What you’re seeing: Words forming a plea to g!d about freeing people from imprisonment are climbing down into a deep pit to free a person who is imprisoned at the bottom. The text evokes Joseph, who was imprisoned in a pit by his brothers and then sold into slavery, and reminds us that we are still imprisoning our brothers, with echos of slavery.
Huge thanks go out to Rimon, the MN Jewish Artist’s council, which commissioned this piece.
More about the text: I started working on this piece thinking about justice and injustice, and about mass incarceration. This text was written in Yiddish, a language that many people spoke and was, at the time, a living language of real people, many of whom were not rich and were not exalted and were looked down upon and oppressed by the people around them who were not like them (in Europe, in New York). This text is from a book of personal prayers (a tekhine) printed in New York in 1916, just a few years after the unjust police action against a mostly Jewish community, in that same city, that Rothbaum talks about in his Ferguson/Fargesn d’var torah. Today, so many American Jews are white and because we live in such a segregated society, our lives rarely overlap in any meaningful way with people who are targeted by the racist justice system, people most likely to be wrongfully imprisoned. This text, both because of the language it’s written in and the time it comes from, connects our very recent history with the current realities of many Americans today. I learned about this text thanks to a dvar torah by Noam Lerman for Rosh Hashanah 5779 called “Unlock ALL of Their Shackles“.
Full tekhine text:
Read the original: Shas tehine rav peninim: mit fiele perushim un mesholim in Ivri Taytsh.
I excerpted the original for the papercut. Here’s the full translation; parts I used are in italics:
Remember us, beloved Gd, by the merit of Yoysef the righteous
On this very day (Rosh Hashana) you pulled him out from his prison and you exalted him to be a leader of Egypt,
so too, Creator of the Universe, through his merit Please exalt our destiny so that we are not framed by false accusation, Gd forbid!, and wallow in prison.
And You shall summon ALL of the captive prisoners towards freedom, and You shall unlock ALL of their shackles immediately, on this very day.