  2. It is said that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B'Av. While many of us do not believe in an actual human being who will come to save the world, we might still find inspiration in the idea of a messianic age — a time very different from our current reality in which peace and justice reign. How do you think the seeds of such a time could be planted by you and your community on this Tisha B'Av? What would that look like?
  3. The text of Eicha is full of language about "our enemies" who destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. Historically the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire. Yet the rabbis blame the destruction of the Temples on actions of the People Israel ­— for the first Temple, according to the Rabbis the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed, and the Second Temple because of senseless hatred among Jews.


When it comes to thinking about "enemies" in the context of our current environmental crisis, we too can look outward at the visible big scale enemies like oil and coal companies causing destruction and we can also follow the rabbinic impulse and look inward at the forces of which we are a part that have led to our current state of environmental destruction — or both. What do you think? Is the language of "enemies" helpful or outdated? Should we focus our energy on changing ourselves and our communities or on fighting large companies and governmental policies? What is the right balance for you and your community?

If you use this resource, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it your plans.

 

 


 

 

Tamara Cohen is the Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center, where this Eicha was first published.

 

 

 

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