My Colin Kaepernick Moment: On not standing for the State of Israel in shul

With every passing year, the Israeli propaganda machine whirs more vigorously at shul. Israel gets praised more, soldiers get mentioned more, and Israelis in the congregation get featured more. Occupation becomes an abstraction, Palestinians an absence, oppression a metaphor.

At Yom Kippur services today, Avinu Shebashamayim, the prayer for the State of Israel that is recited every week, took on a weird liturgical fervor, the kind I usually associate with the medieval piyyutim and prayers we recite. Avinu Shebashamayim features lines like these:

Guide its leaders and advisors with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land. Deliver them: crown their efforts with triumph.

Pretty profane stuff. Yet in the way the prayer was orchestrated today—led by an Israeli at the bima, surrounded by younger Israelis and children, chanted with the lachrymose intonation of Eastern European Jewry—it had all the intensity of Hineni, another, more sacred, prayer, one more traditionally associated with the lyric and music of the High Holidays.

Ordinarily, I walk out during Avinu Shebashamayim. But as my friend Diane Simon pointed out a while ago, shul isn’t like church: at services, people are always in and out, coming and going, so walking out registers all the force of a trip to the bathroom. So now I sit down during this prayer. My Colin Kaepernick moment.

Meanwhile, for the Haftorah today, we read from Isaiah 58:

Is such the fast I desire,

a day for people to starve their bodies?

Is it bowing the head like a bulrush

and lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Do you call that a fast,

a day when Adonai is favorable?

No, this is the fast I desire:…

to…untie the cords of the yoke

to let the oppressed go free;

to break off every yoke.

Shanah Tovah.




  1. Jane Rosenbaum October 12, 2016 at 9:01 pm | #

    Thank you for staying seated in the face of injustice.

    • Daniel Caraco October 13, 2016 at 1:32 pm | #

      Apology to Jane. I Can’t seem to find a reply button that responds directly to Corey. Corey, have you considered the proposition that you belong to the wrong Shul? Given your sensibilities, might Reconstruction or Renewal be a better fit?

  2. Glenn October 12, 2016 at 11:07 pm | #

    Sorry for what may be mistakenly taken as my crudity, Corey. I respect your sentiment by whatever path it is reached.

    I enlisted in 1969 while others did their sit-down strikes in protest.

    I got out in 1973 and did my own sit-down strikes in a bowling alley where all but me would stand for a salute to the flag during the national anthem before league play.

    I was so far past that salute and flag shit by then.

    And willing to fight those who would infringe my freedom to sit in protest of the lies and uses I had been put to in service of all lying flag wavers from top to bottom.

    It is so very sad that contemporary “heroes” are honored for sacrifices they made, when in reality they have been sacrificed by the war parties for the profits of imperialism. Martin Luther King Jr. made this point very clearly a year before his assassination.

  3. Abe October 12, 2016 at 11:18 pm | #

    “Ordinarily, I walk out during Avinu Shebashamayim. But as my friend Diane Simon pointed out a while ago, shul isn’t like church: at services, people are always in and out, coming and going, so walking out registers all the force of a trip to the bathroom.”

    But now they’ll just think you have a bad back…

  4. Akiva October 13, 2016 at 10:36 am | #

    Yes, nothing says “profane” like asking God to grant the leaders of his People’s only state the wisdom to make good decisions and to strengthen its defenders. I can certainly see why you’d be offended at the thought of Israel making good decisions and triumphing over its adversaries. You are a true iconoclast, proclaiming your hope for Israel to make bad decisions and to be overwhelmed by enemies. Definitely something to be proud of.

    • Edward October 14, 2016 at 9:43 am | #

      “Yes, nothing says “profane”…”

      I think the larger context here is whether Israel’s actions are right or wrong. If they are wrong then seeking a divine stamp of approval for them is something bad.

      • Akiva October 14, 2016 at 11:16 am | #

        That would be a viable position if “Avinu She’bashamayim” said “God, please approve of the positions taken by Bibi Netanyahu”; in that situation, your view of those positions *should* inform whether you join in that prayer. You and I might take a different view of those positions (at least some, I’m sure we do) but it would clearly be ridiculous to demand that people who disagree with certain political positions join in a prayer supporting them.

        But that is NOT what Avinu She’bashamayim is.

        As Corey accurately translated, Avinu She’bashamayim is a prayer asking that God help the leaders of the Jewish state make wise decisions (without staking out any substance of what a “wise decision” is in any particular circumstance), keep its soldiers safe from harm, and allow them to triumph over those who hate us. How in the world can anyone oppose that, let alone call it “pretty profane stuff”, as Corey does? Do you want Israeli leaders to make stupid decisions? Its soldiers to be killed? Those who hate the Jews to triumph?

        Here is the full text of Avinu Shebashamayim (my own translation from this hebrew

        Our father in heaven, the Rock of the Jews and its redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Protect it with Your kindness, and spread over it Your protective dwelling of peace, and send Your light and truth to its leaders, and direct them with Your wise counsel. Strengthen those who defend our holy land, grant them salvation and success, and grant peace in the land and joy to its inhabitants.

        And our brothers who are spread across the lands, redeem them in their diaspora, and return them upright to Zion your city and Jerusalem home of your temple, as it is written [two biblical verses quoted]. And dedicate our hearts to love and fear You and keep your Torah, and speedily send us the messiah to redeem those who await your salvation.

        Watch over with Your beauty and strength all of the inhabitants of Your land, and let every living creature proclaim God is King and his Kingdom is forever, amen.

        So, again … care to explain the profanity?

        • b. October 14, 2016 at 12:42 pm | #

          I suppose it depends on your interpretation of
          “Watch over with Your beauty and strength all of the inhabitants of Your land”


          • Akiva October 14, 2016 at 1:08 pm | #

            I guess. So which inhabitants are we hoping Good doesn’t watch over, if that line is the problem?

  5. efcdons October 13, 2016 at 11:33 am | #

    In a 2+ hour service some people just wouldn’t be able to make it if they couldn’t get up. Though with all the standing and bowing I can make it through Kol Nidre without needing to go anywhere.

    I’m not a member of any shul but I didn’t attend the shul I usually go to for high holy day services because of the Rabbi’s sermon on the passing on Shimon Peres.

    I was looking for service times on their website and I saw the Rabbi had a sermon posted. It was like 50% bad mouthing the Labor party. 25% bad mouthing Peres, 10% bland platitudes and maybe 15% clearly forced positive statements about Peres and Camp David (with most positive part being Peres didn’t do a deal to “do a deal”).

    I don’t go to shul to get yelled at by a Likudnik. I went to a Young Israel modern orthodox shul(more orthodox than the place I used to go to. Men and women separate, etc.). Not one mention of Israel.

  6. Rosalind Petchesky October 13, 2016 at 11:45 am | #

    I love the Haftorah prayer but have a hard time understanding how you manage to stay there, even seated. Your piety is awesome but entirely eludes me, so I guess I’m secularized beyond repair. Ros

  7. Roquentin October 13, 2016 at 6:12 pm | #

    Kudos to you. It’s funny how even the tiniest statements of solidarity, such as those of Kaepernick, inspire such anger.

    Protestantism gets shit on a lot and rightfully so in many cases. I haven’t subscribed to Christianity as a religion in a long time. But on a good day, the only thing in the tradition worth preserving is this sense of standing up to a corrupt institution when it is clearly in the wrong, as Luther did at the start of the Reformation. I’m well aware of his rank anti-semitism, but setting that off to one side if there was ever an inspiration I took from religion, it was that. Also, on a good day I like to think that Martin Luther King had more in common with that than a simple namesake.

  8. Talia Schaffer October 15, 2016 at 3:46 pm | #

    I agree with the person who posted above suggesting that you might try a different shul. I’m in a Reconstructionist congregation that has an activist group working for Palestinian rights. A couple weeks ago there was a bar mitzvah where the kid gave a dvar recounting his stories of travelling on the West Bank and befriending people, and his anger at the Israeli government. He had us sing Avina Shebashamayim, which in that context meant: oh, Lord, please make the Israelis wiser! and was absolutely a progressive plea. So instead of belonging to a shul that you have to protest, why not find a more like-minded group and work with them?

  9. LFC October 17, 2016 at 2:29 pm | #

    The relationship between Judaism the religion and Zionism the ideology has changed over time, or such is my sense.

    There was a time, esp. before the establishment of Israel, when the majority of Orthodox Jews were anti-Zionist. And the founding generation of Israel was composed in large part, though not exclusively of course, of non-religious Labor Zionists. Over time the Orthodox seem to have become largely pro-Zionist (most notably in the settler movement) or at least not anti-Zionist, though evidently Israel may get less mention, or none (according to one comment above), in some Orthodox liturgies.

    For a useful reminder of some of these changes, see the relevant parts of Walzer’s The Paradox of Liberation, even if one disagrees (as I do) with a lot of his interpretive emphases and arguments.

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