Last Saturday night, I attended the memorial service for Rabbi Marvin Gross, who many of us knew in his role as the Executive Director of Union Station Homeless Services for 21 years. He was an ordained rabbi and served as leader of two synagogues in the past, but during his years in Pasadena, his “congregation” was the people who live on Pasadena’s streets.
The service began with the usual evening prayers in Hebrew, which are said by observant Jews all over the world. The closing prayer is known as Aleinu, after its first Hebrew word. The leader of the service commented on how Marvin Gross lived out that word, as well as another Hebrew phrase toward the end of the prayer, Tikkun Olam. Here’s the prayer (streamlined version):
It is our duty (Aleinu) to praise the Lord of all things, to ascribe greatness to him who formed the world in the beginning. We bend the knee and offer worship and thanks before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he, who stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, the seat of whose glory is in the heavens above, and the abode of whose might is in the loftiest heights. He is our God; he is our King; there is none besides him. As it is written in his Law, “You shalt know this day, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath: there is no other God.”
We therefore hope in you, O Lord our God, that we may soon behold the glory of your might, when you will remove abominations from the earth, when the world will be perfected (Tikkun Olam) under your kingdom and all the children of flesh will call upon your name, when you will turn unto yourself all the wicked of the earth. Let all the inhabitants of the world perceive and know that unto you every knee must bow, every tongue must swear. Before you, O Lord our God, let them bow and fall; and unto your glorious name let them give honor; let them all accept the yoke of your kingdom, and reign over them for ever and ever. For yours is the kingdom, and to all eternity you will reign in glory; as it is written in your Law, “The Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall the Lord be One, and his name be One.”
The word Aleinu, which the prayer book translates as “It is our duty,” literally means “It’s on us.” The memorial service leader pointed out that Marvin Gross took this seriously when he looked at the problems of homelessness in our community. Some of us may be tempted to say, “Not my problem,” but the prayer is a reminder that we should accept the challenge of making it our problem: Aleinu; “It’s on us.”
The phrase in the second paragraph which expresses the Hebrew Tikkun Olam reminds us that God is in the process of redeeming and renewing his Creation, including humanity. The surrounding language reflects on the many ways God’s Kingdom is being manifested and will be expanded in the future. The service leader pointed out that, by saying Aleinu, “It’s on us,” we are joining God in his process of repairing and restoring the broken world. When Marvin Gross reached out to homeless people, when ABCers volunteer at the Women’s Room or the Bad Weather Shelter, when we speak out about injustices in our community or in the world, we’re saying Aleinu to God’s mega-project of Tikkun Olam.
— Pastor George Van Alstine