News Highlights President Anisfeld Speaks at World Culture Festival in Washington, DC
Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld delivered the following address at World Culture Festival 2023 in Washington, D.C. last weekend. More than a million people from 180 countries filled the National Mall for the three-day event to send out a single message of belongingness and brotherhood; to celebrate human diversity through dance, music, meditation and culture. Rabbi Anisfeld was among the interfatih leaders who spoke.
World Culture Festival, Interfaith Prayers
esteemed colleagues and teachers,
leaders and organizers,
treasured artists — laborers in the garden of the human spirit.
I’m honored to be here with you today.
I stand before you as a mother, a teacher, a rabbi, a Jew, and a member of the human family.
I stand with fear and with profound hope.
Fear, because we live in a time
when so much conspires to make us feel divided and alone.
Hope, because there are so many people
gathered here for this extraordinary festival —
but also dispersed all over the world
people who are working every day
to bear witness to the deeper truth of our belonging:
In our exuberant human diversity,
We are part of a greater Whole.
Today is the second day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
A seven-day festival during which we leave the safety of our homes
To dwell in temporarily constructed booths.
It is a holiday of vulnerability,
and of joy.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first.
We can find it challenging to feel vulnerable and joyful at the same time.
This is the point.
The booths we build evoke an ancient memory of our journey from slavery to freedom,
years of wandering in a distant wilderness.
But they also remind us of a truth that is as close to us as our own breath —
That we are all wanderers in this world
That there are no walls high enough to keep out the darkness of despair;
There is no roof that will keep out the ravages of war.
No amount of wealth that will protect us from the winds of ecological devastation.
No haven from hatred other than the love we are brave enough extend to one another.
In the sacred choreography of this season,
We gather in our hands
the lulav — branches of palm, myrtle, and willow,
and the etrog — the fruit of the citron tree.
Reminders of our intimate connection to this earth
That is our only home.
We stand, extend them in each direction, and shake —
Up to sky
Down to the earth.
And each time we extend them,
We bring them back to our heart.
Elohei ha-ruchot l-chol basar.
God of the spirits of all flesh.
I am small
And Your world is so vast.
Let me not be afraid.
Let me never imagine
that the light of another diminishes my own.
Together, let us extend our hands.
Together, let us open our hearts.
Kol haneshama tehalel Yah.
With every breath,
With all that has breath,
Let us praise You,
O Breath of Life.