Communal Fast in a Time of Calamity: A Multireligious Call

Dear friends,

How do we announce a major religious event, such as the October 8 Fast to move America from conquest to community, from violence to reverence?

When the steering committee of the Fast began discussing this, our first response was the conventional one in American society –- a press conference.

But then we recalled that there are ancient traditions for making the announcement of such a religious act itself a religious act. In the Talmud, for example, there is described a way of Calling a Communal Fast in Time of Calamity. (The calamity might be a drought, a famine, a war.)

For a multireligious event like the October 8 fast, we of course should draw on the symbols of several traditions. And in our society, we should see "the media" as themselves a kind of trumpet, a conch shell, a ringing of bells -- to reach the wider public.

So we offer you the following outline of a ceremony intended to invoke God's presence and the community's commitment for the Fast.

We recommend that in each community where the Fast is planned as a public commitment to turn away from the Iraq War and other forms of violence, religious leaders agree to meet and speak for the following ceremony, and the media be invited to cover it and report it.

Feel free, of course, to modify this ceremony to meet your needs.

And check our Website at for the full text of the Call and its signers. (Among the newest: Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, and Rabbi Shirley Idelson, dean of Hebrw Union College.)
Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur
Multireligious Call
to a Communal Fast
in a Time of Calamity:

A "master of ceremonies" welcomes the religious leaders, the media reporters, and the community; explains that the leaders will speak in the context of religious ceremony, and that reporters will be welcome to ask questions at its end, as in a regular press conference.

Ceremony begins:

The ram's horn blows the sacred notes of grief and alarm.

A muezzin calls the world to prayer.

The foreheads of the leaders and the sacred instruments of the different traditions -- the cover of a Torah Scroll [others?] are daubed with ashes.

A bell begins to toll: ten strokes. It is tolled again as shown below.

Then the leaders say one by one, paragraph by paragraph:

In grief we see that our culture, our society, our public policies, are honeycombed with violence. Daily murders in the streets of our cities, recurrrent mass murders in our schools, violence in our families, on our television programs, our films, our computer games – and in Iraq.

Today we gather to focus on the last and bloodiest of these. We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support -- but not control -- for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops.

A bell begins to toll: ten strokes.

Today we call for Americans to join in a fast from sunrise to sunset on Monday, October 8, to bring the spiritual renewal and empowerment of fasting to bear on healing ourselves --

To help us move from conquest to community, from violence to reverence.

A bell begins to toll: ten strokes.

Just as Isaiah called the People Israel to hear the Yom Kippur fast as God's call to feed the hungry; just as Jesus fasted in the wilderness, just as Christians through Lenten fasting and Muslims through Ramadan fasting have focused on spiritual transformation, just as Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and others drew on fasting to change the course of history, so we call on all our communities of faith to draw now on fasting as a path toward inner spiritual transformation and outward social transformation.

A bell begins to toll: ten strokes.

Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy and a society that embody a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world.

By turning away – even for a day -- from filling our bellies, we more easily open our souls to the One, our hearts to compassion, our minds to wisdom, and our hands to acts of peace. Today, we ask the question — what acts of turning do we want to turn to, in light of this calamity of war?

A bell begins to toll: ten strokes.

Individual leaders speak their own messages, for a maximum of [two? five?] minutes each.

All join in this chant/ song (to the melody of "Dona nobis pacem"):

Grant us peace, God of peace, grant us peace – Grant us peace, God of peace.

Dona nobis pacem pacem – dona nobis, pacem.

Shalom aleichem, shalom aleichem ---

Asalaam aleikum –

Namaste, shantih om, shantih om --

Grant us peace, God of peace, grant us peace – Grant us peace, God of peace.

Ceremony ends. Opportunity for questions from media.

There follow some traditional passages (and a few others) that appear in the ancient ceremony for calling a Communal Fast. Use any that appeal to you.

Today, as the Prophet Joel (2:13) teaches, "Karu l'vavchem v'al bigdeichem" — we gather to rend our hearts, not our garments as we do upon a death. We have already experienced many deaths of Americans, Iraqis, and others in this dreadful war, but in the darkened air there hovers the possibility of still many more deaths.

By rending our hearts — tearing them more open — we hope to prevent any more needless killing in this war.

Let us rend our hearts now, so that we will not need to rend more garments later. May our hearts and the hearts of our leaders soften so that we make life-affirming choices in these difficult times. As we learn (Jonah 3: 8-10), when Nineveh repented from the violence of their fists, God saw not their sackcloth and ashes — but instead "God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil path."

We call ourselves to alarm by blowing the shofar in the sound of alarm; we call ourselves to compassion by blowing the shofar in its wailing and its sobs.


We remember the Power of the One to re-member us, to make us whole again.

"God remembered Noah and every living creature, and all the life-forms, all the animals that were with him in the ark; God brought a rushing-wind across the earth, and the waters abated." May we, living in a world beflooded by an overflow of violence, remember now our covenant for life.

Just as God heard our groaning under slavery in the Narrow Place, re-membering the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, so may we re-member our own part in that covenant.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-spirit] of the world, who has made us holy through connectedness, and has connected us through the hearing of the shofar. Baruch attah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha'olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvot vitzivanu lishmoa kol shofar.

First blowing of the shofar — Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Who re-members the covenant.

Shoferot/Shofar-Transformations Today, we blow the shofar to awaken ourselves and our leaders to the transformative possibilities of peace. For as we are taught, "All you who dwell upon the planet and live throughout the earth shall see when the banner is lifted on the mountain, shall hear the Shofar when it is sounded forth." (Isaiah 18:3).

Second blowing of the shofar — Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah Gedolah

For You hear the sound of the shofar and You heed its call. There is none like You. Blessed are You, YHWH, who in compassion hears the shofar sounding of Your people.

Acrostic Prayer for Yom Kippur Katan
(the "little Yom Kippur" before the New Moon or on any communal fast)
(by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)

You my God, my Helper
Ordering my life is not easy
My struggles are before You

Keep at my side as I strive
I am not as good as I wish to be
Put forth Your light and lead me
Please guide my steps on Your path
Up to the level I can live on
Raise my actions to my value

Kindness plant in my heart
Attention to the ways I am relating
To others who cross my path
And help me to live in balance
Neither in haste nor in sloth

And give me joy in Your service
Making bright the lives of my loved one
Embracing the lot You give me —
Night and morning in Your service.

How may I come to You / If I did not heed Your word?
What You have made pure / I have polluted
What You have loved / I despised

What You have ordered / I have disrupted
What you have intended / I have opposed
Take my ways and turn them
So that I might make pure/ What I have polluted
That I may love / What You love
That I may order / What I have disrupted
That I might intend / What You intend

May I be renewed like the moon.
May I reflect Your light ever waxing.

Recitation of Psalms

from Psalm 120:
In my distress, I called to YHWH and I was answered.
God, rescue my soul/ breath from lips that lie, from a tongue that deceives...
Too long has my soul/ breath dwelt with those who hate peace.
I am peace, but when I speak, they are for war.

from Psalm 121:Song: Esai Einai
I lift up my eyes unto the mountain
From where, from where will my help come?
I lift up my eyes unto the mountain
From where, from where will my help come?
My help will come-come from the One,
Maker of the heavens and the earth.
My help will come-come from the One,
Maker of the heavens and the earth.

Esai Einai, el ha-harim
Mei-ai'yin, mei-ai'yin yavo ezri?
Esai Einai, el ha-harim
Mei-ai'yin, mei-ai'yin yavo ezri?
Ezri me-im Hashem oseh shamaiim v'aretz (x2).

from Psalm 130:
From the depths have I called You, O Eternal.
YHWH, hear my voice.
May your ears attend to the sound of my pleas.
For if you were to keep track of all misdeeds,
Oh God, who could breathe?
Yet with You comes forgiveness
That fills us with awe.
In You I place my hope,
With every breath I place my hope in You,
And for Your word I yearn.
My every breath awaits You,
More than watchmen wait for the dawn —
Yes, more than watchmen yearn for dawn.
You who wrestle God, take hope in YHWH!
For with the Source of Life is loving-kindne
And many forms of freedom —
For the Breath of Life will free us from all our unjust acts.

from Psalm 102:
You Who Hear prayers, hear my prayer now,
Let my outcry reach to You.
Do not hide your face from me on this day of distress.
Lend me Your ear.
On the very day I call out, answer me.

Reading from the Prophets —

Yeshayahu, Isaiah 56

What is the fast that I demand of you? —
What is a day that truly presses down your ego?
Is it bending down your head like a bulrush?
Sitting on sack-cloth and ashes?
This is the fast that I have chosen:
Break the handcuffs put on by wicked power;
Undo the yoke of heavy burden;
Let the oppressed go free.
Share your bread with the hungry;
Bring the homeless to your own house.
When you see the naked, clothe them;
Don't hide yourself; they are your flesh and blood!

And from a child of the Prophets, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, writing in 1943:

Emblazoned over the gates of the world in which we live is the escutcheon of the demons. The mark of Cain in the face of man has come to overshadow the likeness of God. Ashamed and dismayed, we ask: Who is responsible?

All may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.

Indeed, where were we when men learned to hate in the days of starvation? When raving madmen were sowing wrath in the hearts of the unemployed?

Let Fascism not serve as an alibi for our conscience. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war.

When greed, envy, and the reckless will to power, the serpents that were cherished in the bosom of our civilization, came to maturity, they broke out of their dens to fall upon the helpless nations.

The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves.


What acts of ours will respond wholeheartedly to Isaiah's voicing of God's desire? What acts of ours will respond to Heschel's call that we become responsible?

Let each of us now look into the hearts we have torn open, and bring forth one action that we intend as an act of turning toward the One. — Each of us is welcome now to say what deed we intend to do in order to lessen violence, seek peace, and prevent war.

[Wait for words of commitment from members of the community.]

We call upon our community to undertake a communal fast and thoughtful action in the hope of averting the calamity of war, focused on the hours from dawn to dusk on _________ [insert date according to the Jewish and Western calendars].

Closing song (by Debbie Friedman; Zechariah 4: 6, )

Not by might, and not by power,
but by Spirit alone
Shall we all live in peace.

The children sing, the children sing —
And their tears may fall
But we'll hear them call
And another song will rise (x3).

Not by might, and not by power,
but by Spirit alone
Shall we all live in peace.


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