The Cry of the Shema at the No Hate, No Fear March
By, Devorah L Marrus
Last Sunday, 25,000 people gathered in Brooklyn for the No Hate, No Fear March. Thousands more live streamed the speeches and the march in solidarity.
There were so many incredible and inspiring speeches and moments: from Barrie Weiss’s speech about what it means to be a Jew to Devorah Halberstam reminding us about her personal account with anti Semitism. She lost her oldest son to hatred and terror on the Brooklyn Bridge 20 years ago. There were a few moments though, that particularly stood out to me.
Two Rabbis came on to the stage and called out the “Shema Yisroel” prayer while the crowd repeated the verse out loud; shouting in pride “Here oh Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.”
I broke down listening to these words; Jews of all affiliations, backgrounds, skin color and political parties gathering together as one-shouting from the depths of their souls the prayer that Jews have screamed out for centuries long-at times of fear, distress, before death and even pride.
This prayer is said twice daily in Jewish prayer, is the climax of the Neilah service of the Holiest day in the Jewish calendar; Yom Kippur and most of all- it is a declaration of our faith in G-d.
It is one of the first prayers we are taught to teach our own children at a very young age and I have seen evidence of this in my role as teacher in a Jewish Day School and Chabad Shlucha (emissary).
My Jewish students and friends in a wide-range of observance almost always know this short prayer.
Throughout our history, this verse was uttered on the lips of men, women and children as they were put to death for the sole reason of being Jewish.
Whether on the cross during the crusades, at the stake in the Spanish Inquisition, before entering the gas chambers in the Holocaust or while defending our right to exist in the Holy Land, the Shema would emerge from somewhere deep inside.
It is interesting that Jews across the spectrum of their belief in G-d , many who have struggled with their faith, have made this prayer an important-even fundamental part of their lives. Here we are proclaiming G-d to not only be ours, but to be the Only One-encompassing everything we know to be Him and created by Him.
Having just finished the holiday of Chanukah, I couldn’t help but observe the relationship between the olives used for the Menorahs oil and the Jewish nation. The stronger the olives are squeezed and the harder the pressure is applied, the more pure oil comes seeping out.
When I saw 25,000 Jews shouting the words of the Shema last Sunday, I saw their “pintele Yid”-their innermost purest part of their core; their neshamas-squeezed like the olives-burdened and strained by the anti Semitism we have seen lately to produce the purest most essential words of our faith:
“SHema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad”