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Eileh Ezkarah: a Martyrology service for our time

I wrote this poem for Yom Kippur, 2020 and recited it at Temple Beth El in Portland, Maine, where I was helping to lead services over Zoom. I ended up chanting it, and not simply reading, in place of the entire regular martyrology service. It is written from the middle of the pandemic, right before the presidential election.


We have only a few years to avert the worst of climate change. The martyrs speak to us, now.

Eileh Ezkarah: These I Remember

These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears:

The millions of adults, children, and babies throughout history 

who died because they were Jews

The rabbis tortured and slain by Rome

The countless souls murdered in the European crusades

The families hunted, exiled, or forcibly converted in the Spanish Inquisition

The Yiddin of the shtetl, persecuted in pogroms and conscription

The six million annihilated in the Shoah

The victims of the massacre at Tree of Life

And all who have been murdered by the senseless hand

Of violent antisemitism, over continents and millenia

These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears


On Yom Kippur we lift our voice to God

And remember them: these souls who were snatched 

violently from the bonds of life and hurled into the abyss

We lift our voice to them on high for we know that is their place now

We say: You have not died in vain.

We say: We remember you.

We say: Your lives had meaning.

We say: We will carry on your legacy.


This Yom Kippur, if we incline the ear of our heart,

We may yet hear a still small voice

A rustling under the wings of Shekhinah

A gathering storm of angels growing louder, stronger, becoming

A Great Assembly of Martyrs, mustering to pierce the veil


This Yom Kippur, as we teeter on the brink

They speak to us, not from the moments of each tragic death

But from the full stature and strength of each life

They say: You stand at the hinge of history.

They say: Life and Death are set before you.

They say: Racism, poverty, the broken tablets of a social contract.

They say: Fire and flood, the rising sea, pandemics, the sixth mass extinction.

They say: On the merit of our righteous acts we plead with you.

They say: On the merit of our holy deaths we entreat you.

They say: Let us not have died in vain.

They say: Choose Life that you may live, and that we may live in you.

They say: To what will you give your life?

They say: For what would you give your life?


These I remember and my heart breaks open with tears:

Eileh Ezkarah

It is a wail of grief

And it is a summons to life.



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