Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Prayers like dry leaves

I have been collecting
They are sweet -
even the ones
that rattle like bones
and sound like
echoes and
dry leaves.
Even those,
I catch them on the wind
and the tip of my tongue,
where they melt like fear
Or sin,
and I can taste their
Bursts of glory.
Sometimes they drift,
lighting on my skin,
where they wait,
in silent insistance,
for me to notice their gentle
I collect them all,
let them slide and
tangle through
my fingers
like silk, like
rope -
all those dry,
echoing bones
of grace
and sweet glory.
I savor their blessings
and sing.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chanukah: Fourth Night - POWER

Long ago (too long for me to comfortably remember exactly how long ago it was), I read Steinbeck's The Short Reign of Pippin the Fourth. I think it was in middle or high school, after we'd read The Pearl. It may have been soon after I discovered Stephen Schwartz' Pippin! which captiovated and entranced me no end. I read anything that had the name "Pippin" in the title (and even stretched it a bit, reading Great Expectations because the main character's name was "Pip").

What has stayed with me, though, from Steinbeck's brilliant novel - short, riveting and laser-sharp in its satire - was his discussion of power. In Steinbeck's Pippin, France has decided the Republic has failed, and they are looking to reinstate the monarchy. They find one lone direct ancestor to Charlemagne - Pippin, who will be the Fourth of that name. As the modern-day Pippin grapples with the enormity of what confronts him - kingship and history and government and rule - he is reluctant to assume power, fearing (like all wise men) that he will be corrupted by it.

However, he is told by one of his advisers: it is not power that corrupts, nor absolute power that corrupts absolutely. Rather, it is the fear of losing power that corrupts.

What an riveting idea! I think, for myself, how much I am ruled by my fear, how often I base decisions for action (or inaction) on my fear of losing control, giving up my power. And these situations, where it is fear, when I do not sit comfortably in my own skin - in fact, am most likely trying to crawl out of it - these things never end well. They blow up in my face and leave a swath of destruction in a radius of miles. IU spend more time picking up the debris from these ill-fated actions than anyone ever should. 

If I had just done the right thing - even through my fear!

But I don't. I horde my power, clutch at it like Gollum clutches his Ring of Power - only to lose it and then later, teeter at the brink of destruction. I hold my power jealously, refusing to ask for help, denying help that is offered, believing foolishly that help is just another word for weak, or less-than. 

And while I may not have been corrupted by my fear of losing power and control, I have certainly been crippled by it.

Zechariah tells of his dream, and the angel who declares ?Not by might, not by power..." We read this text during Chanukah. Perhaps, we read it - I read it - to remind me that my "power" is merely illusion to begin with. Or, if not illusion, then certainly immaterial. 

So it is with hope, this Chanukah season, that remember this lesson beyond the light of the menorah, and carry it into the days and nights ahead of me - not by might, not by power, but by spirit alone...

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Call me Platespinner.

You know Platespinner, don't you? He's the guy, that vaguely Eastern European-looking guy who wore a red satin shirt and tight-but-balloony black pants, who ran around the stage on the Ed Sullivan show, while some invisible orchestra played The Sabre Dance in the background, and the guy, the Platespinner guy, ran around the stage to keep the thirty-seven five-foot tall dowels spinning in mad counterpoint to the music, all to keep the plates that lay on top from toppling.

Manic. Frenetic. Exciting. Exhausting.

No time to think: just act. Keep it all spinning. Forever.

Call me Platespinner. Welcome to my life.

I don't remember a time that this hasn't been the metaphor for my life. Some people have theme songs; I have a metaphor. And ok, I probably have a theme song, too, but that's a subject for another time, a different essay. Because this is all about

This is about

What I'm trying to say is

Here's the thing --- Why are there so many fucking plates spinning on top of those fucking spindly dowels, for God's sake?! 

Who the hell put them there? And what the hell do I care if they spin or not? And why, God - God of Infinite Mercy, God of Sneaky Irony, God of Whatever Thing You Want - why do I never once stop to question why I keep adding plates  to this unholy fucking mess? Seriously. Even this has become merely a new plate to spin. And it has already become lost in the forest of all those naked dowels. Just add one more to the pile. To the pyre.

Because at some point, this forest, this pile, it all becomes a pyre, and those flames will burn hotter than my guilt and shame put together. They will skip and dance up to heaven itself, and carry me - consume me - along the way. And I just keep adding more fuel. And more plates, over and over.

There's work stuff and Nate stuff and house stuff and God stuff. There's carpools and repair shops and therapy for me and grocery shopping and what do we do about Mom and did you remember to pay this bill and what about that library fine and you promised we could, you said that I could and have you talked to Dad lately and can you help with homework? And can you bake for this? And can you fix that other thing? Can you talk - write - pray - sing - do - run - drive - go - cook for me? For them? Just a little? Just this once?

And that's just the Stuff stuff. The tip of the iceberg, everyday, ordinary stuff. That doesn't even come close to the other stuff - the Dream stuff, and the Fear stuff and the Hopes stuff - all those things you put into all those boxes you've labeled "Pandora." Mostly you keep those lids on pretty tight, but every so often, almost like that scab that you just can't quite leave alone, you pick at one, open one, just a crack, and out slips - something.

All those Dreams you had, of becoming something – someone – great. Or maybe that secret fear, that really is mostly just shame dressed up into something so much finer, that you thought you had conquered that last time, but there, in the dark, when you're tired and maybe a little lonely and, ok, let's face it, cranky, which you'd really like to blame on the hormone thing, but, if you had to be honest, it really is that you're angry - out creeps that shameful, dressed up fear. It crawls out of the box and up onto a plate, spinning now like a whirling dervish, and singing at the top of its metaphoric lungs.

And don't forget your Hopes. For you. For your son. For your friend, who's been struggling some lately, whose mom just died, whose dog is sick and her husband got laid off and left and what hope is left for her? And, of course, you can't forget your hopes for the world, and all the starving people who seem to multiply daily and the poverty that threatens to drown entire countries, and maybe even continents in endless, insatiable need, and all the oppressed people, and the dolphins and baby seals and bees. What the hell is happening with all the bees, and what the hell are we going to do if they all just die off? Who is going to fix that?

Have we hit thirty-seven plates yet?

In a walk.

I breathe, and six more plates pop up, almost of their own volition. And I never once stop to question why, God, why do I just keep adding fucking plates. I never once stop to ask what would happen if a couple dozen of them came clattering to earth, scattering into shards and dust and broken, jagged pieces.

And right now, this very second now - there is nothing left. The field is full. Fuck the plates and my insane drive to keep them all spinning and unbroken. If I try to put in one more dowel, add one more plate - no matter how fine and delicate the pattern - I will break. 

This has happened before. I live my life, spinning and whirling and running as fast as I can, gathering up plates and piling up stuff and sealing boxes that keep cracking at the seams, just moving until I am lost, and moving for the sake of moving, mindless and driven by all the hounds of hell.  There's no fucking reason, other than to keep it all in the air.

Because I can. Because I must.

I am the Fixer of Broken Things. I fix. I heal. I mend. I do. And I do. And I do. No help. No questions ever asked. No hesitation. No pause. Fix it all. Take it all on. Take it all in. Alone. Because you hurt. And you need. And you want. And you ask. All for you. And please don't confuse my frenzied action with selfless sainthood! Good God. It is all self-preservation! Because if I can fix you and mend you and focus on you, then I don't have to look at me. 

Because I could do it all. Because I didn't need anyone. Because asking for help meant being less -than and wrong and horribly, painfully vulnerable. Because that's when the white hot pokers came out, looking for all the soft spots. Because I would rather die than admit that I needed help.

Because I knew I would die if I asked for help.

Because I knew, way deep down, that if I asked for help, it wouldn't come.

So you breathe. And you breathe again. And you add a plate; then another, and another and another. Just pile 'em on, do more, run more, breathe and gasp and stumble and spin and spin and spin. Keep spinning. Just keep it all going, more and more, until you're bowed and bloody and broken. And then you just - do more.

Until it all comes crashing down. Until you are buried under the weight of your failure and your guilt.

Please God, you whisper, no more. Please. And you ache and you twitch, like an addict desperately seeking - and hopelessly dreading - her next fix, you tweak and you sweat and you crave, actually crave setting up the next plate and setting it into motion. It is your motion of the Heavenly Spheres, perfect and glorious and deadly in all that vast and empty space.

Please God, you whisper into that dark and dangerous place, please; I am so tired. Please - can I stop now?

And you wait. And you listen, straining past the breaking point to get an answer, that it's okay to stop, to rest. To just let it all go, plates be damned, because the world will spin on its axis without any help from you. And you feel as if you could die from listening so hard, and your body is fairly thrumming with the effort, and your chest is about to explode because you haven't actually taken a breath in a while.

And it is silent. And it is cold and lonely and vast. 

One more plate. Just one. Promise...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chanukah: Third Night - WAR

I joke with my son: "I''m a pacifist with violent tendencies..."

He laughs. I laugh. And then I sigh - because sadly, it's true.

I remember talking to a gaggle of pre-teens once, telling them about my heroes, Dr. King and Gandhi. They wanted to know why, and I told them about non-violence. I climbed up my metaphorical mountain and sat there, in some divinely serene lotus position, and the vantage point of my lovely, modern, suburban life, and waxed profound on the profound nature of peace. And one of the smart kids (being in 6th or 7th grade, all of whom have a natural tendency is to search out every chink in an adult's armor) raised his hand, and asked in a voice loaded with innocence, "But what about the Holocauset? Would you have fought then? If you could have killed Hitler, would you have?"

They all perked up then. They sensed blood. "I don't know," was my only answer. "I am really grateful I have never been in a position that I have to choose." Even as I said the words, I could feel my insides twist and churn. Would I? In those days, I was single and childless. Now - I have my beloved son. What if the threat were to him? Would I be able to maintain my position of non-violence if the threat were to my child rather than to me - or to my community?

Hannah had an answer. She lived with her seven sons somewhere in Judea. She supported Judah and the Maccabbees, and worked to defeat Antiochus and his army. When the soldiers came, as they did to every Jewish household, to force conversion upon then, Hannah was so steadfast in her beliefs that she was able to watch those soldiers throw each of her seven sons off the roof of their house, one by one, because she would not kneel and pray to a false god.

What a bizarre twist on the Hillel story - he was stopped by a Roman soldier who put a sword to his throat and said "Teach me the Torah while standing on one foot. If you can, I will convert. If you cannot, I will kill you here." Hillel, we are told, thoughtfully stands upon one foot and answers, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Now go study.," And the general, so the story goes, did just that.

Hannah was told, "Bow down and pray or we will throw your sons to their deaths!" And she refused, because she was steeped in her faith. She held firm to her convictions and watched each of her sons die. Did they scream? Did she cry? Did the soldiers think twice, wondering how they could kill an innocent child? Did the soldiers question their inhumane orders? Did Hannah even once question a faith that could revere martyrdom over life? She was so sure that right was on her side; did she forget Moshe's cry: "Choose life!"

We were at war, fighting for our lives, our beliefs, our identity. And war - it changes you. It changes us all. We celebrate our victory over the Assyrians, and praise the bravery and might of Judah and Mattathias and the Maccabbean army.

And still, I am torn, between my love for peace, my belief in non-violence, my absolute conviction that violence only leads to violence, that it never solves anything. And I look around the world, at the wars and the conflicts that are killing us - all of us (because we are an "us," this world of ours, this human race of which we are a part) and I still cannot answer the question "Would you fight? Is there a Just War?" with more than an "I don't know, and thank God that I haven't had to make that choice."

It is Chanukah - a time to celebrate miracles and identity and victory. Perhaps - I hope, I pray - the lesson of this war, of any war, is not to help us answer the question "Would you fight?" but to spur us to redouble our efforts to create a world in which there is no war. Work for peace, for justice. Fight poverty and ignorance and need, not one another.

I am naive, I know. But that is my hope, even so, and I will cling to it, hold fast to it, work tirelessly for it.

Earlier this year, war broke out in Gaza. It was horrific. People died. People lived in fear and anger and despair. I wrote this poem in response to the news, to express my own anguish over war and how it changes us all. I include it here, on this third night of Chanukah, because war is war, and I am a lover of peace...

And I am a Lover of Peace

War is not holy.
It is made of blood
and fed by fear,
Ravenous and insatiable,
It devours the world
In pieces.

It touches
Ten thousand miles
Or five hundred feet
Or ten inches away.
It sends out
delicate, grasping, choking tendrils
to curl and
over the rubble
of bombed-out buildings,
and the razor sharp ruin
of hearts and

Blood is blood.
It seeps
red and
turns brown
and black
as it dries
in the dirt.
Blood is blood.

And the thing about war--
The madness
of its twisted,
suffocating existence,
Is that it changes
it touches,
And it touches
So that a lover of peace,
who listens for God in the
and finds God in small moments
of holy devotion,
And carries the music of God
Out into the world--

In war,
A lover of peace,
in a moment of quiet
Where once there was
to fill that holy space
of grace and glory,
And now there is only
a lover of peace
Will learn to say:
Blood is blood,
But better their blood than 
And I am a lover of

As if that matters.

War touches
And changes
And kills,
And shatters,
And destroys
What it touches.
And war is not holy
And war makes blood flow.

And blood is blood.
That matters --
Blood is blood,
And I am a lover of

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chanukah: Second Night - LIGHT

I had this awesome essay about Chanukah and light all worked out in my head. Oh, the wondrous tapestry that I wove, in these vibrant jeweled tones and of scarlet and blue. The words and the color and the sheer light of it all all twisted and tangled exactly right, a tightly woven fabric that deftly connected the festival with light.

It was Uh. May. Zing - hanging in free=float perfection there in my head, just waiting to go from thought to pixel to screen.

And then I got my eyes dilated. So much for that mythical, mystical essay.

Talk about a whole new concept of light. What at any other time is serviceable, and sometimes bordering on the dull-please-get-a-higher-watt-bulb now has an intensity that is almost painful. Even at this time of year - mid-December, with its infinite shades of gray, where you count the minutes of light that dwindle every day, and you wait and pray and tell yourself that you just need to make it to December 22 and all will be well again - even this late afternoon half-light is too bright.

Right now, the light positively glows. Right now, the light - the lamp, the sun, the source doesn't matter - the light is different. I am pulled out of my unnoticing, so that I have a chance to see.

That's as far as the metaphor will stretch; my apologies. It's not the dilation that is driving this verbose introspection; the light does hurt, even as it is all glowy and fuzzy. No, it's Chanukah itself that's causing this reflection on light (no pun intended, and so you know, I've practically burned out the delete key, in my efforts to avoid this too-obvious but unintentional pun). 

We go about our days, filled with work and carpools and groceries to be put away and fresh laundry to be folded and dinner to be made. There's homework in there, and correspondence and bills to be overlooked one more week. We run and we do and we go, an ever-moving faster pace that keeps us hurtling forward. There's planning to do and calls to be made. It is never-ending. ANd don't get me wrong - there's a whole lot of joy in all of this, along with great stretches of nothing much of anything - the "normal" cacophony of emotional noise that flits and flutters through our heads and hearts. It's life, and it drives us along pathways that are at once familiar and comfortable and ignored. 

But for these eight nights, the light is different. For these eight nights, I get to stand next to my son and pause as we light the candles of the menorah. I hear the scratch and sizzle of the match, I see the flickerflame of the candles - one more each night - dance atop graceful pastel tapers. I get to chant a blessing that feels as old as the sun, and that hangs in the air in weightless beauty, as if lingering, too, for just a few seconds more, to watch the light dance and flow. And my son and I, we stand, and we watch and we linger just a fraction of a second longer before the rush of our lives returns.

For these eight blessed nights, I am given the gift of light - a light that shines differently, a light that dances and glows and allows me to pause and share something ancient and holy with my son. 

Blessed are you, God, Ruler of the All, who sanctifies us and commands us to kindle the lights of Chanukah.

Chag urim sameach!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Night - Freedom

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

I know, I know - wrong holiday. Sue me. That particular phrase, that particular concept is woven deep throughout my everything. Really. I am absolutely awed at the thought of such power and wonder and love (yes, love, because if I can anthropomorphize my relationship with God, I can certainly apply the same human logic and longing to my God). 

One day we were slaves; the next - free. Ta da.

How does Chanukah fit in with all that? While we swap Moshe and his prophetic gravitas for Judah's guerrilla tactics and military prowess, the story remains hauntingly familiar: under the thumb of a king of great power who tried to break us, to take away our humanity, our spirit, our God, we were redeemed. And we have the miracles to prove it. Seas parted. Oil lasted. Food became a dicey prospect for digestive tracks. Let's face it, fried food is merely a difference in degree, not kind, from matzoh.

And after the redemption part? After the pyrotechnics and miracles and wonder and awe? Clean up on aisle seven...

Sure, we celebrate first. There's dancing and singing and praising galore!.I mean, really: we were redeemed! That is big - HUGE - awesome stuff! Talk about a shehecheiyanu moment! Literally: thank you God, for bringing us to this season of joy. But what happens when that first blush of celebration is over? What happens when the music stops?

As I see it - that's when the work of freedom really begins. Freedom is an action, not an event. It was never a gift; not for Moses and the people fleeing the narrow places. Not for Judah and the Maccabees and the other Judeans. There was a lot to attend to -nation building and temple-cleaning. Learning just what it meant to be God's people. This wasn't freedom from ---or freedom to ---. This was stay-in-the-game-freedom and do the work of being free. Because when you don't do that work, when you don't pay attention to the being free and being bound by that freedom, well, suddenly - you lose it. Suddenly, you're under a different thumb of a different king that is really just the same thumb of the same king, over and over again, ad infinitum.

And so tonight, on this first night of Chanukah, we gather to celebrate and find joy and sing praise (and eat latkes and spin dreidls and all that other family stuff of Chanukah-ing) - and we are reminded (I am reminded) that the work of freedom is part of the deal. Freedom binds me, to God, to you, to family, to the world, and so I find a purpose in it, and a fierce joy there. And with all that - the freedom and the binding and the joy -  I celebrate the gift and grace of freedom.

Chag urim sameach

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Long Line of Dreamers

I come from a long line of Dreamers

My Fathers
dreamed of the desert,
a great swath of golden dust
and sculpted sand
that stretched from here
to eternity.
They dreamed of mountains
that cast long shadows
over growing grain
and shattered hearts.
They dreamed of angels
and Men,
and sometimes,
they could even tell
the two apart.
It was never a
perfect science.

My father was a master of visions
and dreamed of God,
as well as angels
and Men,
who romped on ladders
and waged fierce battle
in the dark,
and shrouded by fog.
They claimed the  Power of names
and Prophecy,
though they could not defeat
the sunrise when it came.
But of the stars,
skittering like sand
across the vault of heaven,
my father planted his feet
and his flags of possession,
and built a nation upon
that scattered field
of time and

I, too, have dreamed of stars,
and wheat that bowed
in graceful supplication.
Even the sun, in its radiance,
and the Moon -
a silvered disk against
a fold of night -
They bowed to me in
my Dreams.
What need do I have
of nations and time,
of angels
or Men,
when all the spheres of Heaven
and the bounty of God's earth
have given me
my proper due?

I am a dreamer of

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ex Nihilo

From nothing
Came -
Comes -
The everything:
Each beginning,
Every ending,
And the eternity in between.

This I know.

I know That endless nothing,
That is not dark
or light
or Ever, or
It is empty.

And then - 
not Until, 
not After,
not ever and 
Again -
The empty is 

And in that moment,
That endless and eternal moment - 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shlomo's Dream

I swam in the sea of you,
flowing like light.
And music rose in me,
a psalm of hallelujah
sung in a minor key,
carried on a current
of liquid dreams,
there in the sea of you
that was me.
Wonder flooded in, and joy,
and I could not contain
this heartbeat rhythm
that moved in me,
swept through me
as I swam in the sea of you.
My breath, sweet like water.
like Light. soft and flowing -
a benediction scattered before me;
refracted blessings,
that carried the voice
of endless night
and God,
that opened my heart
in the sea of you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Making Shabbat. And Soup.

We did not keep kosher when I was a kid. The closest we may have gotten was the story my mother used to tell, about how, when she was growing up, her father yelled at her one day, as she went to pour herself a glass of milk to go with her Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich: “We don’t mix milk and meat!” Funny how that works – I still don’t keep kosher (though I toy with the idea these days), but I also don’t mix milk with meat.

 And, while we didn’t keep kosher, my mother always used a kosher chicken when she made chicken soup. “It tastes better,” she would say with a shrug. I have to say, she made amazing chicken soup. It was mostly for holidays, like Rosh Hashana or Pesach – big, extended-family meals that came out in a thousand courses. At least, it seemed that way. Every one of them started with soup. And noodles - lokshen – unless it was Pesach, and then it was matzoh farfel instead. Knaidelach were best when they were hard as rocks; my family held no truck with soft and fluffy matzoh balls! When my bubbe was still alive, there were always kreplach, too: chopped, spiced meat and dough, a cross between ravioli and a knish. God, but it was good!

It was heaven in a pot.

Every once in a while, my mother got it into her head to make “Shabbos dinner.” To her, that meant the whole shebang: brisket and roasted potatoes, challah, candles and wine. And it always started with soup. Homemade chicken soup. In the midst of running around – dealing with kids and carpools and family and home – she would stop. Pause for a minute, and return to something that had traveled up through the generations, a symbol and sanctification, contained in a pot of soup.

I didn’t have a huge connection to Shabbat s a kid, and that held true even as I moved into my adulthood; that connection came much later. Even so, I remember when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own apartment, every so often, when I wanted to feel connected to something older and more than just the passing of weeks and the rushing of time, when Friday started to slip and I could feel it tug at me, inviting me to slip with it, I would take out a pot and prepare to make soup.
These days, Shabbat is less about soup and more about --

Huh. I was about to write, “More about Shabbat. More about celebration and community and prayer.”
But you know – that’s the chicken soup of my Now. For me, for my family, the soup was the divider: it was special, out of the ordinary, a ritual that separated the everyday from something fine and rare, but connected me to family and tradition and love. It was Shabbat, in the same way that going to synagogue and being part of my community is now. It is the symbol, the sanctification of the moment, the pause – for breath and rest and peace – that welcomes in the holiness of Shabbat.

And, in case you’re wondering about my mother’s (and her mother’s and her mother’s mother ad infinitum) recipe for killer chicken soup, here’s the recipe (as it was given to me by my bubbe, with translation):

Bubbe’s Recipe
Stacey’s Translation
A pot, big enough to make soup
Use an 8qt pot or larger; I only know how to make a lot of soup, enough to feed a small third world nation. God forbid there only be just enough to go around.

A chicken
At least one, cut up. Kosher is good, but if you go kosher, don’t forget to pluck off all the tenacious feathers that seem to cling to the bird. Include the gorgle (neck bone), because that’s how bubbe did it

Cut in chunks or a bag of baby carrots – but they have a different taste altogether than the “real” carrots

Cut in pieces, about 3 inches each, sometimes forgotten altogether

An onion
Whole; yellow preferred; don’t use Bermuda or sweet

Green pepper
A later invention taught to us by my cousin, the sabre, for flavoring only. This is optional, and certainly not part of the original recipe

Forget it. My bubbe did not know from turnips in chicken soup. And if she didn’t know from them, they don’t belong.

Salt and pepper
Kosher, of course (the salt, not the pepper)

Fresh dill
The actual secret (as I’ve been assured) to real Jewish chicken soup. You need about 5 or 6 sprigs, not that huge bouquet the grocery store insists on packaging. Don’t be fooled; take only what you need and leave the rest at the store.

Put chicken in the pot, add water to cover, plus some more, over medium heat. Remember, the volume will boil down, and all the added ingredients only seem to make more broth because of displacement. Trust me; there will rarely be as much broth as you think you need!

Bring to a boil, skimming the bubbly, frothy, scummy stuff off the top every so often. After the first boil, lower the heat, add the rest of the ingredients. Remember – the slower the boil, the clearer the broth. Continue to skim the bubbly stuff, and simmer. Simmer for a really long time, until it smells like soup throughout the house. Taste occasionally; you’ll need to add salt to taste. Keep simmering. Taste it. Don’t forget to blow; it’s hot! When it smells like soup, and tastes like soup, it’s almost done. Simmer it more (you can’t over simmer it). When it is finally done (“How will I know when it’s done, bubbe?” “You’ll know,” was her knowing reply; and surprisingly, I did, every time), remove from heat, let cool.

Remove all the stuff – chicken, carrots, onion, etc. Strain the soup through cheese cloth and a colander. This will help “clean up” the broth, but it’s optional. Discard onion and whatever dill is still hanging around, that is usually tangled on the spoon. Remove bones from chicken**. I keep the broth separate from all the other stuff, mainly because my bubbe did, and my mother does. Certainly, if you’ve made noodles or matzoh balls, keep those separate from the broth. They are starchy, and that’s not good for the long-term health of the soup.

Here’s the important thing, the essential thing: do all this with someone – your kids, a friend, your mom. Someone. Talk about stuff while you’re making the soup – cutting things, skimming things, watching it simmer - like life and God and Shabbat and justice and how you’re feeling and love and memory. These add a particular flavor to the soup that cannot be had in store-bought items. Even kosher ones.

Chill overnight – because it’s always better the next day. As it warms for your dinner, light the candles to welcome in Shabbat. Say a few words over bread and wine – to remind us to be grateful for all that we have, all we’ve been given. 

And let us say: amen.

** In addition to having chicken to put in the soup, the absolute best meal of all was usually made for the dinner after Shabbat dinner: chicken-from-the-soup chicken sandwiches, on white bread with Miracle Whip and thick sliced tomatoes, potato chips (always Ruffles, because they had ridges, and it was the only time we were ever allowed potato chips), and cream of tomato soup, served in a coffee mug.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gray Rest

The tree just outside
my window
is bare.
Her limbs creak and
sway with stiff grace
in the late fall sky.
Ash gray and dull brown,
they match the sky
and the mood of the dull day.
It wouldn't be be quite so
jarring if the three
trees just behind
My tree
weren't still adorned in
their scarlet finery,
dancing, despite the
imminent onset of snow.
I can tell, even so,
that their scarlet is dulling,
A slow slipping of color
from bright flame
to cooling embers.
they are separated only
by a few feet
and a wall.
Maybe it's the wall
that makes the difference.
My tree, though,
is bare.
Not barren.
There will come a time,
as the year and the seasons
tumble in their time,
that her sap will warm
and rise
and spread,
surging upwards,
insistently, and my tree,
now bare,
not barren,
will burst forth
in a riot of color
and Life,
and she will sway,
her limbs heavy with bounty.
Now though,
in the gray of late fall,
now she is bare,
after a season of
bounty and grace;
she has earned
her gray rest.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Could I Be?

Week Two as Poet in Residence at Temple Beth El, Northbrook, Illinois.

This week's lesson plan was scrapped and changed, just before class, when I remembered that today is the 76th anniversary of Kristalnacht. We talked about poetry and music and prayer - how they're connected; how they crystallize and distill important ideas and feelings and images into their essence; how they create and help shape holy moments.

The discussion was lively and loud; they're seventh graders. Then we read Anna Sotto's stunningly brilliant poem, A6893. Its power is in its simplicity and spareness. After talking about the poem, its meaning, its intent, its feeling and voice, I asked the class to write their own, with the prompts "What, if removed, would not make you cry;" and "What, if taken away, would make you weep?"

They wrote, and they wrote, and they wrote. Fourteen seventh graders put pen to paper and peered inside, to answer the call - and create a holy moment for themselves. They were brilliant and funny and deep and not. I cannot wait to compile all of their writing, as we continue to write The Book of Micah: Justice, Mercy and God. Me, being who I am, accepted the obligation of the assignment as well. While I cannot (yet) share their beautiful poems, here is mine, with a debt of gratitude to Ms. Sotto, and her words of beauty and loss.

I have
a lot of
Some of it -
too much of It -
Spills and tangles
and topples
in its wondrous
But Oh!
It is grand
It sparkles
and rattles and comforts and warms
And when I spy it,
When I feel it
Or find it;
When I can touch it
or fondle it;
When I feel it,
As it runs through my fingers
Or wraps around my heart,
I think
In a sudden burst:
I am happy.
I think.
That's it; I think:
I am happy.

And if, by chance
or design
or weirdly odd happenstance,
All that Stuff went away -
I would be
I think.
I think.
I would miss it,
That stuff of mine,
But I would get
More Stuff -
More sparkly,
and comforting
and glorious

But my heart;
my soul;
my stories;
my name.

How could I be -
Who would I be -
If they were stolen
To be replaced only by
a Number?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

And When I Leave

I am not ready
To leave this place
this time
this rest.
I am not ready
for the separation that
must come, not while
I still smell
the sweetness
of cardamom and cloves.
I want to linger
in this holy time
this sacred promise
And be
Just be.
But the stars are dancing
A thousand
Infinity and
They scatter like pebbles
strewn on a field of
velvet night.
And there are numberless shades
of dark,
broken by those infinite and
silvered pebbles.
And oh! my feet ache
to explore that vast expanse,
even as my heart yearns
to stay,
to linger
in this place,
where I can still
taste the wine
that teases my tongue.
But I have blessed
The thin line that
Dark from
From Sacred
And Holy.
I have found
Rest and
peace and
and God.
And when I leave,
Though I ache to linger,
I will take with me
the sweet scent of spice, and
the teasing taste of wine, and
I will hear, Forever
the guttering of a candle
into a cup of wine,
Which will Forever be
the sound of Promise
and the promise of

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One Vote

I voted this morning.

I almost didn't. For a split second or three, I actually considered not voting. Because it was out of the way. Because I was running late. Because really, what would my one vote not cast cost?

And I went and voted anyway, because really-- if I didn't, what the hell? Would it really matter? (Never mind that I couldn't think of what I would say to my son, what excuse or lie I might offer him. At fifteen, he is keenly interested in the whole democratic process unfolding before him. History in the making. Democracy in action. We talk politics all the time, my son and I, and seriously, my heart swells several sizes when we do, and I can see him get the issues, when he makes the connections and connects the dots, even if his opinion is not always a parroted version of mine. Especially when his opinion is not a parroted version of mine. I could have fibbed, told him I'd voted, but that lie sounded hollow, even to me, so - what the hell; might as well vote.  Get it over with.)

As I drove to my polling place, really not so much out of the way, a name popped into my head: Mickey Schwerner. And then, almost immediately: Goodman. I couldn't think of his first name (dammit), and it bothered me, teased my brain. What the hell is his first name? And the other guy? Dammit again; I can't ever remember the other guy's name. But for some reason, I always remember Mickey Schwerner.

So I voted, and drove to my next appointment, and went about my day

Mickey Schwerner. James Chaney. Andrew Goodman.  

In 1964, members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) the NAACP - a bunch of college kids, the twenty-somethings of their day - created Freedom Summer. Their goal: register African- American voters in Mississippi. Well over a thousand people, white, black, Christian, Jew, young, old -- it didn't matter. What mattered was that these people saw a broken world, filled with violence and ignorance and hatred, and they believed it was their obligation - their responsibility; their right; their joy and purpose - to heal it.

In mid-June of that year, Schwerner and Goodman headed south from New York, filled with passion and hope. They met up with Chaney, a native of Meridian, Mississippi and fellow civil rights worker. They believed that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, had the right to vote.  

So they started registering voters: men and women who'd been kept from the polls by fear and intimidation and law all their lives.  That's it: registering voters - black voters in the deep South - during the Freedom Summer of 1964.  On June 21, the three of them went to investigate the burning of a black church in Philadelphia, Nashoba County, Mississippi.  In addition to believing that all people had a right to vote, they believed all people had a right to worship and pray as they believed, safe from harm. They were arrested by the police on trumped up charges, held for several hours, and then released, after dark, into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. They were beaten there, somewhere in the dark, beaten and terrorized and murdered by a group of 18 men (though only seven were eventually convicted of conspiracy, eight eventually were acquitted by an all-white jury and three cases ended in mistrials).  

Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were beaten and murdered that night by savages rooted in hatred and violence and fear. They were murdered in the dark, alone, because they believed they could heal a broken world. 

The world is still broken. We see evidence of that every day: people in desperate need, driven by poverty or illness or hunger or hatred; a planet that is being choked and starved.  There is greed and ignorance, intolerance and indifference. Even now, access to the polls is being threatened, and there are many who are being deprived of their right to vote.  In 2014.  Not 1964, not 1865 - this year, this week, this day, there are people who are being disenfranchised. There are a thousand thousand ills that plague us - that can break our hearts and cripple our souls. And yet, in the midst of this desperate need, there is light. Kindness. Healing. Small acts - great acts, even - but acts of desperate love that stem the tide of hatred and bring grace and healing.

They changed the world, those murdered men. All of them, all of the bright and brave and hopeful men and women from that Freedom Summer. Not just them, but all of the bright and brave men and women who have fought so valiantly, with courage and conviction and commitment, all of them, from every age-- they gave their lives to change the world. And I? I thought about not voting this morning, because it was inconvenient. Because I was late and it was one vote among millions and really: what would be missed?  

What would be missed?  What would be missed would be my own desperate act of love, to heal a broken world. One person. One vote. One voice. To heal and change and bring light to the darkness. Do I care how you vote, for whom you vote?  Of course I do.  I have my own ideas and visions and beliefs on what is right, what is good (for the community, for the broken, for those who cannot speak, for those I love and those I don't).  What is more important, though, to me, is that you vote.  That matters. Exercise your voice. Make a choice. Demand that you be heard. Your voice, your vote- that desperate act of love matters.

People have died defending the belief that voting matters. People continue to die, every day, for their acts of desperate love and courage and faith, for their belief that they can heal a broken world. And here's the tough part: we may never see the work complete, our world healed. But (and this is the big part, the harder part): we are not excused from starting the work, from committing those desperate acts of love. Our Jewish sages have been teaching this for centuries: Lo alecha ham'lecha ligmor v'lo atah ben chorin l'hitabel mimena. It is not your duty to complete the work; neither are you free to desist from it.  (Pirke Avot 2:16)

Schwerner and Goodman and Chaney. They were murdered in darkness, surrounded by hatred and fear. They were killed for their belief that the world needed healing and their lives - their voices, their ideas, their actions - could heal. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King once said "If you haven't found a cause to die for, you haven't found a reason to live."  These three men, and the countless, nameless hundreds before and after who were murdered and tortured for their own desperate acts of love - from Tienanmen Square to the Berlin Wall, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to any trackless, endless place where there are men and women who demand that they be heard, that their voice - all our voices - be heard, they found their reason to live.  Let us say: zichronam liv'rcha (may their memories be for a blessing).

Let us celebrate their lives. Let us take courage from their faith. Let us vote - and argue and debate and learn and disagree and demand that our voices be heard. Let us commit acts of desperate love, because we can heal our broken world-- one voice, one act, one vote at a time. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Meant to Curse

I meant to curse You.
I opened my lips
Past the borders of my fear
And felt the curse rise in my throat.
Like the sun,
It's heat burned
And lit me from within.

I meant to curse You.

Instead there was a song:
Diffuse and
A glory of light and dark
Rising like glory,
And cold,
And silver.
Rising like wonder
And reflected joy.

I meant to curse you
I called out Your name.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

If I But Go

There are places of wonder
and glory
and kindness
and sin,
an infinity of not-here
I wonder if I will
ever see them

But you know, there are
bills to pay
and Things
I must see to.
And then there's the
and the fixing
and the doing
and the talking
and the bills
that crop up
on every list I make -
a never-ending List,
an infinite iteration of
and numbers
of owing and being
It is All a
kaleidoscope of
this life thing
that I do.

there are places of wonder,
even so.

I should go;
because I wonder,
and I can sip at
and sin
And I could wander

But there is still
owing, And this
life thing
that keeps me tied to

Even so,
I feel this urge to go,
and hear this voice
that urges me, Tells me to
to pack up and cut
the ties that bind
and comfort
and are so
they feel like
love. But
there have been
certain Promises
of wonder and
and kindness
and sin,
if i but cut
if i just
and go and go
deeper in
higher up
to find
if I but
and go
until I am Finally,


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kaddish D'rabanan: Tied to the Up

For my teachers

You wove a thread of words -
a hundred,
a thousand,
an infinity of words,
all twisted and
One thread
and then another
and yet another,
until there were
a hundred,
a thousand,
an impossible -
improbable -
infinity of threads
that you wove into
a rope
that twisted and
and climbed
into the Up
and the All
and the Everything.
It bound me
to the here
and the sky
and the You.
A breath.
A word.
A thread.
A rope.
Tied and twisted
and leading me home.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Morning Prayers

In the morning
I write my prayers
on the sky
so that when I look up
I can see
And when they have
Long enough
they fall,
To tangle in the trees
until every leaf -
Of greengold and
and brittle brown -
they dance, too,
clinging in delicate
for a heartbeat
before drifting again
to tangle at my feet
and collect in my

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Space Between

In the beginning
there were no
there was nothing
to outline the
no form
no shape.
No names.

So there were no
To separate
the days
From the colors
From the sharp from the
sweet from
the holy from the

So maybe it was
every color
and all time
and sharply sweet
or sweetly sharp,
and holy holy holy
and forever.

But there were no
for it.
and no edges
no space
between is and
until God spoke.

And the words
flew forth
and came to be
and created the is
and the was
and separated
the whole
in eager

And in the breaking
in the sudden and
that outlined
the all and the
And the spaces


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Forever Song - Psalm 145

Forever is a long time,
but I will try
to sing
an endless song.

I will sing
of greatness
and glory,
     of pain
     and love.
And praise will rise
like heat
in my body.

I will live in Your
forever house,
and sing You
a forever song
     a psalm
     of mercy
     and stumbling

I will feast
at Your table.
and recount Your
     and I will find joy
     an endless hosanna
an eternal psalm.

Forever is a long time
but I will sing
to You
a forever song

Friday, October 3, 2014

#BlogElul 29 (#Tishrei 9-10) - Return

I like the symmetry of return.

I like the idea that, no matter how linear we think we are, or time is, or God is, we tend to find a way back. As I've written before, even God recognizes this: why else create t'shuvah before ever creating the Heavens and the Earth?

Those rabbis, diving into text that is written in and between all the magnificent letters of the Torah! At least, that's how I see midrash. Today. Tomorrow? Perhaps they are just stories, made up to fill in the holes, or the blanks that God left. Or maybe Moshe left blank spots - too weary having to carve a second set after that little incident with the Golden Calf, carving in one night what God had taken 40 days to do the first time around. Or just maybe, it's all Torah.

Torah. Even that isn't linear - we begin at the beginning, but there is no end. Again and again, just when we think it's over - the story is played out, the cast has all gone home - we begin again. I love when we unroll the whole thing - we see the whole of the story, from end to end to end: parchment and ink. All the words. All the mitzvot. All the awe and fear and trembling and demands that we be holy, that we care for one another, that we love, in between the anger and pettiness and war.

Unrolled, we wrap it, this sacred, holy, ancient, living thing - we wrap it around our children, we hold it up, to study, to read, to chant, to learn and teach.

We return, again and again to this, the beginning, the middle, the end. It encircles us all, draws us in, holds us dearly.

I stand here today, returned to this place, and offer this poem, that I wrote last year, to begin the journey to return. As I said, I like symmetry. I offer this, as my prayer, that we make this journey together, and that we return, again and again, to find wonder and love and God and each other.

The Edge of Everything

We gathered,
all of us,
having walked this long road

There is so much I don't
remember of it:
and dust
and heat-cracked pavement.

And noise!
God, the noise--
It could tear you apart
and get inside your head
and all you want
is just a little piece of
A chance to
without feeling like
your hope
your fear
your love
All of it,
All of you
was caught
somewhere in your chest,
or maybe your throat,
And all you want is just one small
to be easy
and quiet.

So we gathered
at the edge,
the very edge of
Stopped in our noise
and our doubt
and fear.
at the edge
of love
and hunger:
At the edge of want,
to catch the light
of a thousand suns
and ten thousand moons
and absolute


Glinting of silver
and an infinity of
Subtle variations
of color
and depth,
in the  reflection of
all along the edges,
with light.

We gathered here,
at the edge,
bathed in
and bending light,
weary and
to leap. 
To dive into that pool
filled to overflowing
with love
and doubt
and hunger 
and hope,
that waiting pool of 

And filled now with sudden, shivery
and stars that reel
in mirrored waters.

And so I leap
With the light of
Of earth and sky,
all my doubt
my love
and longing.

And I remember
A road of dust and
Heat-cracked pavement
And I gather in the noise
And light
And breath-stopping fear,
Gather them in, to
Release them
In a single
Graceful sweep:
There is beauty in my pain.
There is more in
Letting go.

And so I breathe:
I am returned
To the edge of my

May your new year be sweet, and may you be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of joy.