Who by water and who by [police] fire?

The Unetaneh Tokef prayer is unique to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy. The first line is variously translated as ‘We shall ascribe holiness to this day” and “Let us speak of the awesomeness.” The poem contains the imagery of the book of life opening on Rosh Hashanah, and being sealed on Yom Kippur. A translation of the poem can be found in this blog post by Rabbi Reuven Hammer.

For our Rosh Hashanah service this year, Deb Kraus wrote this powerful introduction to the Unetaneh Tokef.

From last high holy days to today, how many African American people have died by police fire?

For smoking an e-cigarette, like Alfredo Olango

For reaching for a gun, like Che Taylor
For just having a gun, like Michael Moore and Nicholas Robertson and Corey Jones.
Or for refusing to drop a gun, like Sahlah Ridgeway and Sylville Smith

For waiting for his son’s schoolbus to arrive, like Keith Lamont Scott.
For having his car stall out, like Terence Crutcher
For speeding, like Moses Rubin and Doll Pierre-Louis
For riding a motorcycle, like Terrence Sterling
For stealing a car, like Paul O’Neal
Or for stealing an officer’s car, like Paterson Brown, Jr.

For running away from the cops, like Dalvin Hollins and Deravis Caine Rogers and Jabril Robinson and Rodney Watts and Akiel Denkins and Calin Roquemore and Ricky Ball and Jessica Williams and Miguel Espinal and Donte Taylor and 13 year old Tyre King.
Or for approaching the cops, like Christopher Goodlow and Javario Eagle

For shooting himself in his own wheelchair, like Jeremy McDole.
For being schizophrenic, bipolar, suicidal or mentally impaired in some other way, like James Anderson and Janet Wilson and Joseph Mann and Jawari Porter and Kevin Matthews and Carlumandarlo Zaramo and Tyler Gebhard.

For trying to help a neighbor, like Bettie Jones
For faking a prescription, like Keith McLeod
For selling CDs outside a convenience store, like Alton Sterling
For damaging a traffic sign, like Peter Gaines
And for road rage, like Delrawn Small and Clarence Howard.

For “refusing to cooperate” like Cameron Glover and Gregory Frazier and Nathaniel Pickett and Darnell Wicker, who, BTW, was probably deaf…
OR For doing everything the police said, like Philando Castile
For sitting in his bedroom looking threatening, like Levonia Riggins
Or trying to protect her five year old child in her own home, like Korryn Gaines.
For looking like someone else, like Colby Friday and Donnell Thompson, Jr.
For engaging in “suspicious activity,” like Dazion Flenaugh and David Joseph, and Greg Gunn
For fighting back, like Kevin Hicks and Junior Prosper
For turning around too quickly, like Antronie Scott

For panicking, like all the people above, Blue AND Black…

Although, a sign I saw Saturday summed it up:
“We live in a world where trained cops can panic and act on impulse but untrained civilians must remain calm with a gun in their face.”

Notice race was not mentioned in that last quote. I’ll say it again:

“We live in a world where trained cops can panic and act on impulse but untrained civilians must remain calm with a gun in their face.”

I know that none of these situations are as straightforward as I have presented it.

But this year, as we pray the Unetaneh Tokef, let us really try to comprehend the myriad ways those who have pledged to serve and protect can instead cause people to die by fire, just because of the color of their skin.

–Deb Kraus

For a long reflection on Unetaneh Tokef, written by Rabbi Toba Spitzer, for Rosh Hashanah 5762 (Sept. 18, 2001), please go here.

Blessing for the Body

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner was kind enough to send us the poem she read during Shabbat with us, to give us permission to share it here.

Blessing for the Body Woman's shadow on a wall
Ora Nitkin-Kaner

All you have is your body. An assembly of limbs and a floating skull and a ribcage to hold all that softness.

All you have is your body. Your feet carrying you from threshold to threshold, set, sturdy, asking for no praise.

All you have is your body. Your elbows that slip over holy pages, that hold open doors for the next person and the next. These bony sentries, their slivered tenacity insisting on your place in the world.

All you have is your body. Your knees that bend, bob into bodily praise, then raise you up again, ready to meet God, ready to meet the day.

All you have is your body. Your heart, your first organ that is with you til the last. Your heart, that carries the lessons of accumulated loves – and losses that only scratched it or losses that caused it almost to stop.

Bless your heart’s chambers, all fluid and muscle and flux. Bless your heart’s beat of open and close and open. Bless your heart for how it blooms unabashedly like a peony on the tenth of May, like a hothouse flower that has no memory of the word frost. Bless your wise heart.

Bless your vivid brain, and its many hungers.

Bless your gut, how it is fed by memories that precede you, how it offers up truth and fear and waits for you to decide which is which.

Bless your hands, articulate, angry, gentle. Carrying you into the world

All you have is your holy body.

May it be for you a blessing and a vessel. May you uncover its many truths. May it acquaint you with stricture and with freedom. May you treat it as a beloved. May it move you through darkness and always, again, into light.

 

Report Back: “Community in Difficult Times”

community in difficult timesReported by Martha Kransdorf and Sallygeorge Wright

“Community in Difficult Times,” was a Jewish community-wide facilitated discussion hosted by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Thursday evening June 30th.  The purpose for the meeting, according to convener Karla Goldman (director, UM Jewish Communal Leadership Program), “was to create a space where people come together in community to be able to process recent events.  The catalyst was the Pulse tragedy in Orlando, which just seemed to combine so many different elements of the recent news: hate crime, hate speech, LGBTQ issues, immigration issues, gun violence and gun control, anti-Muslim rhetoric and terrorism issues in ways that cried out for response and yet no one has seemed to know how to respond.” About 65 people attended, taking advantage of this important opportunity to reflect about the tragedy in Orlando and the ongoing issues in this year’s election campaign.

Goldman, JCC President Prue Rosenthal,  and Hillel Director Tilly Shames, got things started.  They reviewed the meeting’s background and guidelines for the small discussions at each table.  Rabbi Kim Blumenthal helped establish the mood for the evening by leading us in “Hinei Ma Tov.”

We were reminded that each table had a facilitator, and needed to choose a note taker.  We were to respect different opinions, and each person’s privacy.  Individual’s remarks were not to be repeated afterward without permission from the person who made them.  And we could say “ouch” if something offended us.  There were three guiding questions for us to consider:

1)  What brought you here?

2)  What’s in your heart and on your mind?

3)  Is there something about this moment that calls upon us as Jews and as a Jewish community?

Report backs noted the need for education and outreach on issues including guns, mental health, and more. The need for concrete measures to show solidarity with LGBTQ and Hispanic populations were pointed out.  Examples included having social activities that would increase awareness of diversity in the community. People suggested an ad in a newspaper to express our outrage and concern about current developments, and publicity for efforts on gun control.  Final remarks focused on further get-togethers to look at where we might go from here.

The invitation to the meeting was issued by almost every part of the organized Jewish Community in Ann Arbor:  the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, the Jewish Communal Leadership Program, U of M’s Hillel, Jewish Federation of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, Beth Israel Congregation, Temple Beth Emeth, Jewish Cultural Society, Hebrew Day School, Jewish Family Services of  Washtenaw County, and the Orthodox Minyan.  According to AARC member Sallygeorge Wright,  the meeting was an important opportunity for people who had never met before, who were involved in different community groups, to find out what each other are already doing and to exchange ideas. Goldman summed up the outcome, “People at the event were happy that there was a way to come together as Jews for issues that were not centered on Jews but which mattered to us as Jews nevertheless.”

Rabbi Sara Adler closed the meeting with a beautiful Prayer for Peace that she had written. This prayer will be published in the forthcoming book, Not By Might, a publication by Rabbis Against Gun Violence and edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor.

Prayer for Peace
 
God of our mothers and fathers,
God of tenderness,
God of lovers, teachers and children,
may we see the day when love conquers fear
when compassion overrides judgment
and the echo of gunshot is heard no more.
 
Let a great peace wrap its arms around our country,
and hold us tight.
 
Unite us-- people of all races, religions,
orientations and identities
in a bond of true fellowship.
 
Teach us to respect difference
and take pride in one another.
 
Let us learn that diversity makes us stronger,
that the healthiest forests are filled
with a multitude of species and birdsong.
 
God on High, let us find consolation
and comfort under Your canopy of peace.
 
May the memories of those assaulted by violence
inspire us to mend our broken world.
 
Let us grind guns into garden tools,
bend our weapons into bridges.
 
May we learn war no more.
Come, let us write a new covenant of kindness
an end to the flood of tears.
 
Seal this promise in the sky,
a rainbow to part the clouds.
 

Rabbi Sara O’Donnell Adler is a chaplain at UM Health System. She was ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1999 and received her
Clinical Pastoral Education at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. Prior to joining the staff of UMHS in 2008, Rabbi Sara worked as one of the rabbis with the
MetroWest Jewish Health and Healing Center in West Orange, NJ.

Orlando, Adrienne Rich, Ethel Rosenberg, and Julia de Burgos

adrienneIt started last evening. I was watching (on facebook) the first “livestreamkabbalat shabbat service from Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ synagogues in the world. The just-ordained (from the Reconstructionist seminary) Rabbi Marisa Elana James, who had interned at CBST, was introduced and congratulated. Rabbi James chose, in this gay pride week, and the first shabbat after the Orlando massacre of 49 at a gay dance club during Latinx night, to read a poem written by Adrienne Rich. Since I was sitting at the computer, I could quickly search on “Adrienne Rich” and the two words I remembered from the poem: “unleavened bread.” Ahh, yes, of course, from Sources (1983), which I could pull off my bookshelf:

from Sources XV

It’s an oldfashioned, an outrageous thing
To believe one has a “destiny”

— a thought often peculiar to those
who possess privilege—
 
but there is something else:   the faith
of those despised and endangered
 
that they are not merely the sum
of damages done to them:
 
have kept beyond violence the knowledge
arranged in patterns like kente-cloth
 
unexpected as in batik
recurrent as bitter herbs and unleavened bread
 
of being a connective link
in a long, continuous way
 
of ordering hunger, weather, death, desire
and the nearness of chaos.

My google search led, of course, to other poems. One which I felt I should immediately post to facebook because it spoke so directly to this moment:

What Kind of Times Are These

BY ADRIENNE RICH

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows
     uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but 
     don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

from  Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995) and also published in The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001  (2002).

This led me to thinking about another of Adrienne’s poems…but I couldn’t remember the title. All I could remember last night was a poem that mentioned Ethel Rosenberg, a window, a barn and had been published in the early 1990s when I worked with Adrienne on the journal Bridges.  My google search turned up a poem I knew it wasn’t (because it was published earlier, in 1981). But somehow, this too, was meaningful: I was reminded that tomorrow, June 19, 2016 , is the 63rd anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Adrienne wrote this 1981 poem, “For Ethel Rosenberg,” remembering that the date in 1953 of their execution was a week before her marriage. After you read this post, take a moment and watch/listen to Adrienne read this poem.

Still searching for the window, the barn, I came across another of Adrienne’s poems, not the one I was looking for, but at this moment, right.  North American Time, written in 1983, was published in 1986 in Your Native Land, Your Life, the final stanza reads:

IX

In North America time stumbles on
without moving, only releasing
a certain North American pain.
Julia de Burgos wrote:
That my grandfather was a slave
is my grief; had he been a master
that would have been my shame.
A poet's words, hung over a door
in North America, in the year
nineteen-eighty-three. The almost-full moon rises
timeless speaking of change
out of the Bronx, the Harlem River
the drowned towns of the Quabbin
the pilfered burial mounds
the toxic swamps, the testing-grounds
and I start to speak again.

1983

In this youtube of Adrienne reading the poem, she tells us that Julia de Burgos was a Puerto Rican poet who died on the streets of New York in 1953. A little research and I find she died in early July, just weeks after the Rosenberg execution. I’m reminded that the Jewish Puerto Rican poet Aurora Levins Morales wrote  on facebook this week:

“Hardly anyone is talking about the fact that at least 23 of the people who died at the Pulse were Puerto Rican. That Central Florida is receiving 1000 Puerto Ricans a week fleeing from the disaster colonialism has wrought on us. That these beloved, mostly young people were not only targeted by homophobia. The man who killed them was a regular at that bar and he chose Latinx night. I will not stand for the racist aspect of this hate crime being whitewashed away. This was my familia. They were all doubly my cousins. Yes, everybody reach out to queer communities. Yes, everybody reach out to Muslim communities. But reach out to Latinx and specifically Puerto Rican communities, too. They were our children.”

JBMural-207x300You can find more of Julia de Burgos’ poetry in this bilingual edition. All of these connections across generations, places. I had to get them all down in one place. Thus this blog. I finally found the poem that sent me on this journey. It was hard to find online, but published in Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995, which I have on my bookshelf (I tell you this because I am happy to lend books):

Revolution in Permanence

(1953, 1993)

Through a barn window, three-quartered
the profile of Ethel Rosenberg
stares down past a shattered apple-orchard
into speechless firs.
Speechless this evening.   Last night
the whole countryside thrashed in lowgrade fever
under low swollen clouds
the mist advanced and the wind
tore into one thing then another
--you could think random but you know
the patterns are there—
a sick time, and the human body
feeling it, a loss of pressure,
an agitation without purpose . . .
Purpose?   Do you believe
all agitation has an outcome
like revolt, like Bread and Freedom?
—or do you hang on to the picture
of the State as a human body
—some people being heads or hearts
and others only hands or guts or legs?
But she—how did she end up here
in this of all places?
What she is seeing I cannot see,
what I see has her shape.
There’s an old scythe propped
in an upper window of the barn—
—does it call up marches of peasants?
what is it with you and this barn?
And, no, it’s not an old scythe,
it’s an old rag, you see how it twitches.
And Ethel Rosenberg? I’ve worried about her
through the liquid window in that damp place.
I’ve thought she was coughing, like me,
but her profile stayed still watching
what held her in that position.

1993

Finally, as I go to post this, I find out that on Monday June 20th, 2016, two days from now, The New Yorker magazine will publish a review of Rich’s just out Collected Poems 1950-2012 (WW Norton, June 2016). If only I’d had the new collection when I started writing this, I wouldn’t have had to spend the night searching google.

For Yom Haatzmaut: The poet Rachel Tzvia Back

Rachel Tzvia Back photo by Stephne Chaumet

Rachel Tzvia Back photo by Stephne Chaumet

My friend, the Israeli writer Rachel Tzvia Back, sent me a link this week to two of her recent poems published on World Literature Today.  These poems are from her new collection, entitled What Use Is Poetry, the Poet Is Asking. I will be among the first to order it. Rachel lives in the Galilee where her great-great-great-grandfather settled in the 1830s. Though I’d published her poems and other writing in Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal for two decades, I only met Rachel in September 2014 when she came to Ann Arbor to give talks on a collection of her translations from Hebrew to English, In the Illuminated Dark: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner.

I’m thinking of Rachel during this week of Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day). From an essay of hers on Israeli poetry, here is a translation of an untitled poem by Lea Goldberg (1911-1970), from Rachel’s collection of translations of Goldberg:

And will they ever come, days of forgiveness and grace,
when you’ll walk in the fields, simple wanderer,
and your bare soles will be caressed by the clover,
or wheat-stubble will sting your feet, and its sting will be sweet?

Or the rainfall will catch you, the downpour pounding
on your shoulders, your breast, your neck, your head.
And you’ll walk in the wet fields, quiet widening within
like light on the cloud’s rim.

And you’ll breathe in the scent of the furrow, full and calm,
and you’ll see the sun in the rain-pool’s golden mirror,
and all things are simple and alive, and you may touch them,
you are allowed, you are allowed to love.

You’ll walk in the field. Alone, unscorched by the blaze
of the fires, along roads stiffened with blood and terror.
And true to your heart you’ll be humble and softened,
as one of the grass, as one of humankind.

I read this poem as a celebration of Israel’s independence.

As I was writing this post, I came across another of Rachel’s writings, an opinion piece in the Forward from August 2015, “For Each Day of the Gaza War, These Jewish Women are Fasting.” In it Rachel says, “For many of us, last summer’s war was the breaking point — our first experience of having a son in combat, of sitting hours and hours by the news, hearing reports of each new horror, the names of the boys who would not return from the front, the numbers of unnamed Gazan civilians killed.” And yet, now, she has a new collection of poetry. Of hope. Today, on Yom Haatzmaut, I hope you will join me in celebrating Rachel Tzvia Back.

Rosh Hodesh Nissan, Miriam, and tzaraat

lia rosen

Jews celebrate the New Year in the fall, still, Nissan is considered the first month of the year because it is the first month in which we were a free people. In midrash and legend, the first Rosh Hodesh was marked by Moses as the preparations for the Exodus began in earnest. If you didn’t begin spring cleaning on the day after Purim (some people really do this!), this week is a good time to begin to rid the house of hametz/bread and any of the things you wish to discard.

Nissan is also the month, according to legend, in which Moses’ sister Miriam, died. Chabad.org records this piece of “Jewish History” as “Miriam’s Passing (1274 BCE) Miriam, the sister of Moses, passed away at the age of 126 on the 10th of Nissan of the year 2487 from creation (1274 BCE) — 39 years after the Exodus and exactly one year before the Children of Israel entered the Holy Land.” I love the exactness of this (although the date of Nissan 10 is disputed).

This week’s parsha, Tazria, describes how to diagnose and treat a skin disease, tzaraat, which later afflicts Miriam. This connection between Rosh Hodesh Nissan, Miriam, and tzaraat is rich material for poetry and drash. Here are a few; we’ll share more on Saturday morning, hope you can make it.

Snow/Scorpions & Spiders

by Girls in Trouble

Well my mother named me bitter
Although as a child I was so kind
Hiding myself in the trees to watch over my brother
But still my name was bitter
Bitter the taste of the sea
Bitter the cries of the horses drowning behind us
If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don’t have a choice
So when he said You’re banished,
Seven days in the desert alone
I just started walking
I knew there was nothing to say
The scorpions and the spiders
Crawled up to me and stopped in my shade
Together in silence they watched
As the sun crossed the sky
And if your father spit in your face
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place
And if your skin should turn to snow
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your G-d should turn from you
wouldn’t you turn too.
Still I don’t regret a minute
And I don’t regret an hour
of the week that I lived all alone
at the top of the mountain
Though no voice came down from heaven
and I never saw words written in fire
I did see the birds of prey pick all the carcasses clean
If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don’t have a choice
And if your father spit in your face
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place
And if your skin should turn to snow
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your G-d should turn from you
wouldn’t you turn too.
[Suggested by Rabbi Alana]
Poem in Praise of Menstruation

by Lucille Clifton

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon          if
there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta          if there
is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain          if there is
a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel          if there is in
the universe such a river          if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild
water
pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave
[suggested by Margo Schlanger]

Sent Out of the Camp

A d’var Torah for Parashat Tazria by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

This week’s parashah deals with a somewhat puzzling disease, called tzara’at, often translated as “leprosy.” As the Torah describes it, it’s an affliction that could appear on human skin, on clothes, or even infect houses.

It’s not clear if the affliction is truly physical, as Leviticus seems to indicate, or if it’s a physical manifestation of spiritual distress, as a number of commentators suggest. However, either way, the solution to the problem is isolation. The afflicted party is shut up for a week or more, forced to live outside the camp, away from the rest of his or her community.

On the one hand, this quarantine is traditionally understood not as a punishment, but rather a time to recover and protect others from infection. One could also imagine it as something of a retreat—a time for someone who is physically or spiritually unwell to recuperate and regain strength.

On the other, well, I can’t help but think about what it must have been like to be told that you must be cast away from loving, human connection as a result of contracting an ailment or stumbling interpersonally. What kind of impact did being sent away from the camp have on the afflicted?

Between 80,000-100,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement in the United States on any given day, many for rather minor infractions. Despite the fact that more than 15 hours in solitary confinement may begin to have an adverse impact on a prisoner’s mental health, the average sentence in solitary can run, depending on the state, anywhere from 23 months to 7.5 years, and longer for those on death row. Many argue that, in light of the significant mental harm that it causes, solitary confinement should be classified as a form of torture.

Joe Giarratano, a prisoner at Virginia’s Wallens Ridge State Prison, reflects:

Human beings are social creatures. We need psychological, intellectual, spiritual, environmental stimulation to function properly, to grow and develop. Without that stimulation we deteriorate. I do not care how strong one is mentally; solitary confinement will adversely affect you. I have literally watched grown men deteriorate before my eyes, and go mad. There were times during my… stint that I lost it and began to hallucinate and lose my grip on reality. What the public needs to realize is that eventually all of those who experience that will be released back into society, far more broken than when they went in.

Many traditional commentators attempt to cast the metzora, the one with this strange Biblical leprosy, as responsible for their own suffering—for example, citing a tendency towards malicious gossip as the reason the person needed to be exiled. But there’s another textual tradition that regards them with a softer eye.

For, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a-b) tells us, no less than the Messiah will be found sitting among the lepers, and will be known as “the leper scholar.” That is to say, the one who will bring healing and redemption to the world aligns her- or himself with those who have been forced into isolation. And the Sifra, the ancient midrash on Leviticus, tells us that, even in the lepers’ isolation, “the Divine Presence still abides among them.”

It’s on God to be with those who suffer. It’s on us to prevent unnecessary suffering, insofar as we are able. When we push for just and humane reforms to our contemporary prison system, we engage in the work of the Messiah.

Refugee Thanksgiving

Like so many others, I have been devastated by the images and stories of Syrian refugees that are everywhere in the news.  And equally devastated by the ugly absence of compassion from too many politicians.  It will be to our country’s great shame if we do not do better in the weeks and months ahead.  Thanksgiving is the refugee holiday; the ritual celebration of safe arrival.  So I wanted to pass along to our community three readings from Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (the Recon national umbrella group) for our Thanksgiving tables — to remember our highest aspirations and inspire our capacious empathy.

I give thanks for our wonderful community.

Intro:

We pause before our set table. We are deeply grateful. Life holds no guarantees. And still: we are not huddled into a refugee camp in southeast Turkey nor jammed ten to a room in a crowded apartment in Berlin. We are not suffering the northern Mexico heat while waiting to cross, not sleeping in a field in Serbia, not waking up at a way station in Sweden. We are not on a boat, praying we’ll reach a distant shore alive. In our many ways, we have made it to the other side. We pause and take a breath. Some face extraordinary violence, and we don’t. Some go hungry, and the table before us holds an overflowing, to-some-eyes almost unimaginable bounty.

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands,your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.” Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

A Thanksgiving Prayer, by Rabbi Naomi Levy

For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen

 

More information here.

Annual Meeting 2015 Opening Prayer

Offered by Barbara Boyk Rust

AARCAnnualMeetingNov-22-2015Dear God,

Thank you for this morning, for this time and this place to meet and share our thoughts and wishes for the well being of our sacred community.

May we receive the wisdom that we need to move ahead with ease and strength.

May we listen to each other with open hearts.

May we speak with caring and respect.

May we act in balance and alignment with our needs and our resources, with our creativity, our energy, our time, and our finances.

May we be guided to create and act in accordance with the depth of our commitment to ethical values honoring all life, in support of healing and blessing for ourselves, humanity and the earth.

Thank you so much for a community that cares, respects and opens, sharing common aims for honoring self, family, community and the world.

Amayn

Poetry by Janet Eigner

chamisaDuring a break in High Holiday services, AARC member Sally Fink brought me a copy of a stunning poem by her friend, the Sante Fe, Jewish poet, Janet Eigner. How grateful I am to be introduced to her! The poem, Sanctuary, has yet to be published so we can’t put it up on this blog yet. Below is another of her exquisite poems. And here is a wonderful review of Eigner’s second poetry collection, What Lasts is the Breath, “Reflecting on her contact with the Hopi and how it deepened her understanding of Judaism, Eigner said, ‘I do understand that ruach, (breath or spirit or wind) all can refer in Jewish belief, to God, and that the concept began simply and gained God meaning over the centuries of Jewish evolution.’”

Isaac’s Blessing
by Janet Eigner

When Isaac, a small, freckled boy
approaching seven, visits us for Family Camp,
playing pirate with his rubber sword,

sometimes he slumps in grief,
trudging along, his sacrifice and small violin
in hand, his palm over his chest,

saying, Mother is here
in my heart. Before he leaves for home,
we ask if he’d like a Jewish blessing.

Our grandson’s handsome face ignites;
he chirps a rousing, yes, for a long life.
We unfold the prayer shawl,

its Hebrew letters silvering the spring light,
hold the white tallis above his head,
recite the blessing in its ancient language

and then the English, adding, for a long life.
Isaac complains, the tallis didn’t
touch his head, so he didn’t feel the blessing.

We lower its silken ceiling
to graze his dark hair,
repeat the prayer.

Yom Kippur Readings (2015)

These were some of the readings at our 2015 Yom Kippur services.

Who by Fire

by Leonard Cohen

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

The Kol Nidre Mirror to Our Soul

by Sandy E. Sasso, in All These Vows: Kol Nidre (Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011) [edited and adapted]

Life is filled with more than the scrapes and bruises of childhood that require nothing more than a kiss and a hug to make them better.  Life’s real issues are far more complicated and sometimes intractable.  Technology assures us a solution for every problem; medicine promises a pill for every pain.  But religion recognizes that we are mortal; we can’t fix everything.  Kol Nidre reminds us to forgive ourselves for it.

I recently learned that you can trap bees on the bottom of a Mason jar without a lid.  The bees fly in for the honey at the bottom of the jar and then they think they are stuck, because they never look up to see that the jar is open.  Life weighs us down.  Like the bees on the bottom of the Mason jar, we think that there is no way out of our situation, that we are trapped.  Kol Nidre – the High Holy Days – tells us to look up.

Technology is not so forgiving.  One of the problems of the Internet is that it does not forget; it keeps all our data – forever.  We cannot delete foolish e-mails or unflattering photos.  Our digital past remains indelibly with us.  How different is the Book of Life where tradition pictures God recording our good and bad deeds.  That record is erasable through t’shuvah.  If we regret something written in our own life’s book, atonement is our delete button.  The Rabbis teach that if individuals have repented, we are not allowed to remind them of their past errors.  Our past does not shackle us to the bottom of a Mason jar; we can look up.  We can begin again.

New Year’s Poem

by Rachel Barenblatt, http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2006/9new_years-poem.html

I’m cleaning the cupboard
beside the stove, low to the floor,
where pots and pans hide
haphazardly.

Our kitchen is well-used,
baker’s rack gleaming
with neat jars of peaches,
string beans, preserves

but one swipe of paper towel
across this hidden surface
and I flinch at the grime
I never noticed before.

This is teshuvah: opening
every closed-up space. I’m
a window smeared with dust,
a cabinet in need of scouring.

It’s simple work, but
part of me resists, preferring
distraction to clarity.
When I make the leap

I suddenly can’t believe
I ever ignored the dirt.
Hot water blesses my hands
into action. God, help me

put my house in order,
begin the year in readiness
for the wonders I know
are coming, are always here.

God Was In This Place & I, i Did Not Know

by Lawrence Kushner

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done – not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover some good within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil, but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

We lose our temper because we want things to be better right away. We gaze with lustful eyes because we have forgotten how to love the ones we want to love. We hoard material possessions because we imagine they will help us live more fully. We turn a deaf ear, for we fear the pain of listening would kill us. We waste time, because we are not sure how to enter a relationship. At the bottom of such behavior is something that was once good. On this sacred day, a day of communion and of light, our personal and collective perversions creep out of the cellar, begging to be healed, freed, and redeemed.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye taught: The essence of the finest t’shuva [turning] is that “deliberate sins are transformed into merits,” for one turns evil into good, as I heard from my teacher [the Baal Shem Tov], who interpreted the Psalm verse “Turn aside from evil and do good” to mean: ‘Turn the evil into good.’

The conclusion of true t’shuva, of true turning, is not self-rejection or remorse, but the healing that comes from telling ourselves the truth about our real intentions and, finally, self-acceptance. This does not mean that we are now proud of who we were or what we did, but it does mean that we have taken what we did back into ourselves, and acknowledged it as part of ourselves. We have found its original motive, realized how it became disfigured, perhaps beyond recognition, made real apologies, done our best to repair the injury, but we no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are, for even that is an expression of what is holy.

We do not simply repudiate the evil we have done and sincerely mean never to do again; that is easy (we do it all the time). We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again, and thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.

On Jewish Identity

by Theodore Bikel (published in Moment Magazine, May/June 2010)

I consider myself to be a Jew in the vertical and horizontal sense. Horizontal, because I feel myself to be kin, relative and family of every Jew who lives today, wherever he or she may be. Vertical, because I am son, grandson and descendant of all the Jews who came before me; I am also father, grandfather and ancestor of all those who w\ill come after me. Am I special because I am a Jew?… I am not better than my neighbors, not nobler; I just carry a knapsack that is heavier with memory, with pain. As a Jew, I peddle the lessons of history. As for survival in the face of mortal threats, we who have repeatedly stared into the jaws of death are better able to deal with the threats than those who face them for the first time. But when we tell the world about survival, we are talking about creative survival, not mere physical survival. Everybody who is threatened with extinction fights for physical survival. Yet to survive as a moral people is as important, maybe more important. Far too often people forget this.

There is a Time

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;
A time for slaying and a time for healing,
A time for tearing down and a time for building up;
A time for weeping and a time for laughing,
A time for wailing and a time for dancing;
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;
A time for seeking and a time for losing;
A time for keeping and a time for discarding;
A time for ripping and a time for sewing,
A time for silence and a time for speaking;
A time for loving and a time for hating;
A time for war and a time for peace.

A Man Doesn’t Have Time

by Yehuda Amichai

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.

I needed to talk to my sister

by Grace Paley, in Fidelity (2008)

I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

The Essene Book of Days

by Danaan Perry (Earthstewards Network, 2003) [edited]

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.  I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers.  But once in awhile, as I’m merrily (or not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see?  I see another trapeze bar swinging towards me.  It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me.  In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  Each time I am filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it.  Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  Perhaps this is the essence of what mystics call the faith experience.  No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”  It’s called transition.  I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs.  I mean real change, not pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

In our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing”, a no-place between places.  Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too.  But the void in between?  That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible.  What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and that the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are extraordinarily rich places.  They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that may accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, the most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars.  Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.  It can be terrifying.  It can also be enlightening.  Hurtling through the void, we just may learn to fly.

Self Forgiveness First

by Donna Schaper

The first thing people do when restoring old chairs is strip — strip right down to the bare wood. They do this to see what the original might have looked like and to determine if the thing is worth doing over. They strip away all the years of grime, the garish coats of paint piled one on top of the other. They get rid of all the junk that’s been tacked on through the years and try to find the solid, simple thing that’s underneath.

I’m like an old chair needing that stripping process. Every now and then I have to take a really hard look at the illusions I’ve built up in myself and see what I’ve gotten myself into. Illusions? Yes, illusions; the excess baggage I carry around, the unnecessary; all that keeps me living off center too long. Stripping myself of all this is an intentional letting go of these illusions. It is a spiritual act of personal forgiveness. God lets us let go.

It’s hard work to let God forgive me. I have to discover the original under all these coats I’ve added, strip away all the cynicism and anger I’ve built up, get rid of the junk I’ve taken on, defy my disappointments, and find what is real again.

Compassion

by Kristin Neff

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.  Things will not always go the way you want them to.  You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals.  This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.