Misheberakh for the State and People of Israel: Rabbi Ascherman visits Ann Arbor

 By Martha Kransdorf

In the first week of May, Israeli-American human rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman returned to Ann Arbor on a speaking and fundraising tour. My co-pilot, Harvey Somers, and I were the anchor people for his visit here. We’d like to first of all thank AARC for their support and to thank all of the co-sponsors for the May 2 JCC Fundraising Dinner and Community Forum: Beth Israel’s Social Action Committee, Jewish Cultural Society, Pardes Hannah, & Temple Beth Emeth. In addition to Rabbi Ora, rabbis from each of the other congregations were present, and took part in the evening’s program.

Rabbi Ascherman was the head of Rabbis for Human Rights for 21 years, and last fall he founded a new organization, Torat Tzedek, Torah of Justice. At the Community Forum, he described some of the current issues that he is working on, and the list is long and quite moving. His work ranges from meeting with lawyers and interviewing people who have been threatened by settlers, to lobbying at the Knesset on behalf of poor Israelis, to helping Arab shepherds hold onto their flocks when settlers frighten them and scare them away. Torat Tzedek has also been involved helping African refugees fight the Israeli government’s efforts to deport them and helping Bedouin communities hold on to their way of life.

Rabbi Ascherman’s courage and commitment have not wavered. He won’t throw in the towel. He admits that he is somewhat less optimistic than he has been in the past, but his response is to roll up his sleeves and work harder. He urges us, similarly, to react with urgency by becoming more active.

In addition to speaking at the JCC, Rabbi Ascherman spoke at Shir Tikvah in Troy, and he led text studies at Lunch & Learn programs at TBE and at Kehillat Israel in Lansing. His visit wrapped up with an “Open House” at BIC. A busy week, by any account. We are grateful to our communities in Michigan, which contributed over $4000 to Torat Tzedek. If anyone would like more information on Rabbi Ascherman’s work or on Torat Tzedek, please feel free to get in touch with either of us.

Martha Kransdorf ,  mkransdo@umich.edu    734-663-7933

Harvey Somers,  harveysomers@gmail.com   734-780-6907

Rabbi Ascherman blogs regularly in The Times of Israel. On April 19 2018 he included this “Misheberakh — A Loving Prayer of Healing for the State and People of Israel

The Hebrew is followed by a transliteration, and then a translation.

מי שברך קדמונינו אברהם ושרה, יצחק ורבקה, יעקב לאה ורחל, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים, מדינת ישראל ועם ישראל. הקדוש ברוך הוא ימלא רחמים עלינו להחלימנו ולרפואתנו מכל מחלה המקשה עלינו להגשים את הטוב ואת השאיפות לצדק שבליבנו – ביניהן: העיוורון לנוכחותך בכל אדם והעיוורון למציאות; החירשות לקול הדממה הדקה בתוך רעש הפחד וההפחדה, קולות הענות והמלחמה במחנה; והפקודות; האטימות לסבל של האחר/ת;  הרשימו שנשאר מכל מה שסבלנו אנו, השיכרון מכוח ומשלטון; השנאה לחושב/ת אחרת מאתנו; והאהבה היתרה לארץ ישראל ולמדינת ישראל ולעם ישראל ולכל דבר קדוש המסנוור אותנו לקדושתך ולרצונך. אנא, החזק בנו את היצר הטוב והחיות את אמונתנו בעולם מתוקן במלכותך וביכולתנו לקרבו.  שלח לנו במהרה רפואה שלמה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, בתוך שאר החולים/ות, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קרים, ונאמר אמן.

Mi sh’beirakh kadmoneinu Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Leah v’Rakhek, hu yivarekh v’yirapeih et ha’kholim, Medinat Yisrael v’Am Yisrael. HaKadosh Borukh Hu yimaleh rakhamim aleinu  l’hakhlamatanu v’l’rfuatanu mi’kol makhalah ha’makshah aleinu l’hagshim et ha’tov v’et ha’sheifah la’tzedek sh’b’libeinu-beiniehen: ha’ivaraon l’nokhakhutkha b’kholadam v’ha’ivaron l’mitziut; ha’khershut l’kol ha’demamah ha’dakah b’tokh ra’ash ha’pakhad v’ha’hafkhadah, kolot ha’onot v’kolot ha’milkhamah b’makhaneh v’hapekudot;   ha’atimut l’sevel shelha’akher/et; ha’rashimu sh’nishar mi’kol mah sh’avalnu anu; ha’shikaron mi’koakh u’mi’shilton; ha’sinah l’khoshev’et akheret m’itanu; v’ha’ahavah ha’yiterah l’Eretz Yisrael v’l’Medinat Yisrael, v’l’Am Yisrael, v’lkhol d’var kadosh ha’misanveir otanu l’kedushatkhah v’l’ratzonkhah. Anah, he’khezeik banu  et ha’yetzer ha’tov v’ha’khayot et emunateinu b’olam mitukan b’malkhutkha u’v’yekholteinu l’karvo.  Shlakh lanu b’meheirah refuah shleimah, refuat ha’nefesh v’refuat ha’guf, b’tokh sh’ar he’kholim, hashta b’agalah’ u’v’zman Kariv, v’nomar amein.

May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, bless and heal the ill:  the State and People of Israel.  May the Holy One of Blessing be full of mercy and us to heal us from every illness that keeps us from fulfilling the good and the aspiration for justice that is within us – Among them: Blindness to Your Presence in every human being and blindness to reality; deafness to the Still Small Voice within the thundering fear and fearmongering, the sounds of war and singing in the camp,  and orders; hatred of those who think differently than us, disproportional love for the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, the People of Israel and every holy thing that blinds us to Your Holiness and Your Will.  Please strengthen within us our good inclination and revive our faith in the possibility of a repaired world under Your Sovereignty and our ability to bring that world closer to reality. Send us complete and speedy healing of body and soul, along with all who are ill, speedily and in our day.  And let us say, Amen.

 

AARC Mimouna 2018: Abandon Bitterness, Celebrate Blessing

Photo of Mimouna foods from an article in The Nosher, includes recipes.

This year, AARC will be celebrating Mimouna on Saturday April 7, 5:30-7:30pm at the JCC. We’ll have lots of food, music, and a short ‘seder’ to learn about the symbols and traditions of Mimouna. We will also begin a conversation about things our congregation can do to form relationships with other faith communities in the coming year.

Mimouna, the traditional Moroccan Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marks the start of spring and the return to eating chametz, i.e., leavened bread and bread by-products, which are forbidden throughout Passover. In centuries past, Muslim neighbors would bring gifts of flour, honey, milk, butter and green beans to their Jewish neighbors to help them prepare delicious, chametz-rich recipes. More recently, Moroccan Jews brought the holiday to Israel where it is now widely celebrated with picnics and visiting with friends and neighbors. Recently, an organization of Moroccan Muslim students was founded which preserves and promotes the history of Morocco’s ancient Jewish community and seeks to educate about Jewish culture to encourage harmony between Jews and Muslims.

“Unlike Passover, which is charged with religious meaning, this is a festival devoted to the celebration of community, friendship, togetherness and hospitality. Mimouna is celebrated by throwing one’s home open to friends, neighbors and even strangers, with public parties, and by sharing – a large portion of that sharing involving food. Mimouna is thus clearly all about encouraging peace, kindness and human warmth. It also centers around making music, singing and dancing,” explains an article in Haaretz which includes a recipe for the traditional crepe, mofleta.

The piyyut (ligurgical poetry) below, “Atem Yotzei Maarav ,”composed by Rabbi David Bouzaglo (1903-1975), to commemorate the Mimouna holiday tells–in Hebrew with some Judeo-Arabic interspersed–the various aspects of the holiday including the foods eaten, the friendly atmosphere, and the significance of the holiday. It tells a story of strife and its resolution, and in conclusion calls for the abandonment of bitterness between Muslims and Jews.

 

Atem Yotzei Maarav

A Moroccan Jewish Piyyut:

You, who come from the Maghreb, from Morocco, men of faith –
praise G-d in assembly, this day of the Mimouna.

Yesterday the Red Sea opened its gaping mouth before Pharaoh,
it moved over all their wagons and swallowed them.

Israel, the flock, his servants crossed through passages,
as the waves of the sea were piled up by the hand of Moses, the faithful father.

The wealth of their enemies and tormentors Israel collected,
between the waves of the sea, they received it as a gift.

On every doorstep, all congratulated each other:
“Be blessed, friend, all the months of the year.”

And in Morocco, for many generations, the Hebrews say,
in blessing their friends, “good luck, brother, good fortune!”

The strangers, their waters were spilled on them;
the fear of G-d, in Heaven poured down on them.

Loads and loads of wealth and grains
were delivered from all comers of the world to the people G-d has chosen.

And it is the way of the sons of Arabia, in Morocco,
each according to his means brings the Jews an offering of value.

Yeast, honey and flour, the milk of a healthy cow,
fish, mint, and butter with wild flowers and flowers from the garden.

This night, Hebrews and Arabs are all seated together –
they rejoice with musical instruments and singing.

The Hebrew woman wears the clothes of an Arab,
the man wears an Arab vest, and the scent of incense and perfume.

One can no longer distinguish between a Hebrew and his Arab brother,
or if they are city dwellers or villagers: the good spirit overtakes them all.

The borders between Israel and the nations are blurred
If it wasn’t for the bloodthirsty who run the states.

It is these evil kings who deliver their people to catastrophe –
They are concerned only with their thrones, not the soul who suffers.

Abandon for all time conflict and bitterness!
Stop the bitter cries! Stop in the name of peace and freedom!

(Translation – Ruben Namdar and Joshua Levitt)

What Makes a Poem a Prayer?

by Rabbi Ora

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Many prayers in our Shabbat services are taken from the Book of Psalms (in Hebrew, Tehillim) and are traditionally attributed to King David. Because we’ve received these poems as prayers, we automatically think of them as having a sacred resonance. But what alchemy transforms contemporary poetry into prayer?

Elliott batTzedek, a Philadelphia poet and liturgist, is the author of the alternate ‘Mourner’s Kaddish’ we read on Yom Kippur:

“So often am I lost,

yet through the pall, yet through the tarnish, show me the way back,
through my betrayals, my dismay, my heart’s leak, my mind’s sway,
eyes’ broken glow, groan of the soul—which convey all that isn’t real,
for every soul to These Hands careen. And let us say, amen.”

Read the rest of the poem here

Elliott reflects that “liturgy is a living project, as predictable and as unpredictable as the people that use it.” She also suggests that the physical, embodied act of reciting a poem (whether individually or communally) helps us to experience it as prayer. Quoting Edward Hirsch, Elliott writes:

 “‘When I recite a poem, I inhabit it, I bring the words off the page into my own mouth, my own body. I let its heartbeat pulse through me as embodied experience, as experience embedded in the sensuality of sounds. […] The secular can be made sacred through the body of the poem. I understand the relationship between the poet, the poem, and the reader not as a static entity but as a dynamic unfolding. An emerging sacramental event.’”

For more of Elliott’s transformative liturgy, take a look at her Tallit Blessings, the Arch/Welcome to Redemption, and Ahavah Rabbah/Gatherings.

Elliott batTzedek: “I’m a poet, critic, activist, teacher, gardener, a Jew of the Feminist, non-Zionist variety (there are more of us than you might think!), and a life-long collector of random interesting facts.”

 

Hanukkah and Winter Solstice Reflections

Photo from the Jewish Multiracial Network Facebook page.

Yesterday, the last day of Hanukkah 5778, Rabbi Marc Gopin posted on Facebook some words of deep wisdom:

“It was very hard to let go of the light this year. Light in darkness feels deeply resonant now, and difficult to resist a sense of foreboding.

Sometimes when you have been caught vulnerable by thieves and criminals, especially when they disguise themselves to beguile the foolish, and sometimes in order to avoid bloodshed, you need to let them steal their trillions. Sometimes you need to learn a harsh lesson, and then build a better security system, a better community of safety and mutual protection, a better community of fair law for all.

This is the only antidote, this inescapable need to reconcile and build trust among the decent rich and poor, the decent women and men, the decent secular and religious. We can do this. Even when it’s darkest outside, there is the amazing light we conjure.”

Hanukkah is always close to the Winter Solstice, but also independent from it. In a reflection on Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice, Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote in Seasons of Our Joy:

If we see Hanukkah as intentionally, not accidentally, placed at the moment of the darkest sun and darkest moon, then one aspect of the candles seems to be an assertion of our hope for renewed light. Just as at Sukkot we poured the water in order to remind God to pour out rain, perhaps one reason for us to light the candles is to remind God to renew the sun and moon. Indeed, the miracle of eight days’ light from one day’s oil sounds like an echo of the Mishnah’s comment that at the Sukkot water pouring, one log (measure) of water was enough for eight days’ pouring.

On her website “tel shemesh: celebrating and creating earth-based traditions in Judaism,” Rabbi Jill Hammer tells us “There are a number of Jewish stories about the winter solstice. Here are some of the legends Jews can tell one another during the darkest days of winter…” You can read more of her Rabbi Hammer’s teaching on Hanukkah and Winter Solstice here.

And finally, Marcia Falk includes the poem “Winter Solstice” as part of her amidah sequence where it appears in the second-section which re-creates the traditional theme of g’vurot, “strength,” affirming God’s power as m’hayeyh meytim, “reviver of the dead.”‘ For her full discussion of this concept in her creative prayers, see the wonderful book Jewish American Poetry: Poems, Commentary and Reflections.  I highly recommend we each have in households her The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (CCAR Press, 2017). Copyright © 1996, 2017 by Marcia Lee Falk. Also, I found on her website that she has done mizrachs (decorative plaques hung on the eastern wall of the home) with her poems and original paintings. Check them out: beautiful gifts for yourself and others.

Click on picture to make it big enough to read.

 

 

 

Click on picture to make big enough to read.

 

About Lincoln’s Nigun

Cover of Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble’s 2014 album, “Nigunim Vol IV Brooklyn Spirituals.”

At our October Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, Rabbi Ora introduced a new to us nigun [a mystical musical melody] for “L’cha Dodi.” Composed by Joey Weisenberg, it is called “Lincoln’s Nigun,” which immediately generated speculation, Why Lincoln?

Evidently, we are not the only ones curious about the nigun’s title. Just last month, Tablet Magazine published a story on the background of “Lincoln’s Nigun,” “If You Like the Music at Brooklyn’s Hippest Shul, Thank Abe Lincoln.” If you have the time, read the article. But to summarize, Weisenberg’s composition was inspired by both a story related in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln about respect the troops showed President Lincoln (the soldiers would part to the left and right to make way for Lincoln) and a phrase in “L’cha Dodi”: “yamin u’smol tifrotzi/to the left and to the right they part ways” expressing respectful welcome for Shabbat.

Weisenberg also characterized the music as influenced by Civil War Americana, as well as traditional Jewish melodies. For some, the melody brought to mind the song “Ashokan Farewell” from Ken Burn’s Civil War miniseries, composed by Jay Ungar, the only song in the soundtrack not composed during the Civil War. (In writing this blog, I also found out that Jay Ungar played at Paul Resnick and Caroline Richardson’s wedding!)

May we enjoy singing this together for many Shabbats to come.

 

 

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.