The blessing I prepared to say when Hillary Clinton was elected president was the Schehechyanu – a prayer that is uttered when something noteworthy and wonderful happens for the first time. I found the thick, block-printed Hebrew words free-floating on the Internet alongside a transliteration and a sturdy translation. I cut and pasted the words – in Hebrew and English – in an email to myself. And then I eagerly waited. I waited to chant the prayer in the familiar, traditional melody when I would first hear the news. I waited to display the blessing in my Facebook status in honor of President-elect Clinton.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, Schehechyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all:
For giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.
Instead, I found a line from a poem by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski that more accurately reflected my mood after Clinton conceded. It begins: “Try to praise the mutilated world.” How I want to try to praise our gorgeous broken world. How I want to try to praise our beautiful confused country. But I barely have breath.
When Clinton dropped out of the presidential election race in 2008 she declared, “We weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time… [but] it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
In the wake of the 2016 election, I take solace that there must be at least 36 million if not 54 million cracks in that glass ceiling. I purposely evoke these good solid Jewish numbers, multiples of 18. In Hebrew, letters double as numbers and the number 18 also spells out the word chai or life. More solid, black letters telegraphing sacred wishes.
“Tough morning,” a friend said checking in. She asked how I was and I cried all over again. My mother-in-law called from Florida and she was almost apologetic for living there. My sister, a middle-school social studies teacher, dreaded facing her classes in the aftermath of this election. She texted me throughout the night. “I’m so sick,” she said. I didn’t tell her that I’d been dry heaving since Clinton lost Ohio.
In the early morning hours of November 9th, when it felt as if it would stay dark forever, I thought about saying the Mourner’s Kaddish. After all, I was grieving. But the choice felt too facile, too obvious.
I am clearly mourning Clinton’s loss, but even in my anguish I am able to see that this situation does not have the finality of a death. Yes, it’s very bad. “We won’t have clarity about this for quite a while,” said my wise husband in one of his many morning phone calls to check up on me. After we hung up, I thought maybe we the people could finesse the situation a bit, wait it out, eventually fix it. That was the optimistic part of me poking through like a shoot of grass in a concrete sidewalk
It’s significant to note that the Kaddish does not mention a single word about death. It’s a love letter, praising a wise, beneficent God. It says in part:
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
But I was not feeling very charitable towards God.
Instead, I went to my synagogue to look up the Prayer for Our Country that is said each week after the Shabbat morning Torah service. It begins straightforwardly:
Our God and God of our ancestors, with mercy accept our prayer on behalf of our country and its government. Pour out Your blessing upon this land, upon its inhabitants, upon its leaders, its judges, officers and officials, who faithfully devote themselves to the needs of the public. Help them understand the rules of justice You have decreed, so that peace and security and happiness and freedom, will never depart from our land.
As I was leaving the synagogue I ran into my rabbi. The moment I saw her, I fell into her warm embrace and cried. “The sun rose today,” she softly said. Her words, so deceptively simple, were also unexpectedly hopeful.
I encountered more words from thoughtful, loving friends that further consoled me. On Facebook one of them said:
Like many of you, I am in shock this morning. And I am ready to fight. To fight for what I still believe this country can be.
But before I fight, I know I have to listen. Because a lot of you have known that it was this bad. A lot of you did not have faith that America would avoid this. I need to learn to see what you see.
Then we fight.
Through my own Facebook status I tell my friends that I have to sit still with my silence. Except for my typing, I write this essay in absolute quiet. It’s the closest I come to resting my voice, quelling my tears. As I write, I am anxious yet determined to find my prayer. And then even though it has always been with me, I finally hear it from within me. I have been saying it all my life:
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O’ Israel the Lord Our God, the Lord is One.
Even my assimilated father knew those six words of Judaism’s signature prayer—a prayer tucked into Jewish liturgy morning, noon and night. The Sh’ma has always been the prayer of prayers for Jews. And it’s the one that has always challenged me to stop and to listen and to learn.
Hours after the election is called, I purposefully took out the Sh’ma like a comfortable dress to wear – to say the prayer slowly, deliberately. I annunciated each letter.
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
I listened for the silence of God’s looming presence.
This is the prayer I turned to on the morning after the 2016 election. This is the prayer that someday soon will help me – please God – to reach a new season of joy.