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Opening Prayer on the Significance of New Year’s Day, by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, and Eugene Kohn (1951)

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O God,
we have assembled here at the beginning of the new year,
to rededicate our lives to the sacred ideals of America.
We gratefully acknowledge
all that the past year has brought to us and our fellow countrymen
of life and health,
of love and joy,
of beauty and truth,
of fortitude and courage.
Whatever of good we have known,
we recognize as coming from you.
Therefore are we emboldened, Our Guardian,
to pray for further gifts of your grace.

We cannot be contented with ourselves and our achievements,
or with the world in which we live—
a world in which injustice, cruelty, and deceit hold sway.
Disillusioned with ourselves and with our failure to rise
to the height of our national ideals in the service of humanity,
we entreat you to help us fulfill the promise of America.

Give us the courage to be honest:
to be true to ourselves
and to deal sincerely and forthrightly with our neighbors.

Give us the forbearance
that lets live and the love that helps live.

Give us the fortitude
to endure the blows of misfortune with serenity.

And when fortune smiles upon us,
give us the humility to accept prosperity as your gift,
to be used in accordance with your will.

Help us to build on these shores
a free nation
of free people.
Open our hearts to the truth
that every human soul has a worth of its own
and must be free to develop that worth to the utmost.
Grant that our nation may further the welfare of all its citizens
and be of service to them in their pursuit of happiness.
Bind all its citizens to the nation and to one another by ties of loyalty.
May they ever be willing to share in the nation’s enterprise,
ever ready to make sacrifices for the good of all.
We know that there is no liberty but one:
the right, which is also a duty,
of making oneself and others free
through absolute allegiance to the final goal of humanity.
Keep us aware of all that we owe to our country,
that its expectations of us may curb our impulses to do evil
and give free rein to our will to do good,
for our own true happiness and that of our nation.

This opening prayer for New Year’s Day, “The Significance of the Day,” was first published in The Faith of America: Readings, Songs, and Prayers for the Celebration of American Holidays (Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation 1951), p. 3-4 — as preface to a number of readings selected by Mordecai Kaplan, Eugene Kohn, and J. Paul Williams for the day. It is unclear from this publication whether the prayer was written by Mordecai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, or Eugene Kohn separately or together in collaboration. I have replaced archaisms in this prayer (thee, thy, thou, etc.) and replaced “Father” with “Guardian” in addition to other gender-neutral changed. –Aharon Varady




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