Meditation on Psalm 137

Self Portrait With  Kinnor, Paper Cutout, Phillip Schwartz


By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land.

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?


Lately I’ve been feeling as if I might just be on alien soil. So much hate has been revealed since November 9th and the months leading up to that date, that I feel as if I’m no longer at home in my own country. For many of us it’s been a painful period, and some of us have felt frightened of what is yet to come. The horror of Charlottesville brought home the fragility of our democracy and how many thousands of hate filled, torch bearing, slogan chanting, thugs there are just waiting for an opportunity to rise up and implement their own version of a final solution. My grandfather was a Jewish refugee who fled the pogroms of his native Romania. In 1938, armed only with their American passports, he and my grandmother, with my then twelve year old father in tow, bravely crossed Nazi Germany by train to return to Romania to try to save his remaining family from the Nazis. He was unable to convince them of the impending holocaust and most of them were murdered by their own neighbors at the behest of their Nazi allies. I used to be one of the naïve masses who believed that it couldn’t happen here. Now we’ve seen Nazis marching proudly in the streets chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” We have all seen the murderous rage that met the people who rallied against the forces of hate. We have seen the death of one young woman and the injury of many more in a brutal and cowardly act of terrorism. It’s tempting to hang our harps on the trees and silence our songs in our grief, but now more than ever, it’s of vital importance that we sing and that we shout and that we stand together in opposition to hatred and to violence and to the denigration of any group of people.

Phillip Schwartz


Note: A Kinnor is the type of ancient Hebrew harp played by King David.



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