Rabbi Lauren Berkin delivered one of the prayers at the end of the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, just ahead of Father James Martin. I suspect most people didn’t see the prayers; they were delivered after the networks had switched away from the coverage.
The rabbi posted this reflection on the blog for the Times of Israel, on what it means to offer a prayer in that kind of setting:
When I was invited to participate in the closing interfaith benediction for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I was deeply honored and humbled. Given the complexity of spiritual leadership in this political climate, I immediately started wrestling with the best approach to this delicate task. Then I learned that my speaking part would be 40 seconds in total! I determined that my charge as a rabbi was to contribute a meaningful spiritual message that would reflect Jewish values, while also speaking to Americans across religious and political differences, all in just a few sentences!
Why should we offer prayers at a political convention? For me, the purpose of Jewish prayer is two-fold. Prayer is an opportunity for spiritual connection – to be known and to be heard by a loving God who is the source of wisdom, and comfort, and holiness. At the same time, prayer is an opportunity for personal introspection and stock-taking. Am I living up to my spiritual and moral obligations? How can I aspire to be a better person and fulfill my responsibilities to build a better world? In my few sentences, I wanted to reflect both aspects of prayer.
First, in this time of uncertainty and fear, I felt that it was important to call upon God as a refuge in times of distress.
Second, I wanted to express the divine demand for human action. God awakens us to our moral obligations and depends on human partnership to repair a broken world. In this moment of national crisis, each and every human being is imbued with the potential to serve as an agent of change. Prayer can spur us to a sense of human responsibility and accountability.
Finally, I wanted to craft my short prayer with the focus on what it means to be at home. During this pandemic, we have all experienced the meaning of home in new ways. Knowing that the DNC would be experienced from our homes, I wanted to reflect on what it means to build a home based on the guiding values of human dignity, equality, and justice.
For those who missed it, here’s Father Martin’s prayer. (Note: an imam also delivered a Muslim prayer at the conclusion, but I haven’t been able to find it online, as either video or text.)