Sunday, November 1, 2009

Holocaust Education Week

We had a really great All Saints Service at Messiah this morning. Besides being the feast of All Saints, it is also Holocaust Education Week. I had been approached several months ago about having Church of The Messiah be one of the sites participating in HEW. As plans evolved, it was decided that Jenny Eisenstein, an Awschwitz survivor, would present a tribute to the Jewish spirit. She gave a 15-20 minute presentation of music accompanied by Anna Vanesyan on piano and Omer Strumpf (a 12-year-old Cello prodigy).

As it turned out, attendance was fantastic: 105. About a third of our congregation was Jewish! Now, Eric and I had spent some time thinking and planning the liturgy and it really showed. We did a Litany of the Saints, for example, that was very cool. I'll see if I can find a link to it. For the Psalm Eric had Marili Moore (our Honorary Assistant Priest and un-official Resident Hebrew Scholar) and Laura Roth (Cantor) sing the verses in Hebrew while the congregation sang the refrain in English. Not only that, but he found and adapted a traditional Hebrew chant melody (based on the Djerba chant, I believe). It was gorgeous, and I was incredibly impressed with Marili and Laura's performance.

After the Gospel I welcomed our guests and said a few words to help make them feel more at ease. Jenny's presentation was intense and beautiful and evocative. She started off with a piece she learned as a child in the concentration camp because people would singing it together on their way to the gas chamber. Some of the songs were in Yiddish. She sang some in English and other in Hebrew. I'll see how the recording turned out.

During Communion the choir sang a really nice anthem--"Justorum animae" by Orlando di Lasso. Again, I looked over and thought about how utterly impressed I am with our church's music programme. We really have an excellent group of musicians.

The organizers for the event were extremely impressed with our ability to make the Christian liturgy hospitable to our Abrahamic brothers and sisters. That was, of course, intentional. We didn't water it down, by any means, but we did make intelligent choices. Replacing the Creed with the Shema/Summary of the Law, for example. Also, I changed the wording of the "Prayer over the Gifts" that precedes the Sursum Corda by swapping "...the triumph of Christ..." for "...the triumph of God..." The theology of that particular prayer works equally well.

This is one of my favourite liturgies I've done at COTM. Certainly in my top five. It was the best and fullest and most unapologetic expression of our Christian faith I can imagine--yet it was perfectly able to accommodate some 45 Jewish guests! Everyone walked away feeling really good about the whole thing and deeply moved by the reality of the Holocaust and stories of Jenny's survival.


1 comment:

Vidya said...

What a wonderful service! I wish I could have attended. What wonderful attention to detail and what a powerful message to share.