CINCINNATI, OH: Cincinnati's Dr. Gary P. Zola has been invited to open the United States Senate with prayer as Guest Chaplain on Thursday, May 26th, in celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. (The live broadcast of these proceedings on C-Span will begin at approximately 9:30 a.m., but can range from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; the precise starting time is determined the evening prior to the Senate session.)
Zola, a historian and rabbi, serves as the Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (located on the Cincinnati, Ohio campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion). Dr. Zola was invited to serve as Guest Chaplain at the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. by Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Senator Voinovich-along with Representatives Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) - co-sponsored a concurrent resolution of Congress (passed in October, 2003) honoring 350 years of American Jewish communal life in America. The resolution also formally recognized the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History. This national Commission, chaired by Dr. Zola, constitutes an unprecedented collaboration of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the American Jewish Historical Society (New York) and The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (Cincinnati).
This is the second time that Zola has gone to the nation's capital to offer an opening prayer for the United States Congress. On September 21, 2004, Congressman Rob Portman invited Zola to offer an opening prayer for the House of Representatives. Zola is one of only a handful of American clergy to have offered prayers at both Houses of Congress, one of only a few to do so within a twelve-month period of time.
Zola is widely acknowledged as one of the leading figures in the year-long national commemoration marking the 350th anniversary of Jewish communal life in North America. The Commission's most ambitious activity is a national exhibition of rare and iconic historical documents that illuminate the character of American Jewish history. This first Commission-sponsored exhibition was presented by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. under the title From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America. Zola was one of the keynote speakers at the opening of that exhibition on September 8, 2004, together with the Librarian of Congress and the Archivist of the United States of America. On February 13, 2005, the Commission's exhibition moved to the Cincinnati Museum Center where Zola again addressed those gathered for the opening ceremonies. Most recently, Zola participated in the opening ceremonies for the New York City presentation of the exhibition, which opened on May 17. The Commission-sponsored exhibition is scheduled to have its final showing in Los Angeles at the HUC Skirball Museum (Fall, 2005).
September, 2004 marked the beginning of the 350th anniversary of Jewish communal life in North America. "This anniversary provides our country with a unique opportunity to celebrate and contemplate how the American way of life has encouraged the participation of a small minority-American Jewry," said Dr. Zola. "In return, America's Jewish community has made remarkable contributions to the whole of American culture."
Dr. Zola also serves as an Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. His articles have appeared in many scholarly publications including American Jewish History, American Jewish Archives, Canadian Jewish History and the Journal of Reform Judaism.
The text of Dr. Zola's prayer is below.
OPENING PRAYER FOR THE THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005
UNITED STATES SENATE SESSION
Rabbi Gary P. Zola, Ph.D.
The now silent voices of our forebears still linger in the silent places of this historic chamber of debate and decision. One of those voices is that of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), American clergyman and founder of the Hebrew Union College, who once offered prayer in this space 135 years ago, to the very week.
Once Dr. Wise took ill while in the midst of teaching his class. Apologizing to his students, the rabbi - a bit unsteady on his feet - struggled to descend from the teaching platform where he spoke. A young, eager student jumped up, grabbed his teacher's arm and said, "May I help you down, Doctor?"
The famous rabbi smiled and responded to the offer in a voice loud enough for others to hear, "never help a person down, my boy, try always to help people up!"
In this year marking 350 years of Jewish life in America, let us offer up prayerful and reverential gratitude to the Source of Life, for implanting within our hearts the vision of our noble republic, ever striving to help people up. O may all who labor in this house - and in every house - be inspired anew by the prophet Micah's exhortation, a charge that the father of this nation deeply cherished and repeatedly cited: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God (Micah 6:8).
Fervently we pray that the vision we hallow will animate all of us to live: "with malice toward none; with charity for all...[so we can] finish the work we are in" (Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address - March 4, 1865).