May our prayers and voices weave together to draw the Divine presence near.
As the trees begin to shed their leaves outside, we mark the Jewish festival of Sukkot by building fragile, temporary dwellings. Sitting in the sukkah we wonder what is lasting in our lives: What does it mean to have a place that we can always call home? How might we stay connected to the Eternal as seasons shift and change is all around us?
The Talmud teaches that in the days of the Temple, on the festival of Sukkot, sacred offerings were brought on behalf of all nations for rains of blessing, for a year sustenance. During the holiday of Sukkot in our times, we continue to pray for the wellbeing for all humanity.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God’s House will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples. In preparation for Sukkot this year, we gathered a multifaith group of clergy and other spirited singers in our Center City, Philadelphia synagogue to sing a mashup of the psalm that we recite through this season—Psalm 27—with the Christian worship song, “Better is One Day.” Both works explore the idea of dwelling in the house of God.
During the three hours we spent together in song, we also stood in silent prayer in the magnificent sanctuary at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel (that was once a church and is now a synagogue). With the prayers of Yom Kippur still reverberating in the vaulted ceiling, along with the energy of over a century of heartfelt offerings, we reflected on what it feels like to dwell in the house of the Eternal One. We know this home to be a space of love, integrity, justice, and awe for all of God’s creation.
We are blessed to belong to an interfaith community that is working to build a more just and welcoming Philadelphia for all who call our city home—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, economic status, or whether you’ve lived here for many years or have just arrived in this country three weeks ago.
May our prayers and voices weave together to draw the Divine presence near. May our actions create communities, in our city and our country, that are spaces of dignity and welcome for all people, places that God would want to call home.
Here is the Spontaneous Philadelphia Interfaith Choral Ensemble singing Better Is One Day / Achat Sha’alti (Psalm 27), (original song by Matt Redman, arranged by Josh Ehrlich, with Yosef Goldman).
Better Is One Day / Achat Sha’alti
Song by Matt Redman, with lyrics from Psalm 27
Arranged by Josh Ehrlich, with Yosef Goldman
Performed by the Spontaneous Philadelphia Interfaith Choral Ensemble
Recorded live at Temple Beth-Zion Beth Israel, Philadelphia, PA
Better is one day in your courts
Better is one day in your house
Better is one day in your courts
Than thousands elsewhere
Achat Sha’alti me’eit Hashem
אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת יְהוָה
One thing I ask from Adonai
That one thing I seek:
Shviti b’veit Adonai kol yemei chayai
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית יְהוָה כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי
To dwell in Adonai's house all the days of my life
My heart and flesh cry out
For You the Living God
Your Spirit’s water to my soul
Lecha amar libi, bakshu fanai
לְךָ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי
You seek my heart,
My heart seeks You
Et panecha avakeish
אֶת-פָּנֶיךָ יְהוָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ
I seek Your Presence, Adonai
Rabbi Annie Lewis is Director of Rabbinic Formation at Reconstructing Judaism. Rabbi Yosef Goldman is Rabbi and Director of Sacred Music at Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel (BZBI) in Philadelphia.