Brotherhood Week, a prayer by Rabbi Avraham Samuel Soltes (1951)

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O Lord,
God of the infinite heavens
and the brimming earth,
Designer of the human heart
and its aspirations,
we, Thy children,
whom Thou has made in Thine image,
turn unto Thee at this season,
praying
that Thou mayest guide us in our strivings
to become more like Thee
in the judgments of our hearts
and the understanding of our deeds.

For, in Thine infinite wisdom,
O Architect of the Universe
Thou has fashioned all Thy children
with minds that seek truth
with hearts that yearn for love and
beauty,
with voices and bodies that strive to
speak Thy praise.

Joined in these common ties with Thee
in the struggle to perfect Thy
universe,
Thou hast yet rendered us
every one
distinct from his brother:
in form,
in speech,
in color of eye and skin,
in shape of hand and head,
we are
each
unique creations of Thine almighty hand.

Give us,
then,
the grace,
O Father,
to rise above shallow self-love
and make manifest
our understanding
of the wonders of Thy
universe,
by acts
that honor all its manifold
creatures.

May we,
who gather in Thy name,
stand ready to do battle
against those who would blaspheme Thee
by mocking the blessed diversity
of Thy creations.

Imbue us
also
with earnestness and zeal
in seeking to know Thee
in all Thy ways,
in preaching Thy truth
as Thou givest us to see the truth.

Yet may we ever display charity and
understanding
to our fellow men
whose beliefs and forms of expression
may be different from ours;
for even as each blade of grass,
each ocean wave,
comes fresh and newmade
from Thy gracious hand,
yet all strive for common union
with Thee,
so do Thy creatures seek Thee
each after his own fashion,
yet, to Thee,
is all seeking welcome,
and every aspiration
is pleasing in Thy sight.

Widen the horizons of our hearts,
O heavenly Father,
that we may come to realize
the surpassing joy
envisioned by Thy sweet singer,
David:
“Behold
how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together
in amity and in peace.”[1]Psalms 133:1.
Amen.

“Brotherhood Week” was first published in Rabbi Avraham Soltes’ collection of prayers, תפלה Invocation: Sheaf of Prayers (Bloch 1959) and dated to February 1951. Over on his blog, Barrio Boychick, Shmuel Gonzales provides the background behind Brotherhood Week:

In 1934 an organization known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews – which was an inter-faith and inter-cultural organization founded in 1927 to “bring diverse people together to address interfaith divisions” – they came up with the idea for Brotherhood Week.

The NCCJ was an organization founded back in 1927 in response the racial nationalism that was rising up in the country, and specifically to respond to the anti-Catholic religious bigotry which at that time had injected itself into the national politics when Catholic politician Al Smith was running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

In 1927, The New York Times reported on the founding of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, represented by community leaders from different faiths including US Supreme Court Chief Justices of the United States Charles Evans Hughes, a Catholic; and Associate Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo, a Jew; as well as the “mother of social work” Jane Addams. Their members were committed to bringing diverse people together to address interfaith divisions, race relations, and social and economic barriers between people of different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities.

And for decades they organization would continue to partner Jews and Christians in both public policy and inter-community bridge building.

The rise of Brotherhood Week would be because of the work of three of their spokesmen known as “The Tolerance Trio” – Father John Elliot Ross, Protestant minister Dr. Everett Ross Clinchy, and Rabbi Morris Samuel Lazaron. In 1933 they traveled across the country to rally people together and calling on people everywhere to embrace intergroup understanding. They traveled over 9,000 miles on their mission of brotherhood, and visited with 129 audiences across the nation.

The spirit of all this caught wind of the administration of President Franklin Deleno Roosevelt.

The next year in 1934, the president made an official declaration for “National Brotherhood Week.” Which was to be celebrated towards the end of the month of February; in the 1930s it seems to have been the third week of the month, and by the 1940s it seems to have been celebrated in the fourth week of the month (February 19-28th).

In declaration of this observance President Roosevelt was declared its first Honorary Chairman of National Brotherhood Week. And the NCCJ would continue to sponsor it for over four decades.

However, since the Ronald Regan administration, there has not been any declaration for Brotherhood Week. We have not been able to look to our leaders to set even one week aside to focus on promoting brotherhood in our country, not for the past three decades. And we are all the worse off for it.

Indeed much racial and religious intolerance has injected into politics in recent years. As nationalism and bigotry again raised their ugly heads. We need such a week of focusing on brotherhood and sisterhood in our communities.

I also believe that we desperately need to revive partnerships after the model of the National Conference of Christians and Jews once again.

The NCCJ did not entirely disappear. Though not long after Brotherhood Week came to an end they became re-branded as the National Conference for Community and Justice, in the early 1990s. Keeping the acronym but updating their branding and reconstituted their mission to doing community work “dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism in America.”

For more on Brotherhood Week, find this story at PRI (Public Radio International).

Source(s)

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Psalms 133:1.

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