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Prayer for Israelites Lost in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, by Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy

The following prayer was created to fill a void left by omitting the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the litany of persecutions that Jews have suffered over the centuries. This prayer acknowledges Jews of African descent whose ancestors were enslaved and prayers for their return.

More information and support are welcomed at blackjews.org.

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Oh, merciful God who heard the cries of slaves, we beseech you now to hear the prayers of their descendants. Just as you stretch out Your mighty hand to deliver us from our first African captivity in Egypt, we implore you to remember the souls of the millions who were lost in all the places where Your people were held in cruel bondage.

The slave ships of the Middle Passage carried us across time as we moved between contents. Only You, our God is eternal and universal. We are your people, stagnant in our spiritual progress. And because we have not truly understood the meaning of Your Torah, we repeat our mistakes and repeat our captivity in a loop that began in Egypt, followed us to ancient Israel, scattered most us to oblivion in the Assyrian Exile (722 B.C.E.), saw the surviving remnant carried away in the Babylonian Exile (586 B.C.E.). Only the names of our oppressors change. The Greeks persecuted us. The Romans destroyed our Holy Temple and sent survivors wandering aimlessly for centuries. The Spanish Inquisitors tortured us and forced many to forsake their heritage. Our brothers sold us to European slave traders. Eventually and inevitably we once again found ourselves slaves to “a people neither we nor our forefathers had know.” Oh, Lord, as You said, we “came to serve God of wood and stone” because we rejected the Creator and abandoned our covenant. The slave ships of the Middle Passage carried your ignorant people across an ocean that could have made from the tears of Your lost and forgotten people. From the point of “No Return” in Ghana, we cried out to you “My God, my God, Why hast though forsaken me.”[1] Psalms 22:1.  From the ports of Jamaica, Haiti, and Barbados, the blood of Your people grew the sugar cane that sweetened the lives of our oppressors. Our sweat made them rich and powerful. From the auction blocks of Virginia to the rice fields of South Carolina, we have been slaves to man because we refuse to freely serve God. Just as we made bricks for Pharaoh, we picked cotton for master. The crack of the whip echoes through our history.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”[2] Psalms 137:1-4.  On the banks of the Mississippi, we fell down and raised our hands to Thee while those who hung our bodies from poplar trees said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” With tears in our eyes we sung “Go Down Moses,” “Marching to Zion,” “Roll Jordan Roll” and “Wade in the Water.”

On this night of Passover, as we remember our first African enslavement in Egypt, let us also spill a drop of wine as we recount some of the other places where the blood of Your people were shed. Hallowed placed like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Buchenwald, which are remembered for the suffering that our people endured there during the Holocaust, stand in our memory along with the forgotten places where our Israelite ancestors where taken into captivity at Goree Island, Senegal; Bridgetown, Barbados; Kingston, Jamaica; and Jamestown, Virginia.

Our ancestors forgot the true meaning of Passover. They failed to heed the warning and dire prophecy contained in your Torah: “Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall take her: thou shalt build a house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof. . . Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long: and there shall be no might in thine hand. . . Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity. . . And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.”[3] Deuteronomy 28:30‐64.  Thy word is true and just. Thy prophecy of repeated enslavement has been visited upon us with terrible wrath. Our Israelite ancestors lost more than their lives–they lost their identities. Act now as you have promised. Gather your dispersed people from all the places where they were scattered. Bring us back to you in whole-hearted repentance. Restore your forgotten and exiled people. Give us back our names, language, land, culture, values, mission, and heritage as an everlasting covenant. Amen.

This prayer was written by Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy for use in the Passover Freedom Haggadah (2019). It appears between the recitation of the Ten Plagues and the song, Dayyeinu.





1 Psalms 22:1.
2 Psalms 137:1-4.
3 Deuteronomy 28:30‐64.

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