Demanding Peace

Jews have been saying Shalom Rav for centuries upon centuries. Traditionally, it would have been recited silently, but today most people probably associate this melody with it, written by Cantor Jeff Klepper and Rabbi Dan Freelander back in 1974. Their setting was groundbreaking, in many ways bringing awareness of this text to the modern era and establishing the tone for future songwriters who chose to tackle it. That tone has consistently been one that evoked a relaxed, peaceful feeling, perhaps aiming to convey the dream of the messianic era when the world will be at peace.

Depiction of Crusaders attacking Jerusalem in 1177. 

Today, in America, we know what it means to live in relative peace and prosperity. But what did our ancestors feel while praying for peace in times of war, famine, or plague? What was it like to pray for peace while Crusaders were rampaging through your town? What was it like to pray for peace when the king and queen evicted you from your homeland on pain of death? Or during terrible pogroms in Eastern Europe? What did peace even mean in those times? The absence of war? Contentment? Health? While we live in comfort and security, our ancestors’ prayers for peace at times must have been fervent, perhaps even angry or desperate.

While American Jews largely prosper, we cannot deny that the world is not in this same situation. War rages on, poverty and hunger continue to take their toll on the world, and our environment has reached a critical moment if we want humanity to survive. Peace is not a happy dream. Right now, right here, peace is a real and present need that will take hard work to achieve. We need people to protest, to march, to call their elected representatives, and to volunteer their time and energy to help those in need.

When I wrote my setting of Shalom Rav, I wanted to communicate that sense of urgency and to inspire efforts toward peace in our time. The upbeat tempo, the electric guitar, the pounding drums -- they fill us with energy and excitement. Don’t let that feeling fade after Shabbat! Hold onto it, revel in it. Use it for the good of others. Call your senator and demand change, call the nearest homeless shelter or soup kitchen and volunteer, organize your family and friends and neighbors to speak out for what you believe. There is a time for rest and to celebrate the miracle of Creation, but there is also a time when we stand up for what’s right and fight for the right of all people to live in peace. As Jews, we demand a world that offers justice, peace, and security for all its inhabitants “in every season and every moment.”