Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD & Chancellor Arnold Eisen, PhD – March 15, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
A National Prayer Breakfast Experience
The phone rang. It was Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, member of the United States House of Representatives from Texas’s 7th congressional district. She called to invite me to join her at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in February. I was pleased to be her guest and make the day-trip to D.C. The Congresswoman had been at Beth Israel for an accountability session prior to the mid-term elections, and she was present in our sanctuary for the Sabbath of Comfort, following the tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was an honor to be asked and it was an honor to support her.
When I shared the news with rabbinic colleagues outside Houston, they raised their eyebrows. You see, the National Prayer Breakfast, which began in 1955, with President Eisenhower, has become associated with deeply evangelical Christianity. I explained to my colleagues that I knew what to expect at the breakfast program; as a Texas rabbi, I’m not unfamiliar with being prayed “at” and “for.” On the day of the breakfast, Congresswoman Fletcher and her husband, Scott, an attorney, met me at my hotel. We had coffee and got acquainted before we made our way to the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Fortunately, we were just on time and avoided the crowd of more than 3,000 people who had already passed through security and been seated at their tables. With minutes to spare, we were guided to our assigned places at table 103. Stuffed like sardines in the ballroom with barely enough space for wait staff to pass behind and between the tables, we craned our necks to see the stage behind us where the program was about to begin. Large screens aided our view as the first of many speakers offered their prayers and personal words.
The general texts grew familiar fast. Each speaker graciously acknowledged the capacity crowd and all the peoples of faith who were present, though they didn’t name separate faith traditions. Then it happened; every hope-filled inspirational message concluded with, “We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only exception was the new Senator from Nevada, Jacky Rosen, who was previously the president of her synagogue. She spoke beautifully and cited Isaiah 58, which she referenced as a familiar reading on Yom Kippur. Hers was like an island in a deep ocean of Christian prayer.
Next, the keynote speaker addressed the scourge of slavery in the world. I still have no idea what he was talking about; he showed pictures of 18th century slavery juxtaposed to contemporary “slavery.” He didn’t speak of the horror of human trafficking or the pervasive lack of economic opportunity. But, he did give credit to President Trump for providing money to end the “sin” of HIV-AIDS.
During the program, Congresswoman Fletcher expressed concern for my feelings. I thanked her for her sensitivity, but I assured her that I knew what the event would be. I added with emphasis that I came expressly to honor her. She represents us in Houston, she stood with the Jewish community this past fall, and she brings to Washington, the values we share on issues that are important to all of us. No matter our political affiliation, the Congresswoman’s invitation was an honor, and my support was a reflection of our Jewish community’s interests in her success on Capitol Hill.
When I returned, I was asked if I was the only Jewish person in the room. As far I could tell, it was just the senator from Nevada, the bagels on the tables, and me. We were underwhelming in our attendance, but statistically about right as a people among the population. Before I left, I prayed my prayers, too, even though no one heard them that day. I prayed:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Praised are You, Adonai, Who hears my prayer: open the hearts and minds of those who claim to know You for themselves; reveal to all Your children the Truth created in Your image and reflected in the face of every human being; and, guide us to bear witness to Your truth by the words of our mouths, the wisdom in our hearts, and the deeds that flow through our hands.
And, God bless Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher and her husband, Scott.
Amen and Amen.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST. Listeners around the greater Houston area, and now the internet, tune in to hear his words about life and its meaning from a Jewish point-of-view. Each radio program is available as a Podcast, called “Heart to Heart with Rabbi David Lyon”. Click here to listen online, or download the iHeartRadio app.