Art of the Week: The provocative, poignant call for peace in Taking Sides by Rabbi Irwin Keller

Image credit: Melissa Koby

Taking Sides
By Rabbi Irwin Keller

Today I am taking sides.

I am taking the side of Peace.

Peace, which I will not abandon
even when its voice is drowned out
by hurt and hatred,
bitterness of loss,
cries of right and wrong.

I am taking the side of Peace
whose name has barely been spoken
in this winnerless war.

I will hold Peace in my arms,
and share my body’s breath,
lest Peace be added
to the body count.

I will call for de-escalation
even when I want nothing more
than to get even.
I will do it
in the service of Peace.

I will make a clearing
in the overgrown
thicket of cause and effect
so Peace can breathe
for a minute
and reach for the sky.

I will do what I must
to save the life of Peace.
I will breathe through tears.
I will swallow pride.
I will bite my tongue.
I will offer love
without testing for deservingness.

So don’t ask me to wave a flag today
unless it is the flag of Peace.
Don’t ask me to sing an anthem
unless it is a song of Peace.
Don’t ask me to take sides
unless it is the side of Peace.

Irwin Keller is a rabbi, teacher, writer, music-maker, performer and self-described “hope-monger”. He was once a lawyer and advocate, including being the primary author of Chicago’s first gay rights law. He has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Shalom in Sonoma County, California since 2008, and received his rabbinic ordination through the ALEPH Jewish Renewal ordination program in 2021. He is a co-founder and steward of the Taproot Gathering – a deep dive into mystical learning and spiritual practice for activists, artists and community ritualists.

His blog, Itzik’s Well, shares what he is driven to think about write about: life, loss, family, hope, change, Torah, gender, sexuality and the usefulness of an outsider’s perspective. As he shares, “I like to invite active imagining and re-imagining of the core stories of our tradition. I like to find the humor in the serious, and to locate the serious in the humor. And I believe that all of us who have felt like we didn’t fit in have important lessons to teach Judaism and the world, and that the world, and Judaism, will grow and change with us.”

He continues, “I had the distinct honor to turn my activism into song and play through being a marginally famous singing drag queen for 21 years with America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, the Kinsey Sicks, dubbed by NPR ‘the Royal Shakespeare Company of drag performance.'”

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