Thursday, October 4, 2012

Avinu Malkeinu

This Yom Kippur, the liturgy of the holiest day of the Jewish Year had special and profound meaning to me.  Every year we ask forgiveness of our sins from God. Among many of the prayers, we read the ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (Our Father, our King) prayer. The congregation stands before the open ark and we beg for forgiveness, we beg for G-d’s compassion, the end of pestilence, war and hate. The prayer is deep, reflective and primal. The tunes we use and the lyrics we read are primal, ancient and heartfelt. But along with our heartfelt spiritual cry to God, there is one request that always seemed to me to be commonplace and mundane.

The verse, “Our Father, our King seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being” always seemed a little bit trivial. It felt like the members of the congregation were asking for a good source of income, a good job. We were all dressed in nice formal clothes asking the Almighty for the ability to buy more good clothes, trips overseas and fancier homes. For years I was upset that this overall meaningful prayer beseeching God for the welfare of humanity was tainted with a request for a good job.

This year, this verse feels like the most important one to me in the entire Avinu Malkeinu prayer. Over the last several months I have been fortunate to be involved with an organization that alleviates hunger for hundreds of children in the slums of Mumbai. Gabriel Project Mumbai is a Jewish initiative that provides a daily nutritious meal (and literacy) to school children living in the slums. Volunteering in the slums you observe crippling hunger, malnutrition and ill health. You see families struggling every day to earn a few cents to buy food to eat. You see men and women, parents of small children starting their day searching for work, not knowing if they will return to their 5 ft x 5ft corrugated metal hut (with no electricity and no water) with any food for their hungry families. Children often come to class on Monday without eating anything since the end of the previous week!

 We know that many of the children aged 4-14, if not attending class and receiving a daily meal, will be on the streets working in terrible menial jobs. We also know that without a basic education and being illiterate a child’s future will be much the same as the illiterate uneducated men and women in the slums…In simple terms, these men and women were children themselves who were forced to work as children and forfeited an education to live in abject poverty.

I can’t think of a more difficult situation to be in for parents who look lovingly at heir beautiful children and know that they are malnourished and in poor health. It must be incredibly frustrating to seek work and be unable to find any or to work hard but not make enough money to support your family. It must be heart wrenching not knowing if you are able to feed your children and that that fact may never change.

“Avinu Malkeinu seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being”. What an incredibly powerful prayer. I wish that all mankind will be placed in the book of livelihood this year!


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